California Comfort Meets Elegant Design

Top designer Timothy Corrigan’s homes are both beautiful and livable.

French Lessons Timothy Corrigan’s new book details the restoration of his home—Château du Grand-Luce (left)—in the Loire Valley. A limestone console table (right) showcases an 18th-century architectural model of a rounded door opening similar to one found in the château. Photographs by Eric Piasecki; Cheyenne Ellis/ (Portrait)

Timothy Corrigan was a successful advertising executive when he decided to leave the business and pursue interior design. Now, he’s one of the country’s top designers and has authored a new book, An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé (Rizzoli, 2013).

Why did you make the switch from advertising to decorating? I had a wonderful job at Bates running 187 offices in 89 countries, but I was on a plane all the time. I really needed to do something more creative. Houses I’d renovated in France got some attention, and people were asking my advice for their homes. Why didn’t you stay in New York? My seven years in Paris had opened my eyes to things beyond New York. I’d grown up in L.A., and it’s a big part of the way I approach design. I’m very much about comfort, and L.A. epitomizes comfort. How do you define comfort? It’s how you feel living in the space. You don’t want to worry about spilling wine on the upholstery or leaving a ring on the table from a cup of hot tea. People want their homes to be beautiful but want to feel comfortable living there. Your book is about renovating a grand château. How did L.A. style translate to formal French design? Visitors who arrive intimidated have left Château du Grand-Lucé saying, “It’s the most comfortable house I know.” I learned if it can apply to the château, it can apply to any house. How did you deal with those strict French regulations? There was a lot of give-and-take. The kitchen was converted from a boudoir. To put up cabinets, we had to build a framework with vents in front of the walls, so if we ever remove the cabinets, it wouldn’t affect the boiserie. All in all, I’m glad the restrictions are there because they’re preserving this incredible architecture. How do you feel about unused rooms? If a space is unused, there’s something wrong with the way it’s been designed. If people don’t use a room, I ask what is it going to take to get you to use it? One family said they’d use the dining room if there was a TV in it, so we figured out how to install a subtle TV. I think you can show your taste and show who you are and still make it a functional space. Why do you incorporate antiques? It gives levels of depth and interest you don’t get by merely buying what’s available today. And from the value perspective, I cringe when I see people buying a reproduction chest of drawers for $50,000 when you could find an authentic 18th-century piece for less and get the quirkiness, quality, patina you can’t produce these days. How did you approach your upcoming collections for Royal Limoges and F. Schumacher? There are two Limoges patterns, one focused on plain white with raised relief, the other based on the château garden. For the fabrics, I reviewed our library of swatches and discovered I liked clearer, brighter colors, more jewel tones than the grayish, muted beiges that have been the recent tendency. And Schumacher was thrilled—there really is a trend toward brighter, clearer colors. Madonna was one of your first clients. Who is another celebrity you’d like to design for? I would love to do a home for George Clooney; he is the embodiment of my design credo of comfortable elegance.