Designer Spotlight

Fawn Galli Embraces Creative Taboos Other Interior Designers Shun

New York designer Fawn Galli
“Straight-up beauty is a bore,” says designer Fawn Galli. Top: The living room of Galli’s Carroll Gardens, New York, home features a deer statue that she found at a garden center and painted a glossy black. “Ever alert, he is like a noble guardian and friend,” she asserts in her new book, Magical Rooms. “And a reminder that the world is full of surprises.” Photo by Laura Resen

Whenever possible, visit the forest, not the florist,” declares New York interior designer Fawn Galli, who strives to use natural elements in her work. She also wants the rooms she designs to be as glamorous as any Paris nightclub — a goal that would seem to contradict her back-to-the-woods advice.

But both impulses are firmly rooted in Galli’s work, where they blend harmoniously. She grew up on a commune in rural Mendocino County, California. Her family’s first home was a houseboat, the second a makeshift cabin; neither had electricity or running water. Her childhood activities included etching her name into mushroom caps with twigs.

“Living that close to nature, it’s no wonder I developed a deep sensitivity to the environment,” she says.

After college in New England, Galli moved to Paris, where she became a “party girl” — her words. “If my early childhood was defined by nature,” she writes, “my early adulthood was defined by the residual sparkle of the last days of disco. Lightness, glitter, and glamour. No matter where in the world I was, the dance floor was home.”

Clearly, Galli contains multitudes. She doesn’t just talk the talk, however, as the many wildly eclectic interiors in her new book, Magical Rooms (Rizzoli), cowritten with Molly FitzSimons, make clear.

Fawn Galli Interiors
1 / 9
Fawn Galli Interiors
Short Hills home by Fawn Galli

In this Short Hills, New Jersey, home, the insect-print dining table by Studio Job is made of interlocking panels that fit together without hardware. The handwoven metal-and-black-leather Hechizoo rug is from Cristina Grajales Gallery. Photo by Richard Powers

Short Hills home by Fawn Galli

The home features Japanese gold Mylar wallpaper that “might have been designed for an opium den, but works just as well in a family lounge,” Galli writes. The Marco Zanuso Lady chairs are covered in African mud cloth from a Harlem street market, and the custom rug was made by women artisans in Morocco through a fair-trade collective. Photo by Richard Powers

Short Hills home by Fawn Galli

“We custom designed the L-shaped living room sofa to help define the space and also to be a soft place to land for any and all who enter,” Galli writes. The room contains 1970s Italians sofa loungers as well, along with a 1930s Viggo Boesen teak lounge chair and a 1950s Viennese tripod floor lamp. Photo by Richard Powers

Short Hills home by Fawn Galli

“Like some kind of mid-work-week fantasy, the world’s largest daybed unfolds along the perimeter of the sunroom, upholstered in a kaleidoscope of cut blue velvets from Maharam,” Galli writes. The space also includes a Jean Royère glass-topped cocktail table and a pair of vibrant yellow India Mahdavi side tables. Photo by Richard Powers

“The pool house is a fairy-tale mix of kitsch and preppy, with an overall relaxed, beachy vibe,” Galli writes. The live-edge mango-wood dining table is surrounded by vintage Eames fiberglass chairs. Photo by Richard Powers

Central Park West apartment by Fawn Galli

In this Central Park West living room, the focal point is “a custom sofa upholstered in an acid yellow Hermès velvet that strikes like a bolt of electricity, putting the entire space on its toes,” Galli writes. Dialoguing with the sofa are a Hans Wegner Flag Halyard chair and an Angelo Lelli kite lamp. Photo by Costas Picadas

Central Park West apartment by Fawn Galli

“Inspired by the pool at Villa Necchi Campiglio, the master bath is a world of Arabescato Corchia marble floating on a sea of vivid aqua blue concrete,” Galli writes. Photo by Costas Picadas

Cornwall, Connecticut home by Fawn Galli

In a longtime client’s country home in Cornwall, Connecticut, Galli paired a vintage Louis Philippe side table with flea market chairs upholstered in faux fur. Photo by Costas Picadas

Cornwall, Connecticut home by Fawn Galli

“Deep plum and apricot walls envelop a persimmon-colored velvet bench cushion with a result that’s rich and somehow sweet, like a freshly baked pie,” Galli writes of her client’s favorite room. Photo by Costas Picadas

“I love black, and I love gray,” she tells Introspective. Seriously? Most of the rooms Galli designs pack powerful punches of color, from turquoise to fuchsia to school-bus yellow. On closer examination, though, the walls might be gray, and the accents black — “neutralizers,” Galli calls them.

“It’s abundantly clear that I love color,” she explains. “I love color about as much as my younger son loves candy. I use pops of color, but I do it with actual rigor.”

Central Park West entryway by Fawn Galli
Galli compares the entryway in this Central Park West family home to “the liquid crystal of a mood ring,” changing throughout the day and contrasting with the dining room’s pale gray walls. A 1960s Florian Schulz pendant light hangs over the Fiona McDonald ebonized mahogany dining table; the herringbone floor is made of reclaimed French oak. Photo by Richard Powers

And although Galli seems to be a maximalist, she claims her approach contains much that appeals to her husband, modernist architect Julio Salcedo-Fernandez. In her work, she says, “I may come on strong — the more peacock feathers, the better. There’s always a lot of light and air, however. Julio is a minimalist, but in my defense, my rooms don’t have a lot of clutter.”

