With an intuitive approach to design, award-winning decorator Susan Ferrier is known for creating sensuous, atmospheric interiors. She founded Susan Ferrier Interiors in 2018 after more than 18 years as a partner at the architecture and design firm McAlpine. Her work has been featured in publications around the country including The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Veranda, House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Harper’s Bazaar, Coastal Living, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles and many others. During her time at McAlpine, the firm was on both Architectural Digest’s AD100 list and Elle Decor’s A-List. She is also the co-author of Art of the House, published by Rizzoli, and her work has been featured in numerous additional books. Inspired by travel and other cultures, Susan shops the world for treasures for her clients. Needless to say, we are delighted to introduce our newest interior designer crush, Susan Ferrier. We asked her to describe her design aesthetic, let us in on some tricks of the trade and give us a glimpse of her stunning portfolio. We hope you enjoy!
What is your design Aesthetic and how do you translate that to a client’s home?
My aesthetic blends timeless glamour with cinematic drama. I design spaces to evoke emotion with sultry, earthy colors and diverse textures — I want my rooms to make you feel something. I love curating meaningful collections and objects, and I work with clients to layer that to express their view of the world and make them feel at home.
Tell us a bit about your background in studio art and history and how that knowledge informs your design work.
I got my degree in fine arts and have always been very interested in art history. In school, I realized that creating beauty was more dynamic and satisfying for me than being academic about it. The principles I learned in my art classes are tools that I use daily in creating environments with balance, rhythm, texture, color and movement. It’s important to be able to work in a two-dimensional way, as you lay things out in drawings and schemes, but then you have to be able to bring your vision to life in a three-dimensional way. Scale is important for that and it’s something I always discuss with the architects I am collaborating with.
Are there any trends that you’re loving at the moment and, alternatively, timeless aspects of design that you cling to?
A room that has a foundation of good design will also be timeless and can support nearly any good trend. It’s all about the execution. Instead of focusing on what’s “hot,” I always tell my clients to focus on what’s “them.” The end result will feel true and lasting.
The first piece of furniture that I ever bought myself, in the ’70s, was the Emmanuel chair. It was a bold move for a teenager and it totally confused my parents that I would spend my hard-earned babysitting money on a chair. (If only they had known it was a sign of things to come!) Now, this peacock of a chair is back in fashion and feels very of the moment — it’s a perfect example of a trend that has re-trended.
What has been your most challenging project to date and why?
As a rule, the projects that are the most challenging are the ones where you can’t see them all the way through — when the scope of your work or influence is limited so there is no way to establish relationships between the parts and pieces of the design elements throughout the entire house. It’s one thing to phase an interior into life room by room, but if you cherry pick and only do a few things or don’t finish a project, the space loses the storyline and doesn’t seem cohesive.
Recently I had a project where the client felt that if I did the lighting and the drapery, they could fill in with furniture they had shopped for. The great attention that we pay to scale and rhythm in a space was lost and the end result felt lonely. It lacked flow and didn’t feel complete. Trust and honesty are key in building a great interior, and our best interiors are the ones where we work really closely with our clients so what we design suits how they live and even elevates their day-to-day living.
What brings you the most professional joy?
When we finish a project, and the client is happy because the atmosphere we’ve created for them looks and feels important, strong, beautiful and sustaining. When that finish line has been crossed and the clients are settled into their home, there is no better reward.
How does the South’s design scene differ from the rest of the country?
The South’s design scene is special for so many reasons, but two very specific things come to mind. First, the South recognizes that beauty and grace in your environment are important and worth investing in. It’s not an academic approach to beauty but an emotional approach. Second, the design community in the South supports each other and sees other designers as part of their tribe rather than the competition. We are colleagues and want to see each other succeed. It makes the world more beautiful for everyone!
Where do you get your inspiration?
I love to travel and find endless inspiration in the places I am lucky to experience. I think curiosity is essential for good design. I recently returned from India and was incredibly moved by the people, architecture, history and fashion there. India is a complicated place where the beauty of ancient temples intersects with a destitute population, where the ancient craftsmanship of old stirs concern about whether the country can foster and support its continuity. I will be thinking about the trip for years to come. Experiences like that are very influential in my work.
Who have been your industry mentors and role models and why?
From a distance, John Saladino’s artful and classic approach to design has informed and inspired me. He showed that there was room in design for painterly sensibility and strong organic form. In my opinion, John is the master. He also has a great sense of humor, which is important in business and in life. When I told him that I had written a report on him years earlier in school, he commented, “I knew when I met you I liked you.”
Another important design relationship was my partnership with Bobby McAlpine for over 18 years. We were very in sync in our vision for many projects, and the work we did together and what we learned from each other will define a part of my life that I will forever be grateful for.
Share one designer secret with us regular folk.
Contrast is a great way to activate a space and create atmosphere. Light and shadow, reflection and warmth, the gradation of tones all add to the interest of a space and introduce a more graphic experience in a room.
What are your predictions for interior design for the next 10 to 15 years?
Interior designers have adapted over the last few years, responding to our clients who have unprecedented access to imagery and resources in this information age. Today, designers are experts in bringing different elements together to create environments that transcend the parts and pieces of an interior. Good design is not only elevated taste and the ability to purchase fine goods, but also the ability to create relationships, to help your clients achieve what even they might not know they need in a way that suits their tastes, lifestyles and dreams for how they want to live.
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words what would they be?
Atmospheric, cinematic, sensual, thought-provoking and luxurious.
Thank you, Susan, for sharing your insights, inspirations and impressively diverse design portfolio. To learn more about Susan Ferrier Interiors or to contact Susan, visit susanferrierinteriors.com.
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