The Style Files: Brian McCarthy

Brian by Francesco Lagnese

{Brian McCarthy | Photograph by Francesco Lagnese}

I feel so lucky that I get to write my Style Files series. It has allowed me to interview and get to know some of the people I most admire in the design industry. Brian McCarthy is one of my modern-day design heroes, so interviewing him has been a special treat for me. Brian’s classic approach and impeccable eye have produced some of my all-time favorite interiors. His first book was appropriately titled, Luminous Interiors, which is quite fitting because the beautiful spaces he designs are chic, gracious, and most definitely luminous.

An alumnus of New York’s Pratt Institute and former partner of the legendary Parish-Hadley design firm, Brian is lauded as one of the top designers of our time and has been named to Architectural Digest‘s AD100 and ELLE DECOR‘s A-List. Brian’s firm has completed projects the world over which range in style from “classic glamour” to “urban graphic”. Brian’s ability to execute a variety of looks so beautifully and acutely is a rare gift. Rarer still is Brian’s kind, thoughtful personality and love for his craft. The same grace and beauty one finds in Brian’s work radiates equally from within him. I hope that you’ll find this edition of the Style Files as inspiring as I have. Enjoy!


Paloma Contreras: How would you describe your style?

Brian McCarthy: My style, while eclectic, begins with the architectural base as the resolution of the plan and backgrounds are most important to me. My design is rooted in 18th Century European classicism but seen thru a 21st Century lens with a tremendous attention to detail. It is derived from so many of my life experiences and then distilled to a client’s point of view while edited and interpreted thru my eyes for their particular lifestyle. I love getting into the minds of my client’s much like an actor gets into character on stage. It’s a challenge but one that comes with such immeasurable reward when your work is done and their homes become part of the incredible scrapbook of their life. Most important too is that decorating isn’t a science it’s an art.


PC: Has living in New York influenced the way you decorate in any way?

BM: New York has absolutely shaped and influenced the work I do today because it is such an extraordinary melting pot of people and cultures. It defines a way of life and energy that is uniquely New York. I feel so lucky not to live in a car culture society because you are able to take in the sights and sounds of the city and see life in a way that you simply don’t when you’re sitting behind the wheel of a car. The opportunity to meet such interesting and diverse people opens ones eyes in ways that are unimaginable. And of course NYC apartment living presents design challenges like no other, maximizing use of space and fitting together all the pieces of the puzzle to create these incredible layered interiors.


{Brian’s Chic Bedroom in New York}

PC: What does your home say about you?

BM: Curiosity is immediately what comes to mind when I think of our home. My mind rarely rests at home because there is so much to enjoy with the many wonderful and eclectic objects, furniture and works of art. And of course I am constantly moving from room to room, chair to chair reimagining what it could still be, or moving a piece of art, or placing an object someplace else, or replacing one thing with a recently purchased “jewel”. In many ways home is my laboratory because you only have yourself to hold accountable for the decisions you make and you can also afford to learn from trial and error and the inherent mistakes that go along with it. Most importantly though is the personal expression one’s own home reveals and the stories it tells and I truly believe our home does that.

HB_McCarty_Livingroom_ 55218

{Brian’s Beautiful Country Home, “Alfalfa House” in the Hudson Valley}

PC: Where do you turn for inspiration?

BM: Art, architecture, fashion, travel and referencing the masters of the 18th, 19th and 20th century are all where I draw inspiration from. I’m always clipping images from all forms of media that might become the catalyst for someone or something. Inspiration can also be found in reinterpreting an idea and thinking outside the box. Collaboration is an essential aspect of what I do and something I draw tremendous strength from. I’m always questioning my team and all my “partners in crime” who work with me to create these cohesive visions. Whether it be an artist, architect, upholsterer, painter, gallerist, etc… We all try to coalesce to create these wonderful interiors.

The Style Files: Brian McCarthy | La Dolce Vita

PC: Who are your personal style icons?

BM: Personal style icons…such a tough question for me but if put on the spot I would have to say Yves St. Laurent, Bill Blass and Hubert de Givenchy are three that stand alone when it comes to style, taste and lifestyle. They got the whole picture with such grace and elegance that it’s hard to top. It’s fair to say they created magic in every aspect of their lives.

The Style Files: Brian McCarthy | La Dolce Vita

PC: What is your guilty pleasure?

