Inspiration- What is the Connection between Vermeer, Venice, 2 Hamptons and a Banks-Pye?

Inspiration.  What is it?  And, where does it come from?  I recently read  some articles that spoke about the writers’ inspiration and it got the wheels turning for me.  I also read a beautiful blog post written by Elle Cole  (a lovely designer I know from Dallas) regarding  beauty and Barbara Barry that got me thinking about who inspired me in a similar manner? There are many images I see from other designers that I certainly acknowledge as inspiration, Miles Redd, Darryl Carter, Mary MacDonald, Phoebe Howard and Tobi Fairley to name several, but I was trying to get to the heart of the matter and ponder what did I SEE that really influenced and generated INSPIRATION?  What image or images that became more than beautiful work, or a beautiful room, or intelligent architecture?  To me, great inspiration stops me cold, pierces my heart, makes me catch my breath.  I look at it and instantly see everything in detail and yet everything is perfectly distinctive and absolutely RIGHT for the space.   It has soul.  I could not imagine changing a thing in the room, or detail in the building.  The inspiration comes from these spaces and REQUIRES me to reach for that distinctive beauty in the rooms that I design.  Not slavishly copy them, or elements from them, such as color palette, or a particular vintage style of furniture, but create a space that says the same perfect thing about the home and the owner, and the elements in the space.

One of my favorite artists is Vermeer.  Of course, most museums and curators would say that he is a great artist, but what is it about him that inspires ME?  First it is is his choice of subject, the intimacy of the captured moment, the interior life that he portrays in his work.  I also love that his images are small, they require you to come closer, to see each detail.  He captures moments that are quiet, intimate or usually unseen or unnoticed.  They are peaceful and serene and cause me to mentally relax and enter the scene.  There is nothing in the paintings that shouldn’t be there, nothing extra, everything precisely where it ought to be.  I believe that a room should do the same, cause you to relax, feel at home and want to come closer and be more a part of the space.  The details are important!

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher

I often say that I see inspiration whenever I travel, and usually I mean that I see many houses, monuments, building details, and even landscapes that become part of my visual memory and thus influence my designs.  The beautiful light of early spring in England, along with my beloved National Trust houses and their wonderful jumble of interior belongings, both humble and grand.  The details on every building that is unique to the European scene.  The fabulous golden light that is the Italian Tuscan hillside.  The hot, brilliant sun bouncing off the white plaster buildings of Greece and Spain, and recently, the cool, grey serenity of the Swedish Gustavian room.  All these become part of the things that I have seen and that create combinations and juxtapositions in the rooms I design and the details that make up the whole.

And then there is Venice…..La Serenissima…..whose beauty and age and architecture are so beautiful they make me weep.  Literally.  All those feelings that I describe, I felt in Venice.  I had to laugh at myself many times as I found myself walking around with my mouth open, and literally clutching my throat with wonder.  This city has a FEELING that is indescribable.  I LOVE London, I LOVE Sienna and Florence, I LOVE New York, but Venice took me and grabbed me by the heart and the thought of her makes me weep with the joy of her.  Vicki Archer of French Essence had a wonderful post today with pictures that brought me right back to that fabulous city, and I cannot wait to visit again.  I try and create that sense of wonder and beauty and heritage with all the work that I do.

St Mark Square
St Mark’s Square- Vicki Archer photo
The Grand Canal and Santa Maria Della Salute- Vicki Archer Photo

I mentioned many designers above, and as I said, they certainly inspire me.  I see many things in their work that I try to emulate, that surprise and delight me.  Miles Redd and Tobi Fairley with their use of surprising color and combinations. Darryl Carter and Mark D. Sikes with their calm, traditional vibe that is still clean, and modern, with a restrained color palette.  Mary MacDonald and her truly glamorous vision of modern traditional, contrasting with Phoebe Howard and Charlotte Moss and their restrained. and yes, ladylike, Southern graciousness.  The work of all these designers expands my vision and makes me work harder every day to achieve their polish and verve.

Mark D. Sikes
Mark D. Sikes
Tobi Fairley
Tobi Fairley
Charlotte Moss
Charlotte Moss
Darryl Carter
Miles Redd

And then we come to….The Hamptons.  By that I mean the great Mark Hampton and his incredibly talented daughter, Alexa.  I had the privilege of hearing Alexa Hampton give a presentation at the Boston Design Center and I was alternately awed, charmed and amazed.  I had seen a number of her rooms and design work in books and articles, as well as her father’s work and I knew it was excellent.  Her father is an icon, but Alexa’s design aesthetic speaks right to me in a way that no one else’s does.  She was speaking about her book and the design process she uses for her work and  it was very informative, but even more amazing was her educated, classic and yet, ever so fresh, way of using that language of design.  She is erudite, and every detail, from the choice of fabric and floor plan, to the frame on a picture and the arrangement of the art on the wall is impeccable.  Every image she presented had a distinctive choice and solution that was perfect for the space and the client.  I believe that to have all that skill, taste and drive, accompanied by the wickedest sense of humor on the planet- in a word is…Astounding!  Look here at a deceptively simple room as far as elements, but the use of the texture of the velvet, the patina of the stone sculpture, the books and the casual, obvious comfort and approachability of the room is perfect.  As with Vermeer, there is absolutely nothing here that is not perfectly at home and does not belong, and if you do not instantly want to come into this room and want to kick off your shoes and relax-then I will eat my proverbial hat!!

Alexa Hampton
Alexa Hampton

And last , but not least, is Rogers Banks-Pye.  He worked at Colefax and Fowler and is largely unknown to the general American public.  I first saw his work in “Interior Inspirations” which came out the year after his death in 1997 and is quintessential English, yet he defies this simple description.  His work has humor, detail, precision and yet a casual elegance that I strive for in my work every day.  Where Alexa Hampton could be said to have a classic rigor to her work, his is the casual ability to “break” rules at the same time he is inventing some of his own.  I was mesmerized by his rooms, his fearlessness in the use of pattern, trims, pottery and china, accessories. his rooms look “thrown” together, yet they are anything but.  This is not the “studied” casual elegance of the elite, this is truly inspired use of materials and letting a room organically speak of the inhabitants.  I read a comment that called it “grand and gracious in one fell swoop” ( Thank you,  Daniel J. Shigo of La vie interieure Blog– “one fell swoop” is an expression which was an absolute favorite of my parents and that says SO much!)  I want every one of my rooms to have those elements- intimacy, graciousness, and a touch of the grand….



Roger Banks-Pye
Roger Banks-Pye

“Always make a dark room, darker” – Roger Banks-Pye

As I said, he was not afraid to break rules, or to create his own!  I am not always going to advocate that the rooms should all be dark, but it reminds me to take a look at ALL my options and not just assume that a certain color or orientation is the only “correct” way.


Drawing Room- Roger Banks-Pye
EPSON scanner image
Sitting Room- Rogers Banks-Pye

“Always scale up, not down.  Everyone is always terrified of making things too big.  If in doubt, make it bigger, not smaller” – Roger Banks-Pye


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9 thoughts on “Inspiration- What is the Connection between Vermeer, Venice, 2 Hamptons and a Banks-Pye?

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