Hillary Taylor is known for her fresh and bright neo-traditional style, and she has been a favorite follow of mine on Instagram for years. Raised on the peninsula south of San Francisco, Hillary learned the art of designing the home environment from her mother. She graduated cum laude from Princeton University, worked for an investment banking firm, and received a J.D. from J. Reuben Clark Law School before founding her business, Hillary W Taylor Interiors in 2003. Today, I am delighted to welcome Hillary for a Q&A where we discuss her intriguing career path and beautiful design aesthetic. Welcome, Hillary!
Q: With a degree from Princeton University and a J.D., what made you decide to trade in your career as an investment banker for interior design?
A: The short answer is- I’m really evenly split between left and right brains! I love both- and interior design really requires all of it- it gives me plenty of opportunities to be super organized, detailed, and execution driven – and at the same time create new things all the time. Creating a home is so important to me- it’s the most precious place of all!
The long answer is:
Interior Design was not an option for me as a young adult- I was raised in a place where science, technology and finance dominated the landscape of intellectual and occupational pursuits. My mother was a great interior designer- but my father had other ideas for me- and he paid for college. Interior Design was also not an option at Princeton. Instead, Princeton really gave me a great liberal arts education and a foundation for writing and thinking critically. My course load at Princeton was very diverse; I studied the violin, art history and architecture, and I took several civil rights, legal, and history courses. I received a minor (a certificate) in African-American Studies in addition to my history degree. I knew I wanted to go to law school but I was a little burned out and really wanted to earn some money, so I took an investment banking job in San Francisco. I gained valuable skills in that job– a crazy work ethic, finance basics and an interesting look at entrepreneurship. I also learned that I still wanted to go to law school since I was more interested in what the securities attorneys were doing during those drafting sessions. I’m so glad I was able to attend law school- and I loved every minute. I still didn’t see interior design as an option even though I designed the offices for my group project in “law practice management” course! I was also taking undergraduate interior design courses at BYU – where I was attending law school at the same time. After taking the bar, I just didn’t have a fire in my gut to practice securities law for 70-80 hours per week with a baby at home. I quit and started sewing like crazy. My mother was a designer and seamstress and she helped me learn to sew. And if I ever got stuck, I could always turn to my mother in law. She had a workroom in Los Angeles and could literally make anything in the world. When my second child was born, I knew it was time to open up my business and my mother really has mentored me ever since. It’s been a gift! I love my clients, I love my work, and I love my team so much. It’s been my dream job and allowed me to be flexible while raising four children with my husband- two dogs, two bunnies and a hedgehog!
Q: How do you describe your style, and who/what has had the greatest influence over your aesthetic.
A: I’d describe my style as fresh traditional – I love clear color and incorporating authentically aged, well-loved details. Sometimes that’s in the form of a classical frieze in the room – sometimes it’s a piece of furniture. But overall, balance is important to me- so I’m also not a maximalist. My greatest aesthetic influences come from my time spent growing up in Northern California, summertimes spent in France, gardens and the spaces that access them, blue skies and yellow fields (in all their varying iterations across the world), and my love for American Federal style architecture.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Grandmillennial movement, and has it affected your business?
A: I love it. And may this movement last forever! It really hasn’t changed the way I approach my work, but it has given me a few more points of reference when speaking to a certain program with clients-whereas before I had a lot of old books lying around- now it’s a simple save from Instagram. It’s so wonderful to see the resurgence of pretty spaces. And people crave these spaces for their nostalgia but also for their quintessentially Anglo-American comfort.
Q: What are five classic/timeless elements you believe every home must have?
A: Light (preferably from 2 different sources per room), Functionality (access to outdoor spaces, furniture that makes sense, adequate storage) , Flexibility (change is a necessary component of floorplans and lifestyles today and evermore), Comfortable upholstery (chosen or built for the people in the space), and Layers (texture, proportion, and patina make homes more livable and authentic).
Q: Who are your favorite interiors designers, past or present?