BM: Buying art is without a doubt my real guilty pleasure. That and cutting grass, and trimming the boxwood and hornbeam hedges at Alfalfa House, our 16 acre weekend house in the Hudson Valley. I know it doesn’t sound like a guilty pleasure to most but they are activities that give me instant gratification and I just love doing it…at least for now.


PC: What trait do you most admire in a person?

BM: Sincerity/Intergrity. To be free from pretense, deceit or hypocrisy. I try to always speak and act truthfully and try to surround myself with people who do the same.


PC: Who has been your greatest professional influence?

BM: Henri Samuel and Albert Hadley are most definitely my two greatest professional influences. Albert, a master of art and design whom I had the incredible luck and pleasure of working with and then becoming a partner in the firm. And Henri Samuel for his unbelievable way of telling a story thru decoration and making it rich and varied by combining antiques with modern art and furniture. Its mind boggling to me that a book has never been written about his life and work. Two who I have tremendous respect and admiration for today are Peter Marino and Jacques Grange. They have incredibly inquisitive eyes, and create and design interiors that move into an art form not just interior design.


PC: What is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?

BM: I truly live “la dolce vita” everyday by being able and allowed to do what I love the most and with the people I most love being with. I have been so blessed in so many ways that it’s hard to comprehend. I always say if I were to die tomorrow there should be no shed tears given how lucky I’ve been living life to the fullest.


PC: What can we look forward to next from you?

BM: I have a 2nd book that I’ve co-authored with Bunny Williams, Parish-Hadley Tree of Life, An intimate History of the Legendary Design Firm which will be launched on the 13th of October. I’m very proud of this as it’s the definitive history of Parish-Hadley and all of us who came out from under the umbrella and tutelage of Albert and Sister. It’s a story that needs to be told and I really think will be a great lesson for young interior designers today and in the future. As for new projects, we are starting projects in Monaco, St. Tropez, Greenwich CT, Southampton NY and NYC.

Parish Hadley Book

{Brian’s Forthcoming Book: Parish-Hadley Tree of Life | Pre-Order Your Copy Here}



Go To Outfit: Prada 2 button suit
Style Mantra: Give them what they never knew they wanted
Scent: Hermes Eau d’Orange
Jewelry: Cufflinks by Anish Kapoor
Color: Mississippi Mud Brown
Flower: Sunflower
Indispensable Design Tool: Never leave home without my 8’ wooden folding ruler.
Era for design: 18th and early 20th Century
Dream Project: designing a classically modern house and garden
Fabric/Textile: Toyine Sellers
Hostess Gift: Tortoise and/or amethyst glassware from Gilmor Glass
Meal: Anything with black or white truffles
Drink: Vodka Gimlet
Way to Unwind: Mow the lawn!
3 thinks I love about NYC: the diversity of people, its spirit and energy, and the opportunities it offers.


Weekend Destination: Alfalfa House, our home in the Hudson Valley
Hotel: The Wickaninnish Inn aka The Wick in Tofino, British Columbia
City: Venice in the off season
Museum: The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg
Artist: Albert Oehlen and Jean Michel Basquiat
Song that Always Puts Me in a Good Mood: Any Christmas song
Actress: Viola Davis
Prized Possession: Our dog Daisy
Risk Worth Taking: Trying something new and stepping outside the box
Greatest Extravagance: Art
Go-To Color Palette: Turquoise, Ash and Ivory
Rule to Break: In decorating? There are no rules!
Movie Set Design: Any Merchant Ivory film
I can never have too many: works of art

For more inspiration from Brian McCarthy, be sure to follow him on Instagram @luminousinteriors.


{Photography Courtesy of Brian McCarthy}

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  1. Paloma thank you so much for this wonderful interview and feature with Brian. His book Luminous Interiors is a forever favorite book in my library! I love that his guilty pleasure and extravagance is ART!

    The Arts by Karena
    Artist Alex Katz

  2. Could you please tell me the brand and color of the creamy, breathtaking ivory in your first photo of this article? thank you so much in advance.

  3. Could you please tell me the brand and color of this breathtaking creamy ivory in the first photo of this article with Brian? Thank you.


  4. Paloma,

    Bravo on your interview with Brian McCarthy. You managed to elicit some wonderful responses. I look forward to reading your blog everyday, keep up the great work!

    Cathy Lerebours
    Lerebours Antiques