Interior designer Marie-Christine McNally comes by her good taste at least partly the old-fashioned way — her mother, Annick McNally, has run Le Louvre French Antiques, in Dallas, for decades and is a longtime presence on 1stdibs.
But McNally, now based in Sag Harbor, New York, did not grow up thinking she would become the well-regarded designer of residences from Long Island to New York City to California that she is today.
“It just never occurred to me to pursue design, never in a million years, because she was always the design person,” says McNally, referring to her mother. After attending the University of Texas at Austin, she worked in advertising in New York for a while, but then found herself needing a change.
“I reevaluated,” she says. “I’d just bought my first apartment on the Upper West Side, which was actually two small apartments next to one another. I undertook the combination and renovation on my own.” And she enjoyed it.
After finishing that project and while still working in advertising, she went to an information session at the New York School of Interior Design. Things started to click: “I threw everything out the window and started over.” After graduating from the school, McNally worked with Julie Hillman, now an AD 100 designer, for several years before setting out on her own. Her aesthetic developed along the way.
“My early influence was my mother’s look, of course, which is country French and traditional antiques,” she says. “But I was then exposed to more modern, contemporary, eclectic design. I think ultimately I landed in the middle. My interiors feel clean and contemporary, but I actually put a lot of vintage or antique pieces in them.”
High-style moments are certainly in McNally’s wheelhouse. In a five-bedroom home in Silicon Valley’s Atherton, she hung a stunning mauve de Gournay Plum Blossom wallpaper in the dining room, then put silk-velvet on the vintage chairs surrounding an acacia slab-top table from Hudson Furniture.
But she can also do casual. Much of McNally’s work is in the Hamptons, and for Watermill clients with a modest south-of-the-highway house, the brief was to create an easygoing getaway. “They entertain quite a bit, but it’s really flip-flop or barefoot entertaining,” she says. The dining room she created sports a custom circular fumed-oak table surrounded by a steel band — simplicity itself. She dressed it up, just a tad, with two vintage pieces: Charles Dudouyt dining chairs with a tapering splat, upholstered in a blue wool trimmed with leather (from Conjeaud & Chappey), and a J.T. Kalmar Tulipan chandelier that gathers together dozens of glass orbs.
Another Watermill home, this one owned by a young family for whom she also did a place in Tribeca, is particularly illustrative of her approach. McNally is extremely collaborative, so she embraced the clients’ idea of turning the Watermill dining room into a playroom. Instead of a table, the space centers on a whimsical teepee that contains all the kids’ stuff so — at least when it’s put away — it doesn’t spill into the other rooms.
Practicality can be chic: In the home’s kitchen, Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs might seem too high-style for eating fish fingers with ketchup around a classic Saarinen Tulip table, so McNally put sheepskin throws on the seats. If they get dirty, they can be washed. “I don’t do upholstery that’s going to get trashed,” she says, “and these look great.” She also installed a banquette, a seating form she often uses for comfort, since “everyone gravitates to the kitchen.”
The study has a mix of vintage finds, like a pair of Hans Wegner GE-375 chairs from 1stdibs, and contemporary works, including lighting by the designer Billy Cotton, which appears throughout the house. Cotton’s custom ceiling fixture presides over a mid-century wooden coffee table embraced by a brass rail and standing on metal pin legs. A pair of mid-century travertine side tables flank a leather sofa the clients owned.
In the dramatic double-height foyer and living room, large windows offer scenic views of fields and farms. A catwalk runs across the top of the space, connecting the master suite to the rest of the second floor. A custom iron lantern designed by Michael Del Piero hangs in the center of the living area, illuminating vintage leather-seated Børge Mogensen chairs and Cassina’s Rio table, the latter from Monc XIII. A custom daybed reminds you that a beach house is for relaxing.
The family’s Tribeca residence is a loft-like apartment on Clarkson Street. There, McNally put a 14-bulb fixture by Lindsey Adelman in the dining area over a customized oak table with a wax finish. Its branch-like arms echo the vertical posts of the vintage Danish dining chairs, which are upholstered in a Ralph Lauren black leather.
The living room is a symphony of rounded shapes — including a snazzy circular hanging chair — and soft surfaces, such as a pair of Sentient Caribou chairs upholstered in coyote pelts. As always, there are plenty of vintage finds, like a Cherner bentwood swivel chair, bought from Horseman Antiques and covered in patent leather.
McNally has evolved into a creator of distinct and beautiful rooms, but she still gives credit to her mother for steeping her in an aesthetically sophisticated world early on. “I guess it kind of runs in our blood,” she says. “I just love this process.”