A: Mark Hampton, Mario Buatta, Albert Hadley, Markham Roberts, Henri Samuel, and Victoria Hagan.
Q: Do you have any favorite patterns, prints, linens, colors, paints, etc. you particularly enjoy using?
A: I love a tiny or ticking stripe- especially for the lining for curtains or a contrasting french flange- Rose Cumming has some great ones- as does Suzanne Kasler for Lee Jofa. LOVE them all. They can make something mundane feel special- they can also bring an accessibility to something that might be otherwise fancy. I also love using ticking stripes railroaded or applied horizontally on chairs. I love all the historical prints- some named after the Chateaux they were designed for- Verrieres, Talavera- and anything Le Manach is spectacular. I love a chintz on a circular table- but it must be 32” D or larger- otherwise the proportion doesn’t work. In general, I prefer using 100% natural fabrics or 100% unnatural fabrics! We use so many great performance fabrics – and combined with natural linen, cotton and silk- you get great livability and flexibility. White is very important to my work- I think it can really make anything fresh and provides contrast where needed. I love Benjamin Moore White Dove and Simply White depending on the site, and Sherwin Williams Pure White 7005. My favorite blue paint for walls is BM Glass Slipper 1632. It looks good cut in half or full strength. And for red personalities like mine! – It’s really wonderful in bedrooms and home offices where a good soothing antidote is needed! Finally, I consider navy a neutral- it’s a great counterpoint, outline and grounding touchstone for floor treatments and window treatments.
Q: What is the most cherished item in your own home, and do you have any special collections?
A: I’d say a painting of my children by Jonathan Linton. My people are my favorite part of my home! Our children each play a string instrument, and so all the cellos and violins hanging around are some of my favorite “collections.” I have a few special antique Chinese export pieces from a purveyor in my hometown, San Francisco. Dishes are my favorite thing to collect. I have Herend from Hungary (my husband lived there for two years) and have been visiting the Gien factory in France since I was 14 years old – so I have pieced together several different Gien patterns and love all their faience. I love to set a table and we really try to use our dining room every Sunday, every birthday and holiday.
Q: Do you have any favorite movies homes? What do you like most about them?
A: Out of Africa. I actually listed this “favorite movie” on my college application to Princeton. During my freshman year, the Dean of Admissions, Fred Hargadon, came up to a group of us and pointed at us and recited things about our applications. He was known for having a photographic memory. He pointed to me and said, “Hillary Wheeler! Your favorite movie is Out of Africa! Tell me why ?” We ended up having a nice little conversation about textiles, light, cinematography and the most beautiful people (Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and every.single.extra) in that movie.
Any Nancy Meyers movie has a great livability that has spawned a thousand great home concepts! To Catch a Thief (even the flatware is amazing! The silk curtains and dresses… her hats!), Emma (2008 Masterpiece- the gardens), (Emma 2020!- laduree in a movie!), Midnight in Paris, The Talented Mr. Ripley (what isn’t great in this movie- but Gwyneth’s hair!), Something’s Gotta Give (clean classic Victoria Hagan!), and Pride and Prejudice (2005- dining room aged blue glazed paneling, slipcovers, brown furniture). I love the fashion, the patina, the floorplans, the color!
Q: When you aren’t busy designing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A: I love gardening- I think deadheading roses is my meditation, running, watching my kids play sports, watching professional sports, listening to my family play music, skiing the best snow on earth in Utah, traveling anywhere and everywhere, and entertaining large and small groups.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: So glad for accounts like yours that keep the love for traditionally focused interiors and architecture burning bright! One reason I love traditional design is that it’s accretive and looks good as you add over time- I love the idea of reusing and loving things that have been loved. And ! It looks even better when you add contemporary pieces and have space for the eye to rest- so it’s a very forgiving style of decoration. Traditional home design really is such a soulful foundation to a well-lived life.
Thank you, Hillary for joining us today! What an incredible portfolio! To learn more about Hillary, please visit Hillary W Taylor Interiors, and you can also follow @hillarytinteriors on Instagram for ongoing inspiration.