It has been a whirlwind two years since Anne Maxwell Foster and Suysel dePedro Cunningham founded their design firm Tilton Fenwick. Within weeks of launching, they were named one of the “Top 20 New Traditionals” by TRADhome, the online magazine hybrid of Lonny and Traditional Home. High-profile projects quickly followed, beginning with a floral-wallpapered room “vignette” at the Housing Works 2011 Design on a Dime fundraiser. For the 2011 Hampton Designer Showhouse, they transformed an awkward basement space into what they called a chic “family lounge” via studded grasscloth wallpaper, velvet-tufted sofas and vintage Colombian 1970s armchairs from Darrell Dean Antiques. And this year, the International Furnishings & Design Association named Tilton Fenwick to its list of Rising Stars of Interior Design. Now the duo is busy working on a trio of New York projects: a LaGuardia Place loft, a modern family apartment in Chelsea and Foster’s own apartment in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
Cunningham and Foster met in 2007 through designer Ashley Whittaker, for whom Foster worked at the time, and they became instant friends. “We bonded over how we both started our careers in advertising, hated it with a passion and then landed in design,” Foster explains.
Early in their friendship, Cunningham (who had worked for designer Markham Roberts) and Foster found they had more in common than their career paths. Both had gone to school in Boston (Cunningham studied at Tufts; Foster at Boston College) and were still dating their college sweethearts, each of whom worked in finance. When Foster got engaged, the two began planning every aspect of her wedding, and they soon realized that their style and sensibilities overlapped as well. Joining forces and launching their own business “just made sense,” says Foster. Tilton Fenwick, named for their freshman year dorms, was born shortly thereafter.
Cunningham: West Hartford, Connecticut
Foster: Latham, New York
Cunningham: Chelsea, New York
Foster: Dumbo, Brooklyn
Cunningham: I grew up in a very artsy environment. My father was an architect and a fashion designer. He made these incredible over-the-top gowns for pageants. I was always around colorful fabrics, details and trims. There was never anything ivory, black or basic in my life.
Foster: I was exactly the opposite of Suysel. My parents had zero artistic inclination, but I was constantly drawing and taking accelerated art classes. We always wondered where my artistic side came from. Decorating started early: When I was seven, I wanted my room to have two white walls and two black walls. I negotiated for one black accent wall.
Cunningham: We spent six months planning every aspect of our business, from our aesthetic to our logo. The day after our website launched we got an email from Michelle Adams, editor in chief of Lonny. Michelle loved the look of the site, and asked if we could send her some projects. We had been working on my house upstate, but we hadn’t photographed it yet.
Foster: We did the most insane scramble.
Cunningham: We pulled all-nighters, called in a lot of favors — speaking Spanish really helps you in this industry! — and then sent Michelle pictures of the house from our phones.
Foster: A few weeks later, Michelle told us that we were going to be featured on the Top 20 New Traditionals designers list. She said, This is going to change your life. We saved that email.
Cunningham: When we started, Markham Roberts had great advice: He said to do everything together, whether it’s taking out the trash or working with clients. That way no one is resentful that one person is doing the grunt work, or one person gets the better client. It also produces a better end-product because each project has double the input.
Cunningham: When we launched the business we really focused on social media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our blog. It wasn’t an afterthought. We knew all the shelter magazines, fabric houses and editors were a part of this. One of our biggest clients, who has a beautiful downtown loft, found us through our blog.
Foster: For most decorators, social media is often the first thing they have their assistants do. But we feel strongly about doing it ourselves. It is a great platform and we have our own style and voice.
Cunningham and Foster: We are constantly flipping through our library of vintage design books to inspire new projects. Our current favorites are Dorothy Draper, Syrie Maugham, Nancy Lancaster and David Hicks.
We just recently stayed at Cap Rocat, in Mallorca. While we are known for our use of color and pattern, we were really taken by the simplicity of this chic military-fortress-turned-luxury-hotel.
As for movies: Gosford Park, set in 1930s England with authentic period interiors, and A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford, and set in the 1960s, in a John Lautner house.
Cunningham and Foster: If we were forced to choose one, John Rosselli for fabrics, especially Raoul Textiles.
Cunningham: Our work is creative, so from the beginning, we decided it would always be important to have fun and to not take decorating too seriously. Which is why the picture on our website is of us laughing with the caption: “There is nothing we would rather be doing.” First and foremost, decorating should be fun.
Foster: It’s really about keeping things in perspective all the time.
Cunningham: We’re not doctors. No one is going to die because the tape trim came in the wrong color!
Foster: Exactly. Things can always go wrong, but everything can be fixed. Sometimes it even makes it better.