Designer Spotlight

From Paris to Doha, Timothy Corrigan Designs Gracefully Impactful Homes

Los Angeles– and Paris-based designer Timothy Corrigan has just released a new Rizzoli book documenting 11 residences whose interiors the Southern California native crafted (portrait by Marina Faust). Top: One of two outdoor pavilions at a Doha beach house Corrigan designed for three generations of a Qatari royal family (photo by Mark Luscombe-Whyte).

He has decorated resplendent palaces for Middle Eastern royalty and wildly glamorous mansions for the Hollywood elite, but when it comes to his own homes, interior designer Timothy Corrigan doesn’t mind roughing it. At his 18th-century Loire Valley château, Corrigan sleeps on a mattress on the floor in an out building that is otherwise bare, save for a small fan and a portable heater, while he oversees a top-to-bottom restoration of the property. “It’s worse than living like a college student,” he says cheerfully, “but I love being there for the process.”

A self-described “château addict” — the Loire estate is the Southern California native’s fourth foray into rehabilitating historic French castles — Corrigan nonetheless takes a practical and accessible approach to interior design, one that emphasizes comfort and livability without sacrificing style. He came to the field later in life, following a successful career in advertising and after gaining hands-on experience decorating his own homes. Living in Paris in the late 1980s and early 1990s while overseeing the international offices of a major American ad agency, Corrigan was exposed to Europe’s rich, layered culture. He would visit two or three countries a day for work, then spend weekends roaming museums, auction houses and flea markets. “Growing up in California, you’d never see giltwood furniture,” he recall. “Living in Europe totally opened up my eyes in a different way to art and design.”

The floor in the dining room of France’s Château de Groussay inspired that of the Doha beach house’s groin-vaulted, columned, 82-foot-long entry hall. Corrigan evoked the home’s seaside location in many of the details, for example the shell-shaped brackets, the small cocktail tables’ rope detailing and the abalone shells of the center table. Photo by Mark Luscombe-Whyte

After British House & Garden featured his decoration of his Paris apartment in 1991, Corrigan started getting commissions to decorate homes — a second job of sorts that he worked on at night. In 1994, he returned to New York for an even more exalted position in advertising, which he soon found consisted of “just putting out fires.” Unhappy at being “so far removed from anything creative,” Corrigan realized that Europe had changed him. It was time for something radically different.

“The walls of the elliptical media room are covered in a wood-veneer wallpaper cut and applied to create a patchwork effect,” Corrigan writes in the book. “The wall sculpture of a school of fish and porcelain fish light fixture, one of three, were commissioned for the room.” Photo by Mark Luscombe-Whyte

In 1998, Corrigan took the leap and became a full-time interior designer, launching a firm in his hometown of L.A. Drawing on his marketing background, he positioned his practice astutely, creating the slogan “a world of comfortable elegance.” Despite his lack of formal training in design, Corrigan now conceives furniture and fabric collections for Schumacher; its sister flooring brand, Patterson Flynn Martin; and Perennials, which makes fabrics and rugs. He also deals in antiques from both a 1stdibs storefront and his studio, in L.A.’s La Brea neighborhood

Corrigan’s major residential commissions include a sparkling beachfront palace for a Qatari royal family with the sunny, laid-back yet luxurious look of old Palm Beach. The 43,000-square-foot castle in the sand is also supremely functional and family-friendly. Outdoor fabrics and rugs cover the chairs and flooring in the dining room and drape the walls and seat cushions in the two pavilions.

To make it feel more like a real, comfortable room, Corrigan hung a landscape painting over the fireplace in the covered porch of a newly built colonial-style home in Los Angeles’s Brentwood. The space, which sits off the kitchen and family room, continues the green-and-blue palette of the interiors, connecting indoors with out. Photo by Amy Barnard

The Qatari palace is one of 11 homes documented in Corrigan’s latest book, The New Elegance: Stylish, Comfortable Rooms for Today (Rizzoli), written with Michael Boodro, the former editor in chief of Elle Decor. The featured projects embody his core design principle: “If the most beautiful room isn’t comfortable, it’s not a success.”

In a family’s newly constructed colonial-style house in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, for example, Corrigan outfitted the living room with floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books and cozy, sink-into sofas that invite you to sit down and start reading. To make a covered porch feel like a real room, he placed a landscape painting above an outdoor fireplace and hung Balinese figurines on either side of it.

From Paris to Doha, Timothy Corrigan Designs Gracefully Impactful Homes
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From Paris to Doha, Timothy Corrigan Designs Gracefully Impactful Homes

Los Angeles– and Paris-based interior designer Timothy Corrigan — who has just released the monograph The New Elegance: Stylish, Comfortable Rooms for Today (Rizzoli) — filled the living room of a home in L.A.’s Brentwood neighborhood with colorful upholstered seating and a wall of bookshelves. Photo by Amy Barnard

Corrigan painted the kitchen island green to link it to a garden just outside. The similarly colored pendant lights are from Ann-Morris. Photo by Amy Barnard

The walls of the apartment of a Chicago art collector are adorned with works by Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell and Frank Stella, as well as a collection of pre-Columbian figures from Peru. The console table is an early-18th-century Italian piece, while the bronze-and-eglomise cocktail table and the sofas are of Corrigan’s own design. Photo by Simon Upton

“The formal living room that people use only on Thanksgiving or other holidays — that’s the antithesis of how I want people to live in their homes,” Corrigan explains. “You should be able to put up your feet on the sofa and feel like your children or guests can spill grape juice or red wine without freaking out.”

