Meet Designer Carolyne Roehm
Author of iconic books on interiors, flowers and gardening, former fashion designer and Connecticut resident Carolyne Roehm is renowned and beloved for her sense of elan and style.
When did your style sense start to develop? I had very talented grandparents who made me a beautiful canopy bed. I worked with my grandma to pick fabrics, and I chose white eyelet with ruffles. It really started when I was very young with that first bed.
You came East from St. Louis to work in fashion. What role did mentors play in your life? I was lucky to be close to Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass—fashion designers interested in the visual world. As Oscar’s assistant, I traveled all over with him and got to learn from his point of view and lifestyle.
How does designing interiors differ from designing clothes? For clothes, you’re dealing with the human form and fitting is crucial; there are a billion different forms. Rooms are static: Once you have the measurements for a room, you’re set to work. Also when you put a collection on the runway, it’s reviewed in the press—so the fashion business is tougher.
How does your love of flowers and gardens complement your homes? I don’t separate them, one enhances the other. An architect once told me that the garden is the platform for the house. You want to make sure there’s continuity: When you go out of the house, it is being handled by the same eye.
You have homes across the country. Why is Connecticut your primary residence? This is home—the rolling hills, stone and clapboard houses, old churches. A sense of history is really important to me. The original owner of my house, Weatherstone, interrupted building it to raise a regiment to fight in the Revolutionary War. I love that sense of time, not just the trend of the moment.
At Trade Secrets, fans lined up for a book signing. What’s your appeal? When I’m out on the road, people say, “Oh, you’re just one of the girls, we want to take you to lunch.” I think we like pretty and feminine, and it doesn’t have to be grand. In my early bachelorette apartment, I wanted to cover my walls in blue and white floral Verrieres fabric, which I couldn’t afford. So I used sheets Oscar had designed with a similar pattern. Since I didn’t have enough closet space, I hung my evening dresses behind the fabric, and I’d end up zooming around under the sheets trying to find the red lace dress to wear to a party.
Why don’t you take on private clients? It’s hard work dealing with different personalities. Besides decorating, you have to be a bit of a psychiatrist. If something goes wrong in my own homes, I can rearrange and make it work. If it happened to a client, it would worry me so to disappoint them. I really admire people who make a career of it.
You’ve published books, you’re working on an embroidery project. What’s left? I’d like to create a fragrance—a white flower fragrance. So many of the current ones are complicated, too tricky. I want to go back to something much purer.
You recently took a watercolors course in France. Is that your current passion? Painting is what I really want to pursue. I’m totally fascinated, and I’d like to see where it takes me.
What unites all of these vocations? I’m not interested in edgy, the avant-garde. An old garmento once told me “pretty sells.” I’m just interested in beauty, simple or complex, but at the end of the day, beauty (and comfort) is what interests me.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Meet the Designer: Carolyne Roehm.