decorative arts

January 8th 2015 Comments: 2 Topics: ,

Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of interior design students from Auburn University.  While chatting with these young, eager minds, I was reminded how complementary and intrinsic the marriage between the interior decorator and the architect should be.
I’ve always thought any successful marriage is comprised of two people in union, one doing what the other cannot.  After all, if you both bring the same thing to the table, one of you is unnecessary.  The relationship between the built and the decorative should be a strong confederation – one elevating the other.

I know a lot of architects roll their well-heeled eyes when an interior decorator is brought into a project. Watch an architect glaze over when the topic of drapery stacks or rug sizes arises.  To make it worse, architects often want to do their own interiors so as to avoid the whole messy ordeal.  When this happens, the result is usually a lone Barcelona chair accompanied by an equally disconsolate chrome and glass table (ironically, both designed by fellow architects).  That’s not an interior;  that’s a Vanity Fair ad.  Just add a vacant model staring into space pondering…..something Nietzschean, probably.  I’ve worked for professional models.  Despite common preconceptions, they prefer comfy chairs too.

I assert many in my profession can learn a lot from decorators.  They actually know how big a sofa is.  They know bed widths.  They know how to lay out furniture in a room.  If we, as architects, have handed them a fairly sturdy and attractive girl, they know how to dress and put makeup on her.

I suppose I hold interior designers and decorators in such high regard because our office has always been solidly based in an interior-rich architectural philosophy.  Simply put, our houses are designed from the inside-out.  They’re not sculptures in which hapless owners have to bend their lives around to inhabit.  We welcome furniture!  That’s one of the reasons we began doing our own interiors in the first place (with nary a single Barcelona chair in sight).  Over the years, we’ve also have had amazing opportunities to form alliances with a lot of talented interior designers and have been made all the better for it.  Sit in one meeting with John Saladino, Albert Hadley or Nancy Braithwaite, and I guarantee your mind will grow as hungry as my recent student audience.  We as architects should always be open to learning, especially from our decorative cohorts.  A few of our learning experiences are beautifully illustrated by the following photographs (a partial wedding album, as it were):

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Interiors by Betsy Brown

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Interiors by Tracey Hickman


Interiors by Rela Gleason


Interiors by Cindy Smith

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Interiors by Denise Macey


Interiors by Melani Turner


Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. John Kelsey says:

    As interior designers, my partner and I have experienced the reactions/responses you describe – as far back as when we worked in the interiors department at Hugh Stubbins Associates in Cambridge in the early 80’s. It is a historical challenge and continues today. Just the other day, I was walking a job site with a contractor and architect and I had to ask the architect where he planned to place the king size bed in the master bed room. Yes, a well designed home has to be planned from the inside out. in a beautiful home, the interior decor and architecture compliment and enhance each other. It can be an exhilarating dance.

  2. Wanda Hodge says:

    I enjoy reading the posts from McAlpine Tankersley. You are a very gifted person that begin to show at a very young age! Very proud of you .

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