Interior designer Jeffrey Bilhuber's fresh spin on design
With a distinguished career in interior design, Billhuber has worked with clients such as David Bowie and Iman, Mariska Hargitay, and Vogue's Anna Wintour. Popular for taking intimate living spaces (especially living rooms) and creating a fresh look.
Photos © William Abranowicz, from The Way Home by Jeffrey Bilhuber, Rizzoli New York, 2011
After training in hospitality at Cornell University, circumstances led Jeffrey Bilhuber to a distinguished career in interior design where he has attracted clients such as David Bowie and Iman, Mariska Hargitay, and Vogue’s Anna Wintour, who says he is “great at taking one’s own taste and making it better.”
Your father’s career as an oil executive led you to live in half a dozen homes by your mid-teens. Did that set a foundation for your work? I have vivid recollections of me and my three brothers catapulting through the front door of whichever new house to find a room to call our own. The power of place has to start when you’re young. What are three principles of interior design you learned from the hospitality field? From a hotel, you learn: presentation, what draws you in; comfort, how does it reward you after the first visual stimulation; and service, how do you maintain it and keep it ongoing. After coordinating Mark Hampton’s redecoration of the Carlyle Hotel, you set up your own design firm. How did working as the hotel’s cashier and night housekeeper help your design career? I wanted to combine business and creativity. Those jobs taught me financial responsibility and accountability, and the importance of keeping things flawless, orderly and well maintained. How do you describe your unique American perspective? I see the rooms I create as “modern”—using traditional furniture, but in an optimistic, clear-headed, enlightened way that reflects the times we live in. You say you mesh decorating and design. What is the difference? Decorating is the point of purchase: “I love that lamp, I’ll take it.” Design is participating in the creation of something that was not there when you started: One plus one equals three. You sometimes provide decorative art in a room. Why do you draw the line at fine art? If the client wants to collect, I can point them [in the right direction]. But fine art helps define the owner. It’s there to give them pleasure, not to complement the sofa. What is it like to work with high-profile clients? There is a confidence that comes in their ability to articulate who they are. They’re fully formed, fully defined people who understand the power of creativity. You maintain that the trick to working with color is confidence. What is your favorite color? I love amethyst, it’s very mysterious, has great depth. And in the last few years, Persian blue has been enormously compelling: But it’s only as good as the amethyst bowl that sits next to it. Which room do you enjoy working on most? I love solving the riddle of living rooms. Ninety percent of people tell me they don’t use them, but it’s usually the biggest, most beautiful room in the house. It’s my job to get them in there. I take big rooms and create more intimate space for human interaction and the ability to communicate: It’s a hallmark of a lot of my work.