Meet Designer Tricia Foley

Known for calm and simple interiors, designer, editor and lifestyle doyenne Tricia Foley is a master of the neutral palette. Her book, Life/Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home (Rizzoli, 2015), includes a chapter on the easy style and timelessness of white.

Interior designer Tricia Foley.After growing up on Long Island and teaching for a couple years, you enrolled at Parsons. Even your clothing was brightly colorful back then. What turned you to your current sensibility? At the time, there was an emphasis on the Bauhaus—simple, streamlined, problem solving. I was drawn to it, and I was living in a small city apartment. White, cream, gray or neutrals created a peaceful retreat from the busy-ness of the city. So I made it my own and stayed with it.
How do you explain white’s ongoing appeal? It’s a clean plate. It gives you a backdrop to live your life against. As a background, it enables you to work with any style or period. I love changing things around with art, natural elements, seasonal touches and personal things—family photographs, a bowl bought in China, textiles from the London antiques market. I use other pieces for texture—trays, baskets, shells, a lot of art.
So the walls are white, but there’s texture in the objects and fabrics. Do you ever employ pops of color? I love color from nature. In the spring, I have lots of daffodils and hyacinths; in the fall, usually branches. At Christmas, I have big jugs full of red berries with simple greens.
A living room from Tricia Foley's book, Life/Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home.What is the biggest mistake people make using white? Maybe just using one shade of white on everything. A room looks richer with different shades on the ceiling, walls, a little semi-gloss for shine on the trim and doors for more dimension and depth.
How can a layman choose the right one? I love evocative paint names—Apron Strings, Tuxedo Shirt, Ironstone—I think paint companies are trying to give people a little direction. People need to really look at the color books and narrow down to a few selections. Then, put samples on the wall and look at them at different times of day.
How do you keep these homes clean? I use a lot of slipcovers in natural linens and canvas you can throw in the machine—a little bleach does wonders. When tables are painted white, you just wipe them down.
You’ve had clients from Sears to Ralph Lauren. How do you approach such a range of styles? I think design is about good taste and editing and curating—finding the most beautiful things and putting them together to create a look and a style.
A dining room from Tricia Foley's book, Life/Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home.If you were First Lady, how would you bring white into the interior of the White House? I would make it a little more comfortable. I would respond to the architecture and urban sensibility and look to historical references to find things for the public spaces. I would use soft color and important art and photography. In my study or bedroom, I might have bird nests, natural objects—some of my own things.
If white weren’t an option, what would be your second choice? Not that I hate any color, but I would never choose red. I love working in red rooms that are done well, but all that red is too much for me. I’d use gray, and colors that are close to nature: sand colors, pale blue, pale lichen green, colors of the sea and sky.

A version of this article appeared in the February 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Meet the Designer: Tricia Foley.