Cindy Rinfret, principal designer of Rinfret, Ltd., has been creating iconic interior design and defining true “Classic Greenwich Style” for thirty years. Best known for her luxurious yet comfortable design aesthetic, as illustrated in her two books, Classic Greenwich Style (Rizzoli 2006) and Greenwich Style: Inspired Family Homes (Rizzoli 2013), Cindy is an internationally renowned designer, with high-profile clients that include Tommy Hilfiger and Regis Philbin.
Tommy Hilfiger has described you as the hardest working decorator in the business and an incredible purveyor of antiques and hard-to-find vintage pieces. Can you share some of your shopping tips when you are shopping for vintage or antiques?
All over the world, and now by Internet, I feel like I am on a perpetual “treasure hunt” for unique pieces for all my clients and even future projects. I keep an inventory on my phone and, inevitably, these images inspire my designs for my clients’ spaces. Now when I find something wonderful, I can just email it directly to my client for immediate review or to my architect to check if it works on the plan. Shopping keeps me up late too many nights!
What is the one piece of furniture or décor you own that is your most treasured belonging?
I love outdoor elements used indoors or in unusual places. I have an antique iron French window guard that I bought at the NY Botanical Garden Show many years ago. I added an antique mirror to the back to create the most sensational trumeau mirror for a covered outdoor porch in my own home. I just love the age and beauty of this piece.
Tell us about the one “purchase that got away.” What was it and why didn’t you buy it?
Well my purchases don’t completely get away, they just go to my clients — I found the most amazing Gustavian claw foot chairs that I adored, and a client convinced me I had to sell them to her. I am happy she is enjoying them, but now I wish I had those chairs in my home today. I truly regret selling those chairs — they spoke to my soul.
What are some of the design trends you are looking for in 2020, and what are some trends you hope will die with 2019?
I feel the current design is less personal than it should be. It is missing soul and that unique collected feeling. A lot of times when I go into a room, it says very little about the client, as rooms once did. I want to see more design with personality, meaning “the person” who lives in the home needs to come back. Design is not about buying furniture but about a reflection of one’s travels and what it is that makes you happy and comfortable and relaxed. Your home should be your personal oasis, not a stage set for a selfie.
You are known for your ability to design around the lifestyle of a busy family. Can you elaborate?
Design is about comfort first, the room needs to embrace all the senses — sight, sound, smell, beauty and comfort first and foremost. Now with fabrics that are “bulletproof” and indoor/outdoor, it allows for you, your children and pets to enjoy every room in the house with nothing off-limits. If not, what’s the point? The biggest compliment I get is “I actually use my living room.” It’s like beautiful jewelry — what good is having it if it’s locked in a safe? Enjoy and use every room in your home.
What are your tips for creating a classic, traditional home that feels fresh and relevant?
Mixing styles — layer important pieces with casual pieces. I love when traditional pieces are jazzed up with a more modern fabric or an unexpected element, like mirroring on the back of your grandmother’s breakfront. It is like jeans with a silk shirt and a leather jacket. It’s all about texture and scale. It does take an eye of a designer with a bit of practice to get the mix right, but mostly it comes down to courage and the confidence to bring together the pieces you love now and will love forever.
You’ve said that “Things don’t have to be important to be beautiful.” Can you elaborate?
My favorite antiques are in nature — shells, coral, rocks, fossils. One of my favorite accessories on my cocktail table is a glass jar with sand in the bottom and filled with tortoise-colored shells. Maybe it’s my love of the sea, but it makes me happy to look at. I love the textures and the fact that everything in the jar is real and has a history from some place wonderful. Candles and flowers transform any place. Think of how empty your home feels after you take down the Christmas tree — the light and smell and color light up your home with memories and romance. That can happen easily all year long with flowers and candles. It’s a gift to yourself and to your guests. What’s better than a bath with a candle lit and a glass of champagne sparkling in the reflection of the light?
You’ve said that the “right mix” of furnishings and accessories is what makes a space appealing. Do you have a “formula” for achieving the right balance within a room?
I always do a floor plan to make sure the space communicates well, and then I fill in the pieces. I often start with the rug and windows and then fill in the rest. But oftentimes, one piece of art can inspire the entire space. The mix is combining matte fabrics like linen with smooth fabrics as accents, like velvets. I’m always sure to have a comfortable throw on every sofa. Textures are so important in making sure that a room is not too “precious,” or no one will feel comfortable in it. I do not like what I call “embassy decorating” — rooms you just walk by and look at. All my rooms draw the person in and evoke comfort, inviting you to stay awhile and enjoy. And last but not least, don’t forget that every room needs a bar for instant entertaining!
Where do you continually find fresh inspiration, project after project?
Architecture and gardens usually speak to me. It’s funny, I see most rooms finished and work backwards. It may be a gift or insanity, but I also read magazines from the back forward. I like to see things complete. A client will show me one item or tell me a story or feeling, and it then becomes a vision for me to complete their thought! Imagination is a funny thing, it just comes to you in many ways. Sometimes it is as simple as the color in a bouquet, or a sample on our floor in the showroom.
Your expertise is in building, as well as furnishing, exceptional homes. Which is more challenging and why?
Decorating to me is like putting makeup on a beautiful woman. The importance is to have the bones right in the first place, and the rest is easy. My background is in architecture, and I always begin by making sure the spaces and the “bones” of a house function for my client’s lifestyle. The decoration is the icing on the cake. As an accomplished full-service design firm, we do perform architectural trickery with decoration at times. Good design accentuates the best of the room and hides the flaws.
What’s next? Are you working on another book?
I really should. I think there is a third book in me and have thought about it, but am busy with projects on the East Coast and South Florida. I love renovation and transforming “Cinderella” acts on forgotten architecture. Design is an all-consuming passion and I always love a new challenge.