Libby Cameron is interior design royalty, and I was delighted when she agreed to my request for a Q&A! Libby was a partner at Parish-Hadley, Inc. where she worked for 14 years, and she was the last protégée of famed decorator Sister Parish. In 1995, she opened her eponymous firm, Libby Cameron LLC, and she is known for her love of color and eclectic style. Libby mixes family heirlooms with new pieces, giving her rooms a warm and lively charm and creating luxurious yet comfortable rooms.
In 2009, St. Martin’s Press published Sister Parish Design on Decorating, co-authored by Libby and Susan Crater, Mrs. Parish’s granddaughter, with beautiful illustrations by Mita Corsini Bland. Libby had worked with Susan in 2000 to help found Sister Parish Design, which offers unique and colorful fabrics inspired by Parish-Hadley. House Beautiful has named Libby Cameron numerous times as one of the 100 Best Designers in the United States, and she was a recipient of the House Beautiful Award for Design Excellence, “Ten Best Show house Rooms in America,” in 1992. With her distinguished background and impeccable eye, Libby creates rooms that are truly timeless. Welcome Libby!
Q: How did your career in interior design begin?
A: I had just gotten married, had left my job at the Central Park Conservancy, and was going to the Parsons School. I wanted a career, and have always loved looking at houses and interior design. My great uncle, Rory Cameron who I was very close to, told me I should talk to Sister Parish and work for her and Albert Hadley. Rory and I had lunch at an Indian restaurant above the Paris Theater on 58th Street with Kenny Lane, and they asked me what I wanted to do. Rory knew I loved the decorating world-he created beautiful houses and was renowned for his own house, La Fiorentina in Saint- Jean-Cap-Ferrat. So. the two of them coached me about what to say and what to wear-navy blue, not black, small heels and pearls. Mrs. Parish had helped both my grandmother and her sister with their houses, so I had met her before and loved and knew her work. I was very nervous but I called and asked if I could come and see her, and ask her advice. We had tea. It was shortly thereafter that I think quite reluctantly, Mrs. Parish offered me a month long internship. I was very lucky as that internship turned in to a fulltime job-and a career.
Q: What led you to Parish-Hadley? How long were you there, and what are some of your favorite memories of Sister Parish and Albert Hadley?
A: I worked at Parish Hadley for 14 years-and loved every minute of it. The two of them were so different but I worked with both of them so I got the best of both worlds. Albert was a wonderful teacher and really made me think through the process of what a room could and should be- I learned so much from him. Mrs. Parish was much more instinctual. She loved to shop; we would go all over town hunting for pieces for various houses. Often she would buy what she just liked and it would find a home somewhere. I used to go antiquing with Albert on weekends-all over Connecticut. We went to a medley of places, some fancy, most not. Albert loved to ‘trick up’ what he found-he had a wonderful vision about the possibilities.
Q: As Sister Parish’s last protégé, how has she most influenced your style and work ethic?
A: I adored Mrs. Parish and she was such an important person in my life. Mrs. Parish most certainly instilled in me my love of color and my appreciation of mixing patterns and textures. She had a whimsical side to her which I see now in my own house. Mrs. Parish loved to mix things up and I do too. And her love of quilts and hooked rugs and things made by hand have certainly influenced me. I don’t think she ever had a sense of a formula or a concise starting point-houses just evolved.
Q: In Sister Parish Design on Decorating Mario Buatta states that you have Albert Hadley’s masterful sense of placement. What are some of the key lessons you learned from him?
A: Albert taught me about balance and proportion. Albert always taught me that there should be a skyline to a room, that one’s eye should travel not just around but up and down, and never just go from left to right around a room. I used to love the end of the work day when the office was quiet-it was the best time to sit down with Albert and work on floor plans. He always added multiple seating arrangements and a mixture of chairs and upholstery, and little tables and benches. Mrs. Parish always had many seating groups too in a room- I was always amazed by how much she would and could put into a room. Albert’s sense of furniture placement was quite different from what she would have done. They both firmly believed that every seat should have a place next to it to put down a drink and a light to read and see by.
Q: Parish-Hadley is known for their sophisticated client list including Jacqueline Kennedy, Edith Wharton, Brooke Astor. I am sure you have some wonderful stories! Any favorites you can share?
