Furniture

Billy Cotton Fills His Parents’ Vermont House with His New Furniture Line

Billy Cotton
Billy Cotton designed furniture and other objects before taking on interiors. In his new Regency Collection furniture line, he evokes his New England roots with pieces inspired by the traditional houses he grew up in. Top: In collaboration with 1stdibs, Cotton furnished the house where his parents currently live with pieces from his new collection. The living room features Cotton’s Regency sofa and floor lamp along with a tapestry that was a 19th-century theater backdrop and a rug that was purchased at auction.

Before Billy Cotton was a noted interior designer and member of the AD 100, creating eclectic and distinctive rooms for an elite clientele, he was, as they say today, a maker.

Cotton studied industrial design at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, and in 2005 began crafting furniture and other objects — in a denture factory, no less.

“That was the dream,” Cotton says now of designing products. “It’s what I was trained to do. I figured, I’ll build a portfolio and do this until I get a real job.” His thinking, he explains, was that “people always need custom things,” especially in New York City, with its small spaces.

Cotton worked here and there and everywhere, for people like T Magazine design director Tom Delavan. The fruits of his labors, he says, “really took off,” particularly his dinnerware, which was carried by Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and elsewhere. Then, after 2011 or so, his interiors business really took off, too.

Cotton’s parents have lived in this 1850 home in Burlington, Vermont, since 1994. “Not much has changed, except the kitchen,” Cotton says.

So, Cotton’s new Regency Collection — his latest official line, consisting of 10 furniture and lighting pieces — is really a return to his roots.

Billy Cotton Vermont dining room Regency Collection
In the dining room, a five-arm chandelier and chairs from the Regency Collection harmonize perfectly with an antique table and vintage rug.

The designer’s previous collection was called Joinery, and the flavor was “very strict work about volume,” says Cotton, who has his office in Brooklyn and makes  his home in Chelsea. “I did feel with this collection that we could continue the dialogue about engineering and form, but that we could also have a little bit of fun.”

The fun comes in large measure from curves, with every piece offering something rounded or sinuous. The most dramatic example is the swirling demilune of the Regency sofa, whose ends curl in to enclose sitters in a cozy conversation. The fact that it is covered in a Loro Piana wool cashmere boosts the plush effect. The barrel-backed Regency dining chair follows suit on a smaller and more modest scale.

Billy Cotton Vermont office den Regency Collection
Cotton chose the deep red wall color to add richness to the office, where his green-lacquer-and-brass Regency card table is paired with antique chairs. A Regency sconce is mounted next to the fireplace.

As the name implies, the collection takes inspiration from the Regency brand of neoclassicism that flourished in early-19th-century England. Cotton is known for effortlessly mixing the traditional and the modern, and he is well-versed in the historical bases of much design. “I grew up in New England, in really old, traditional houses,” he says.

In an exclusive collaboration with 1stdibs, he installed the items from the Regency Collection in one of those houses — his parents’ 19th-century home in Burlington, Vermont. The pieces take on new life in the cozy old rooms, giving Cotton a chance to demonstrate his “obsession with proportion,” as he puts it. But they would work just as well in a Soho loft or a modern house in Austin.

Cotton’s parents, who love to cook, took Julia Child’s open kitchen as inspiration for their own. A Regency two-arm chandelier hangs over a table and chairs that his parents purchased in San Francisco in the 1980s.

His Regency card table, with hand-painted fluting on its legs, certainly looks at home near the Ionic pilaster of a fireplace in his parent’s living room. One of the tailored table lamps fits in equally well next to an ultramodern Donald Judd plywood bed upstairs.

Billy Cotton Vermont landing Regency Collection
The Bette Midler poster, purchased in Paris, is a gift from Cotton to his father, who’s a big fan. The bench, from England, and runners are all vintage. A Pick Up Stick light illuminates the landing.

Cotton may be best known for his lighting fixtures, another obsession of his, particularly his arrestingly geometric Pick Up Stick chandelier, introduced in 2008 and appearing in many a magazine spread lately. “I think it has an emotional, physical effect on our lives and how we do things,” he says of lighting generally.

Billy Cotton Vermont master bedroom Regency Collection
In the master bedroom, a pair of Regency sconces flank a painting over the fireplace, which is original to the home.

The new collection includes a variety of these all-important pieces, each of them featuring buttoned-up, classic lampshades. The largest example is the Regency five-arm chandelier, whose brass spokes hanging from a central fixture make it seems almost nautical, like a ship’s wheel.

Billy Cotton Vermont entryway Regency Collection
The toile wallpaper in the entryway is by Brunschwig & Fils; the mirror and console are vintage.

“If you think Regency pieces will feature in all the designer’s upcoming interior work, think again. “I conceive of them as separate practices,” says Cotton, whose Dumbo office has three people dedicated to products and 10 to interiors. “I don’t ever want my projects to feel like showrooms.” In fact, he adds, “I rarely use my products. It’s only if the client drives it. It’s all about their personal taste. When I meet with a client, I’m trying to derive what brings them joy.”

Cotton’s influences, in both his collections and his interiors, are diverse, embracing both the Regency era and the Bauhaus. As different as these styles seem, Cotton’s new club chair subtly incorporates both. “The design reinterprets classicism — we have these decorative flourishes, but then we pull back so it works in a contemporary space,” he says, pointing out that the “Bauhausian casters” on which the piece stands give it a modern touch.

Billy Cotton Vermont guest bedroom Regency Collection
Cotton crafted the bed in the guest room as an homage to Donald Judd. The painting mounted above it is vintage; the photo is by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The table lamp and ceiling light are from the Regency Collection.

Tellingly, when asked for his favorite interior designers, Cotton cites the London-based former actress Anouska Hempel, whose Blakes hotel, which opened in London in 1978, is frequently cited as the first luxury boutique property. “She’s a huge hero of mine,” he says — even though Hempel’s look, with its romantic gestures and frequent use of black, doesn’t at all resemble Cotton’s (he lives in a chic, fairly minimal and white-walled apartment).

His appreciation relates to Hempel’s “thoroughness,” he says. “It’s the idea of a total environment, making that and wrapping somebody in it. Designers who have a total look have always inspired me. I love that in fashion as well.”

Cotton will be happy if his Regency Collection pieces contribute to such a look, wherever they end up. Although he keeps separate staffs for his two businesses, he sees them as two sides of the same coin. Elegance, proportion and utility are the guiding principles for both. “It’s all one conversation about American design,” he says. “The challenge is making sure everything feels thoughtful and original.”

Billy Cotton’s Talking Points

“Inspired by classic brass library lights, my update includes cleaner lines and movement.”

“This is an early piece, from when I was really trying to figure out my own classical language.”

“This piece is inspired by the simple curves of Regency country house furniture.”

“We developed every piece of Joinery on this light. Inspired by the work of Carlo Scarpa, we wanted to play with subtle variations in material.”

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