Decorating & Design

September 21, 2011

Interview: Thomas Pheasant

Even if Thomas Pheasant’s face isn’t instantly recognizable, his furniture and interiors most certainly are. The Washington, D.C., native is part of a stable of designers that includes Barbara Barry and Thomas O’Brien, whose work represents the furniture scene’s haute couture. And within that group, Pheasant stands out for his ability to create a look that is at once architecturally grounded and traditional, yet contemporary.

“Lots of other designers knock off Thomas Pheasant because his work is so classic and elegant,” says David Beaton, owner of Studio b in Toronto, where Pheasant’s collections for Baker and McGuire are both top sellers. “He’s a purist who never sacrifices design quality. The fit and finish [of his pieces] are both just unbelievable,” Beaton continues.

Whether Pheasant is designing a room or a piece of furniture, his approach (or his “vocabulary,” as he calls it) hasn’t changed in over 30 years. A big part of that is involving the past in his designs.

“I have a great respect for longevity, but with a modern sensibility,” he says, explaining how regular childhood trips to the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian influenced his work.

In addition to his indoor lines for Baker and McGuire, Pheasant also produces a line of custom, handcrafted, numbered furnishings, and most recently, an outdoor collection incorporating woven materials for McGuire. “For the outdoor collection, we took the vocabulary of the indoor collection and made it a little bit leaner and lighter,” he says. “I want people to recognize me in my [work]. I want the evolution to be clear.”

Despite this, Pheasant is careful to craft rooms that make his clients feel at home. “My role is to create interiors that my clients connect with and react to positively. Making beautiful spaces is easy. Making personal interiors — that’s a different thing.”

House & Home: What do you like most about your home?

Thomas Pheasant: It’s a classically detailed house in the centre of Washington, and it has an enormous garden and pool. When I first saw it, I was so taken by the possibilities of what I could do with it. It took about 18 months to renovate.

H&H: What is the space like?

TP: It’s a combination of one-of-a-kind pieces that I designed for the house, some that I acquired from other designers and some bigger pieces from my new Baker collection. There’s also a great kitchen with heated floors.

H&H: What about your place in Paris?

TP: The apartment is in a beautiful 17th-century building on the Left Bank. It’s a great example of how I try to bridge the past with the present. Half of it was architecturally intact; half had been ripped up over the years. I basically got rid of the contemporary elements and spent a lot of time putting back historic mouldings. Now the interior is connected with the historic sensibility of the building. But I used a bisque-white paint to keep it fresh, and designed all the furnishings so they’re very contemporary.

H&H: Describe your style.

TP: Modern classicism meets casual elegance.

H&H: Do you collect anything?

TP: I have a fascination with clocks and have collected a number of beautiful pieces over the years. I think it’s the combination of a simple face, Roman numerals and a neoclassic case that I can’t resist. I feel the same way about watches. I have contacts with the best dealers in many cities, but that doesn’t keep me out of the flea markets.

H&H: Where do you find inspiration?

TP: I can find something inspiring almost anywhere. Recently, I’ve been to Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas and Caracas. Each city offers something to you if you are open to it. It’s interesting to see how geographic locations mould and influence lifestyles.

H&H: Who do you most admire?

TP: I admire people who are true to themselves and not swayed constantly by others or trends; designers who have developed their own vocabulary over time and evolved their work into recognizable creations. It’s hard not to be swayed by outside forces. It is not about identifying with someone’s style, but respecting their strength.

H&H: What are your best decorating tips for small spaces?

TP: Always start with art. Try to stick with a simple palette so there’s flow from room to room. Be a good editor and only buy things you really love. We’re big consumers in North America. It’s a key difference between us and the Europeans. I tell my clients that.

H&H: What is the best gift you have ever received?

TP: My mother made me a book of family photos going back to the 1800s. She organized them chronologically with notes for each photo leading up to my birth. It’s not something I could ever buy or replace.