It always delights me to meet a fellow Southern Methodist University alumna and Texan… particularly one who is an incredibly talented interior designer! Therefore I could not have been more pleased to discover the portfolio of Courtnay Tartt Elias, Creative Director and Principal of Creative Tonic. Based in Houston, Courtnay is known for her refined floor plans, lively color palette, passion for art, and unexpected blend of diverse periods of style. It is her keen eye for the details that truly makes Courtnay’s work stand out, as she incorporates old world details and craftsmanship for today’s generation. And it is easy to see her artistic background (she attended Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London after graduating from SMU) in every one of her masterpiece interiors. Intrigued to learn more, Courtnay graciously agreed to join us today for a Q&A!
Q: How would you describe your design aesthetic?
A: Every project is so different and I truly strive to make every interior uniquely personal and bespoke for each of my clients. I am passionate about what I do and truly care so deeply about the individual design of each home. Our Creative Tonic mantra is to create the most uplifting and joyful atmosphere to whatever OUR CLIENTS’ design aesthetic might be. It is such an amazing experience working with the individuals and families who hire us to create the spaces where they live together and make all of their memories!
Q: How do you go about incorporating antiques and traditional design elements into your interiors?
A: I usually canvas my clients home first to find out what we might use or use in a different way they may not have considered before. Often these are antiques or collections that have been passed down. Also, I am constantly on the prowl looking for special antique and vintage pieces. Sometimes we stumble on something that speaks to us and we put it away not knowing where it will find a home and other times we find unique pieces when shopping for specific jobs. Houston has amazing antiques fairs (look up the new Theta Design Week and how they are changing that antique show this year!), antique shops and vintage stores. I just found a stunning FULL set of apple green Rosenthal china at the Bluebird Shop here! My husband (Mr. Creative Tonic!) and I travel together a lot for our jobs and we always research and visit the local antique shops and vintage stores wherever we go. He is actually really amazing at spotting unusual pieces… we just discovered a GREAT vintage poster shop in Cincinnati and I have several pieces coming in for clients. As far as traditional design elements… Creative Tonic has never met a tape trim, pom-pom fringe or Chinoiserie detail we didn’t love! Even in our most contemporary projects we use very traditional dressmaking details in our custom drapery and upholstery designs. I am a wallpaper freak as well and basically use as much as a client will tolerate. I find it cheerful to wallpaper unexpected places such as pantries, ceilings, closets, trashcans, tissue boxes, everything… it is such a colorful and traditional surprise! Other traditional elements you find in most of our projects include a family heirloom or ten, custom monograms, special (and often colorful) bed linens and lots of books. I LOVE to decorate with books tailored to our clients’ interests. I also believe what enhances a room the most is usually something with a patina of age.
Q: Please tell me about your experience at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London and how it influenced your work.
A: The experience at Sotheby’s in London gave me an amazing appreciation of 19th and 20th Century Decorative Arts and Architecture. Part of our training included visiting and studying with the curators at many of the National Trust homes and house museums throughout England. I also spent countless hours in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London often getting lost in the textile rooms with the huge turnstiles of C.F.A. Voysey carpets or with the English Arts and Crafts silver cabinets drooling over Christopher Dresser toast racks. By having the privilege of seeing so many prime examples of all the decorative arts and working so closely with the staff at the auction house, this experience truly helped define and refine the way I look at things.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: Traveling and art!!!! Mr. Creative Tonic’s work and my work take us both to amazing places. Wherever we go we make sure to find time to visit a museum or a garden. We go to Art Basel Miami Beach every year for his business and I am so inspired by the people and what is happening in the contemporary art scene as well as the latest, cutting-edge design at Design Miami. I shop for my clients there as well and on more than one occasion I have found a piece of art that ends up inspiring the entire design or color palate of that client’s home. I was lucky enough to live in Paris during my junior year abroad with SMU (Southern Methodist University) and that experience has led me to seek out and be inspired by everything beautiful and French from food, to fashion, to furniture and most especially detailed French textiles and passamenterie. Just thinking about Paris inspires me! I am also inspired by my mentors… first and foremost my mother, the impeccable Barbara Tartt with whom I learned everything I know about construction, proportion, scale and detail. She is still helping me today and pushing me on all my projects to do the very best. I am also creatively pushed to my boundaries by my big brother and commercial real estate developer Blake Tartt III with whom I have been lucky enough to collaborate on many design and construction projects. My other mentors include the dashing and abundantly talented Jon Green of Indigo Interiors in Houston who let me shadow and follow him around the world of design and my two English professors (Ruth L’aigle Holmes in high-school and Dr. Bonnie Wheeler from SMU) who both taught me how to write, express myself, rewrite and care about the details. Lastly, I am inspired by my VERY FUN and talented Team Creative Tonic headed up by Lila Malone! Lila and the other young women come to the office every morning ready to face the challenge of a new day. Even when I want to pull the covers over my head!, no design dilemma is too difficult to overcome with them on board. I truly could not do all that I do and accomplish as much as we do in a given day without them. I am energized by their fresh perspective and honesty. We joke that we are always in a fight… but we are really pushing each other to the boundaries of design and challenging each other to make the best decisions for our clients… all while laughing, drinking champagne (on Fridays!) and having the best time together. I am SO blessed with this group!!!
Q: Do you have any favorite staples when it comes to paint colors, fabrics, wallpapers etc.?
A: We love everything Manuel Canovas, Pierre Frey, Quadrille, Carlton Varney, Perennials, Samuel and Sons, Cole and Sons, Peter Dunham, Urban Electric, Circa Lighting and too many others to name them all. One of our favorite and go-to paints is Fine Paints of Europe, specifically all of the high gloss lacquers in the Hollandac solvent borne colorants. Do not laugh at this one… I love Sherwin Williams’ Snowbound #7004… this white paint is a perfect crisp background for all of our often colorful designs. We basically love it ALL!
Q: What are your favorite interior design books?
A: One of my other Houston mentors, the fabulous Don Connelly who owns Area, suggested my go-to favorite book Saladino Style by John Saladino. I suggest to all of my clients to READ this book, especially my clients who are working with architects on construction projects. My other favorite (given to me by my mother a long time ago) is The Inspiration of the Past by John Cornforth. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of architecture and design.
Q: When you are not busy designing, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
A: Tough question… because if I am not designing, I am ALWAYS thinking about design and how things appear. I, of course, love spending time with Mr. Creative Tonic and my three little Creative Tonics… my boys who are not so little anymore! We all love to travel, shop, eat and play together. We are often in visually exciting places and I hope by living with me and under my roof they have all developed an excellent eye for design, construction and architectural details. I am kind of boring because I live and love what I do everyday!
Q: What are five luxuries you couldn’t live without?
A: This one is easy! 1. My beautiful anniversary diamond hoops designed by Mr. Creative Tonic himself! 2. Rose Champagne 3. Lanvin 4. Paris 5. Rienzi- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston house museum for European decorative arts. This is a true treasure in our city and I am lucky enough to serve on the Rienzi Committee and the Rienzi Collections Subcommittee! I get one more!!!!! 6. My precious boys, Mr. Creative Tonic + Clemons my Ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (They all count as one!)
Thank you, Courtnay for sharing your time and endless talent with us today. Your work is truly spectacular and uniquely inspired! To learn more about Creative Tonic, please visit www.creativetonicdesign.com. And for daily inspiration, please follow @creativetonic on Instagram.