Put this book on your reading list, stat! Former Vogue and Architectural Digest editor William Norwich has just released Interiors: The Greatest Rooms of the Century with Phaidon, an incredible compendium of over 400 living spaces by some of the most influential figures in design. From stunning town homes to dreamy châteaux, this oversized, velvet-clad tome is an essential for any design aficionado.
We sat down with Norwich to pick his brain about the book, and of course, his favorite Sotheby’s Home pieces.
Choosing the “greatest rooms of the century” is no easy feat. How did you begin the process of narrowing down so many gorgeous rooms?
The first stage was a list I drew up from memory after talking for many years with arbiters and designers I’d interviewed or was privileged to meet socially. This list included people such as Billy Baldwin, Albert Hadley, the late Robert Yoh who worked for Albert, Pamela Murdock, Dora Frost and her mother Margaret Frost, Lee Radziwill, Paige Rense, Mario Buatta, and Tom Ford. Also, Carolina Irving, Pilar Viladas, the late Joy Henderiks, and Nicky Haslam were some of my teachers. Next, we reached out anonymously to about three dozen editors and influencers for their recommendations. From there, we edited the list based often on priority to hone in on the focus of the book: identifying the names that interior design people talk about when they talk about the greatest rooms of the century.
When you started the project, was there a room that immediately came to mind as your first pick? Did it make it in the book?
Oh it’s probably everyone’s first thought: Nancy Lancaster’s butter yellow room. And yes, it’s in the book.
Is there a room in the book that you would wholeheartedly love to live in?
Yes, Carolina Irving’s in Paris. It’s filled with the things she loves, organized in the most soothing way. The eye travels gently with great interest, and it’s got those splashes of blue and white that I’ve always loved.
What featured designers (living or deceased) would you like to gather together for cocktails?
Elsie de Wolfe, Syrie Maugham, Charlotte Perriand, Jean-Michel Frank, Billy Haines, Billy Baldwin, Mark Hampton, and Sister Parish, along with Nicky Haslam, John Pawson, David Netto, Miles Redd, and Alexa Hampton.
What’s a quality that you think all the designers in the book share?
Passion! Their jobs aren’t easy because the majority of their clients aren’t easy. Vision and commitment and a desire to shape gracious and interesting living keeps them going.
Did the research for this book help you discover any designers whom you had never heard of?
I wasn’t that familiar with some of the current French designers, I’m embarrassed to admit. I knew Jacques Dirand, the celebrated interiors photographer, but not the work of his son Joseph Dirand, for instance. I am now fascinated by his work.
While editing down all the rooms, did you find any design motifs that popped up in every decade?
Yes, solid colors, light-colored rugs, a lot of people love a neutral floor.
What do you think the next century of interior designers will bring to the table? Is interior design moving in a new direction?
That’s hard to predict. In fact, I just had a meal with Ben Pentreath, Nicky Haslam, and Carolina Irving in London, and I asked them this question. Due to the world’s preoccupation with getting a better night’s sleep, and the hectic pace of modern life and tablets and phones keeping everyone sleep-deprived, the newest trend seems to be a preoccupation with the bedroom. Not for making love, but to create a cozy nest for sleeping!
What does a great interior mean to you? Is it comfortable? Thought-provoking? Beautiful? All of the above?
Yes, all of the above. It’s gracious living, and it’s about paying attention to one’s environment so one doesn’t survive in chaos, but thrives with intention.
When purchasing this book, there’s a choice of four different cover hues to match the décor. Which one is sitting on your coffee table? Platinum gray. Young people seem to love the saffron yellow. Decorators, the midnight blue and the merlot red. That’s just my initial, anecdotal research and observation!