Does the house in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens that she shares with Salcedo-Fernandez and their two young sons prove her point? The most prominent element of the living room are acid green drapes from Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles (which keeps traditional Lao weaving methods alive). Communing with a pair of Milo Baughman–inspired chairs covered in custom Robert Crowder fabric is a young deer (yes, a fawn), a lawn decoration Galli bought at a flea market and painted black (one of those neutralizers). She also applied “disco wallpaper” — a silvery geometric print by Florence Broadhurst — between the parlor floor’s moldings, “because,” she explains, “townhouses are so dark.” But it’s true: no clutter.

And if some of the elements clash, so what? “I say, ‘Clash it up.’ There’s no such thing as too much clash,” Galli insists. Brave juxtapositions “make things so much more original. You can be sure nobody else will have a house that looks like yours.”

The library of the Central Park West apartment has African wood paneling that “evokes mid-century Italian modernism,” Galli writes, adding, “A lounge chair and ottoman in rosewood with black leather by Charles and Ray Eames provides another favored destination for this family of avid readers.” Photo by Richard Powers
Cornwall, Connecticut home by Fawn Galli
In a Cornwall, Connecticut, home, a sculpture by local artist Tim Prentice is mounted above an armchair found at a nearby rummage sale. The painted stairs lead to the second-floor master suite. Photo by Costas Picadas

The founder of Manhattan’s Fawn Galli Interiors learned about decorative arts during her Paris years. When she wasn’t partying, she haunted the famous flea markets, developing an expertise that led to a job in the European furniture department of Christie’s in New York. She began her career in interior design at Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Among her many projects there was helping to design Stern’s own New Haven loft (which he bought when he became a dean of the Yale School of Architecture, in 1999). “I had no experience, but he wanted youthful, and I was young,” she says. “I knew I could give him what he was looking for.” She went on to work with Peter Marino (“a genius with materials”) before launching her own firm in 2007. Since then, she has completed dozens of apartments and houses, many of which appear in Magical Rooms. The book starts with her “elements of inspiration” and ends with a series of how-tos — essentially, she says, “how to avoid the little mistakes that fuck things up.”

The rooms in the book have a pronounced high-low bent. The most prominent element in one Central Park West living room is a “canvas-y” rug with a Rousseau-like pattern, which she found at a flea market and decided to frame. It shares the spotlight with an Italian sofa, a delicate Swedish settee, a Philippe Starck dining table and a Chinese console.

“The dining room is the hub of our home,” Galli writes of the Brooklyn residence she shares with her husband and sons. She describes the marble-topped Eero Saarinen table as “indestructible and stylish” and notes, “Above it hangs an acrylic chandelier that sparkles, whether on or off, like a firework.” Photo by Laura Resen

There’s nothing ungainly in the room, but there could be. “Straight-up beauty is a bore,” says Galli. “I like to incorporate things that would be considered ugly.” Or, as she puts it in the book, “My approach can be defined as follows: Pretend something ugly is beautiful, and see what happens.”

Can Galli give an example?

“This morning,” she says, “I walked into a place we’re doing, an apartment in the Financial District, to find that the client had ordered two ceramic dogs. They were completely tacky, clichéd and out of scale, and the client was planning to return them. But I took everything off the huge dining table — the Baccarat candlesticks, the bowls of candy, everything that was supposed to be there — and put the dogs right in the middle. As a centerpiece, they looked great and were personal to her.”

The lesson: “With the right context, ugly can flip in a second to the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen,” she says, adding, “It’s not so much what you have but what you do with what you have that makes it interesting.”

Fawn Galli’s Quick Picks

“Angelo Mangiarotti is my favorite designer, always and forever — elegant, simple and perfect in all settings, whether it be an entry, dining room or library.”

 

“Metal and black and lighting are the vibe. Monumental in scale, lighting with intellectual provenance becomes sculptural wall art.”

 

“La Lalanne is magic — spectacular and the ultimate in whimsy!”

 

“All rugs should have snakes and dragons. Soulful, lively, energetic —  antique Chinese Art Deco rugs are beautiful.”

 

“Mario Bellini leather sofas are comfortable, practical and wildly stylish. Conjuring up disco nights, this vintage sectional is everything good about late nights with a martini in hand — if only sofas could talk.”

“I love the contrast of the feminine Sèvres earthenware with dangerous cobras. Magical fine French porcelain is the height of refinement and brings history to your space. You can almost see the serpents moving.”

“This pair of armchairs by Giò Ponti, renowned for his understanding of comfort in upholstery, embodies my belief that design can function well and lends a home Italian flair.”

“This coffee tables displays scale and an easy comfort. I love that it’s gorgeous without being precious. Travertine is bright and hides sins.”

“These relatively simple tables in perforated metal by Mathieu Matégot have intellectual rigor and bring authenticity to any space — elegant metal!”

 

“I love the luminosity and glamour of this bubble-gum resin side table. With the mix of materiality, it feels fun and modern.”

“I love love love these tables! They are the perfect way to add a pop of color in an unexpected way. They are totally customizable in color options and size and have a beautiful hand to them.”

 

Purchase This Book

Or Support Your Local Bookstore

Loading next story…

No more stories to load; check out The Study.

No more stories to load; check out The Study.