Interview with Charlotte Moss

Posted by Sunny Bjerk , May 05, 2009 at 9:16pm

Interview with Charlotte Moss

Moss, above; some adorable planters she designed, below, that you can find at Design on a Dime in two days!; her vignette from last year.

Designer, author, sought-after collaborator: Design goddess Charlotte Moss has had an extraordinary career since she opened a store in the West Village well before Carrie Bradshaw Nation colonized the neighborhood. Now more than ever we need her humor and design brilliance to guide us in these challenging times! Journalist David Boyer receives Moss’s life and design wisdom.

Everyone wants to “Design on a Dime” these days. How do you accommodate your money-conscious clients?
Now it’s about value and clarity of purpose and prioritizing. People are totally reassessing everything in their lives. I don’t care if it’s your closet or your friends or your garden—everybody’s pruning and paying attention. I think it can have an incredibly positive effect. We’re going to come out of this taller and feeling better about our purpose and what’s important.

What are some easy ways people can create great home looks without spending a fortune?
Color. A gallon of paint and a paintbrush go a long way. If you’ve ever wanted to experiment with color, now is the time. Paint that dining room chartreuse. Paint the foyer chocolate brown. It’s just a coat of paint—if you don’t like it, it’s just another coat of paint. Also, go around and look at every tabletop and bookshelf and decide if it looks its best. Find new discoveries in your own closet. Get that damn champagne bucket out of the closet and put it in the foyer with some fresh tulips in it. Now is the time to reassess: Is everything where it needs to be for maximum impact?

Design on a Dime benefits Housing Works, known for thrift shopping! What’s the best thrift shop find you’ve ever made?
Oh my gosh, I’ve had some outrageous good luck in thrift shops. First edition Edith Wharton books. Vintage clothes. A small lacquered side table and step tables. And I love really good old baskets and I’ll pick those up for 50 cents or a dollar and I’ll have a fabric lining made. The thing about shopping in thrift shops: You have to be open-minded, you can’t be a snob, you have to be curious and get excited about discoveries. Anybody that’s curious loves the hunt. And you need to look at things and see the possibilities with a little tweak or a coat of paint.

So tell me, what’s your Design on a Dime room vignette all about this year?
Well, it all started with this cover of the New Yorker that I found from March 23, 1946. It’s a cartoon by Helen Hokinson. It’s got a woman standing in her garden in the winter; and she’s standing there in a pant suit with her mink coat over her shoulders, and with seed packets in her hand. She’s thinking, “What the hell do I do now?” And I thought, My Design on a Dime room is going to be a chic gardening shack and she’s going to be my star. It’s going to have a potting table, a hall tree, gardening books and implements, and hats and pots. And there will be silk panels on the wall with art hung over it—that’s the chic part.

Let’s switch gears, let’s talk about clients—what’s one of the most insane demands a client has made on you?
I can’t remember too many horror stories, aside from being given three weeks to install someone in a 15,000-square-foot house, so they could live there temporarily—that was outrageous! Most of my clients know me and if they did something, I would go, ‘Hello!’ One time I walked away from a client. I gave her advice and she said, ‘As long as I’m writing the checks, you’ll do as I say.’ And I said, ‘Someone else will.’ That kind of person is toxic.

What new style elements have been catching your fancy in the last six months or so?
I decorate in a style that’s very layered. But there is a part of me that gravitates toward the limestone floor and the stucco walls and no wallpaper—that Provence-style rusticity. And that’s always appealed to me, but that’s really resonating now. I think when you get a little older, you’ve accumulated a lot of things and I don’t need anything. I may want, but I don’t need. And I don’t want the responsibility; I want time for quality moments, not time attached to objects for dusting and straightening. When you have a lot of things, it’s a lot of maintenance.

What are some style trends that you can’t stand at the moment?
I just don’t like things are that are forced and contrived. Things trying too hard to be hip, funky, modern. I think anytime you try to force it, it just doesn’t come off. You just have to be true to yourself.

What does participating in Design on a Dime mean to you?
Philanthropy is very important to me and this is a way to do something important and something I’m good at (and go shopping, too). It’s a win-win for everybody. It’s a way to put my skills to use and to have a fun moment—all for a good cause. And this particular event gives people so many ideas, as well as great bargains.

Do you read design blogs or sites? Any favorites?
Yes! All the Best, The Peak of Chic, Habitually Chic, and Cote de Texas

What’s your interior design advice for Michelle Obama?
First of all, I don’t think it’s fair to compare her to anyone else. People say, “She’s the new Jackie.” That’s bogus. She is who she is. She is the First Lady now and what worked then won’t necessarily work now. That said, every First Lady has a chance to impact the public spaces. So if there’s a room that’s in need, it’s a great way of putting your stamp on the White House. But you can’t the throw baby out with the bathwater. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it—just maintain it. I think you have to honor the past and the integrity of that house as far as the public rooms are concerned, but what they do in the private rooms is their business. You’re an elected official who happens to be living in a national monument, but the private quarters have to work for you.

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