Designer Secrets: Is Good Style Passed Down Through The Genes?
In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re shining the spotlight on three talented mothers — a designer, a painter and an antique collector — and their children, who are fixtures in the design industry (including Tommy Smythe!). Read the interviews from our archives with the stylish families below, and see why style is in their DNA.
The Makeover Artists: Interior decorator Michelle Lloyd and her daughter, artist Olympia Bermann, share a talent for reinvention.
How does your Miami apartment capture your signature style?
Michelle: I love white — an airy space that looks fresh is my trademark — and art, particularly black and white photography. I look for an eclectic mix of high and low. Miami has beautiful vintage pieces that are serious but playful.
You and Olympia have both worked in fashion. What effect does she have on your creativity?
Michelle: Olympia keeps me young and fresh. Her spirit of adventure influences me every day. She’s an artist, and a fashion designer for J.Crew. I was head of fashion at Club Monaco, so she’s carrying on the tradition.
Is there anything in Olympia’s apartment that you wish you had?
Michelle: I do covet the school desk I bought at Goodwill. It was in our living room, and I gave it to her when she moved to New York. It has the names of pupils carved in it, and occasionally her friends add their own names. Oh, and I’d like her view of New York. Who wouldn’t want that?
What’s your favorite piece in your apartment?
Olympia: My desk — it’s a feature piece. I used to have a drafting table, but this is like a painting to me. There are all kinds of markings on it: who loved who, with dates from the 1960s and ’70s. It has a graffiti-esque quality that has so much character.
How does your mother inspire you?
Olympia: She and my dad are great at finding special and unique items. I love to reappropriate things and make them my own. My mom gave me the Louis-style chairs; she suggested I cover them in black duck, a utility fabric. I found the bench and painted the whole thing white, even the upholstery. We both like to be creative. She has a tremendous amount of energy, a curiosity about life, and she lives and breathes design.
What’s your signature style?
Olympia: My mom and I tend to use white as a base to keep things clean. Fashion has always been an important influence; I used to look at all my mom’s books. And we both like to hang up special clothing we’re inspired by, and use it almost like art.
The New Traditionalists: Painter Martha Solomon schooled her daughter, designer Montana Burnett, in the art of taste.
What are the signature elements in your living room?
Martha: I have always loved a classic and simple look, mixed with special pieces — art, furniture or collections of objects as accents. My style is clean in the sense of palette: whites, creams, straws and browns are all inviting and calming. I like to inject bursts of color, whether it’s in the form of a painting, an interesting stool or pillow, or my art collection.
How did Montana influence the look of your living room?
Martha: Montana has always been creative, and that spills over into her interiors. She has a bolder approach than I do, and that encourages me to try new and different ideas, like adding more color, or using pattern and texture. We worked together on the placement of the art and furniture in my living room — she had many good suggestions.
Is there a piece in Montana’s living room that you wish you had?
Martha: I wish I could move into Monty’s whole house; it’s charming, inviting and adorable.
Your mother is an artist. Did that influence you in becoming a designer?
Montana: I grew up surrounded by my mother’s stylish friends, and the exposure to their fashion and decor definitely rubbed off on me. My mother is a painter and always finds beauty in unexpected places. I learned to appreciate good taste because of the environment that she created.
Describe your signature look.
Montana: A white base: it’s very important to have a clean palette to build the other elements on. I love to incorporate natural textures, like the sisal rugs — they provide an earthy feeling to the overall space. I tend to throw in classic pieces like the armoire and gilt mirror to juxtapose the white base and earthiness. I think that the contrast of simple and ornate elements creates a curated space with interest.
Where in this room do we see your mother’s influence?
Definitely in the white slipcovered furniture, and more specifically, the wingback chairs. She taught me that classical shapes are emphasized by simplifying the upholstery.
The Antique Aficionados: Designer Tommy Smythe and his mother, Anne McCreath, embrace heirloom antiques that symbolize a family legacy.
What are some of the things that define your style?
Anne: I have always liked neutrals, and white. I love mirrors because of their sparkle. But fresh flowers are really my thing. I shop for them every Friday, and Tommy and his sister, Christie, do the same thing now.
Has Tommy influenced how your hall looks?
Anne: Tommy gave me the wall brackets; he found them on a Saturday morning poking around. I love the way his rooms never look like store windows: they have soul and character, and reflect the people who live in them. He’s intuitive about making spaces people enjoy — and I’m not saying that just because he’s my son!
When did you know Tommy was destined to be a designer?
Anne: When he was six, and he decorated his room in herringbone wallpaper, wood beams and animal-print bedding.
Did your mother influence you to become a designer?
Tommy: My mother was intensely supportive of any creative pursuit [Tommy’s sister, Christie Smythe, is a fashion designer]. Every time I drew something, I was praised and given new pencils. When I was 13 or 14, I was allowed to design my own furniture for my bedroom. My parents looked through my drawings, then submitted them to the company that was making our kitchen. It was not inexpensive to do, but they wanted to give me the experience.
What elements in this room did your mother influence?
Tommy: The mirror was passed down from my paternal grandmother, Dorothea Smythe, who was also a designer. The console in my mother’s hall was hers as well; every time my grandmother moved, she shed her belongings. Heirlooms bear witness to the history of our, and others’, lives. Investment antiques hold their value and get reused. I also like to cycle in contemporary, upholstered pieces.
Is there a piece in your mother’s home that you wish you had?
My sister and I have given her a list — we have very open dialogues! There’s an English bull’s-eye mirror, French 19th-century chandelier, English 18th-century armoire…. It’s never about dollar value; it’s about our sentimental attachment.