A: I was lucky enough to see many of the amazing and beautiful houses that belonged to our clients, with incredible art collections and furniture. Traveling with either Albert or Sister was always so much fun . Mrs. Parish loved to move furniture around after dinner. Often times, everyone would get involved and help move things about. I remember one night in Georgia when a piano was being moved from one room to the next; it got stuck in the doorway. Movers had to come the next morning to un-wedge the piano, and the trim had to be repainted, but it didn’t deter Mrs. Parish-ever.
Q: Before you begin any project, you always take time to fully understand how a family lives so you can tailor their home accordingly. What are some examples?
A: It is important to get to know the client and what their needs are, how they live and what their family life is like. Working on floor plans is a good way to begin. I always draw in the furniture by hand-it helps me to think it through as I draw out each room. Children and dogs change the dynamic of a house-practicality is a necessity. It is important to me that a house isn’t too fragile to be used and lived in. I try and use patterns and practical fabrics when there are big families, and use practical material on the floors and walls.
Q: How do you create a comfortable yet luxurious home?
A: Buy what you love and make it welcoming. Have plenty of places to sit and good light, and there is nothing better than pretty flowers. Good, soft. comfortable and inviting upholstery is essential for me, and it has to be the right size. There is nothing better than walking in to a house or space that draws you in and makes you want to walk in further, and feeling like it is fresh and unique and cared about.
Q: What are your thoughts on lighting? You have said “I find that many homes have ceilings that look like Swiss cheese – just filled with holes.” How do you create a more romantic atmosphere that is still well lit?
A: I personally love lamp light and sconces and chandeliers verses overhead lighting, except for in spaces that really require down lighting-like kitchens and bath rooms. Incandescent light is wonderful at night and makes a space warmer, cozier and more inviting. There should be good light in every room, not all on one switch; dimmers are great. I do not like the heat and glare from over head lights.
Q: You say that you were “spellbound by Mrs. Parish’s use of color and her total lack of fear.” How do you encourage your clients to embrace this attribute, particularly in today’s greiged design environment?
A: Mrs. Parish and Albert both had an amazing sense of color-in very different ways. Both of them gravitated to clear colors-I like to believe that I follow in their footsteps. I have actually done many more neutral houses in the last few years- using grays and plainer fabrics. Artwork, lamps and pillows can make a subtle and subdued background come alive, along with wall textures. I love color, and always try to sneak some in on pillows and accessories. I encourage people to try and balance out subtle backgrounds with interesting things to look at, tables and furniture. And layering always helps to add a third dimension to a space. Collections of things-on a table or wall, add interest to a neutral space. And over-sized piece of art in a neutral space adds that other dimension and character.
Q: Do you have favorite colors, fabrics, prints, linens, pieces of furniture, etc. that you particularly like use in your interiors?
A: I love so many of the English fabrics sold in this country- not just the chintzes but the somewhat more muted and unusual patterns and designs. I love most everything that Claremont sells, and John Rosselli has wonderful fabric collections. So many of the wonderful antique and furniture shops have closed. I try to find and use one of a kind pieces over reproductions. I have been going to John Rosselli’s shop for 35 years and love what he finds and reproduces. I try to find pieces at auction-so much is on line today.
Q: How do you create a timeless home?
A: By staying away from what is ‘trending’, ‘hot’ or in vogue. Timeless doesn’t mean neutral and safe, but classic and well designed, well proportioned and what fits and makes sense. Filling a house with what you love, using what you have collected and what means something to you-for whatever reason, is a good place to start. I have clients who move and want to replace everything; it amazing what a coat of paint or new fabrics on old upholstery can do to revitalize a piece that may have been headed for the giveaway pile.
Q: What are your most recent projects, and what are you working on currently?
A: I am all over the place at the moment- New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Washington DC. Everything is at a different stage. I moved a year or so ago, so working on my own house has been a challenge and fun-especially with six dogs who love to swim and a pond; practicality has taken on a new meaning!
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: People should follow their instincts and be brave when decorating a house!
What an inspiration, thank you Libby, for joining us today! For additional information, please visit Libby Cameron LLC and follow @libbycameronllc on Instagram. I also highly recommend Libby’s co-authored book, Sister Parish Design on Decorating.