Corrigan found the 19th-century French confit pots adorning the dining area of a Chicago apartment’s kitchen at a Paris flea market. The custom oak table features inlaid chrome detailing, the chairs are by Michele Bönan, and the sculpture of the mixer on the counter is of marble. Photo by Simon Upton

In an art collector’s penthouse apartment in a new glass-and-steel Chicago high-rise, Corrigan applied his same rule about beauty, comfort and livability — albeit in a much more austere way. The building’s construction was barely completed when Corrigan’s client, for whom he had designed three previous homes, told him, “Now, let’s gut the thing,” he recalls with a laugh. As he describes the renovation in his new book, “We wanted to evoke the comforts of a traditional home but still have the apartment fit within the modern style of the building.”

For the entrance, Corrigan fabricated two pairs of intricately carved doors based on ones by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann he had seen on Paris’s Champs Élysées. “Each door weighs like three hundred pounds and is four-inch-thick solid wood,” he says. “I wanted to give a feeling of substance and architectural integrity the minute you walk in, as the rest of the building is glass-box boring.” Inviting straw chairs surrounding an oak table and a collection of antique French pottery bring the sleek white kitchen down to earth. A pale, silvery blue palette serves to both articulate striking artworks by Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell and Frank Stella and quietly unite the interiors with the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan beyond.

“In a play of reflections,” Corrigan writes, describing his Paris living room, “the mirror over the mantel reflects an interior window that looks onto a matching mirror in the dining room beyond.”  To furnish the room, he selected seating and a cocktail table from his furniture collection for Schumacher and a rug he designed for Patterson Flynn Martin. Photo by Richard Powers

Like these projects, many that Corrigan works on involve new construction. But the designer actually prefers renovating old homes. “I like the challenge of working with old architecture and figuring out how to make a space work for today,” he explains. Case in point: his current pied-à-terre in Paris, where he opened a satellite office in 2001. The apartment, situated in a 19th-century Haussmann-style building on a charming two-block Right Bank street, presented plenty of challenges. The living room had eight doors and was designed, says Corrigan, to hold “dainty little chairs — it’s certainly not how people live today.” His solution was to replace some doors with mirrors and display consoles in front of others, then paint the walls in soothing off-whites, accented with thin red lines inset within the original ornate plaster moldings.

The walls in Corrigan’s Paris bedroom are lined with his Cap Ferrat fabric for Schumacher, which “create[s] a sheltering feel,” he writes. An Empire mahogany chest of drawers stands next to a fireplace; the chandelier is 1940s French. Photo by Gianni Franchellucci

The master bedroom had its own defects, including an off-center fireplace, walls of different heights and more “doors everywhere.” Corrigan draped it, like a tent, in a Schumacher fabric of his own design that hides the irregularities yet allows him to access the closets when he needs them. It’s a cozy cocoon, as comfortable as it is elegant — in other words, a beautiful success. “To me, the most important aspect of comfort is how you feel at home,” Corrigan says. “Your home should be a place that allows you to be your best self.”

Timothy Corrigan’s Quick Picks

“I love almost everything that Jean-Charles Moreux ever designed, and these wonderful plaster floor lamps are no exception. They would work in just about any setting because of their clean lines and inherent glamour.”

“Robert Polidoro is my all-time favorite photographer, and this photo from his three-book opus on the restoration of the Palace of Versailles is a real knockout. Its overscale dimensions and exquisite detail let it ‘own’ a room. I could look at this spectacular piece of art all day!”

“French artist Arman has been a personal favorite since I lived in Paris in the early nineties, when he was first becoming well known. His playful deconstruction of musical instruments, sculptures and paintbrushes creates a wonderful mix with more classical pieces of furniture and art. It is this kind of mix that makes any room inherently more interesting than a collection in which everything is of the same period or style.”

“These classic Serge Roche mirrored benches practically shout: ‘CHIC!’ I have always coveted a pair and would put them in just about any setting that needs a shot of glamour. Even the animal-print upholstery seems right on point for these sexy benches.”

 

“The intimate, highly detailed paintings of the interiors of rooms by American artist Walter Gay have become synonymous with understated elegance. He captures spaces in a way that makes it appear as if someone had just walked out of them (and the pictures). This one is unusual because it is a painting of paintings — really lovely and perfect for any spot that allows for up-close reflection.”

“Who wouldn’t love this extraordinary pair of console tables? While they are from the mid-twentieth century, they hark back to Swedish Biedermeier furniture with their light-colored wood and use of the harp motif. These would look terrific in an entrance hall or flanking a wonderful marble fireplace surround. It’s important to see them both at the same time to get the full impact of their lines.”

“I purchased these spectacular terracotta urns from Karl Lagerfeld when he got rid of his place in Monaco around twenty-five years ago. I used them in the entrance hall of two of my homes in L.A., and they are featured in my new book. I hate to see them go, but I just don’t have a room that can take them. They are totally stunning but need a lot of space because of their large scale.”

“This ginormous Indonesian secretary would be the star in a Jacques Grange–style boutique hotel lobby or in the starkest and most modern setting. Its boldness of line and color are really wonderful. It was found by Vicente Wolf, who has the most curated eye of just about anyone in the design world.”

“A number of years ago, one of the directors of the photography department at Christie’s told me that I needed to know about the work of Ruth Bernhard. I was told that Bernhard was one of the secrets of the art world and that I should invest in some of her work. Although I never buy art or antiques based on possible appreciation, I certainly am glad that I bought her work, because it is all hauntingly beautiful — and, happily, continues to increase in value. Win-win!”

“This gutsy wood and iron dining table, which Jean-Charles Moreux created in the mid-nineteen thirties, is a great example of his contemporary take on neoclassical design. Can’t you just see it in a stark white room with colorful chairs placed all around it?”

“The moment that I saw this charming pastel by American Impressionist Childe Hassam, it was love at first sight. The intimacy of the farm in Brittany and the bold use of bright colors beg to be embraced and cherished. I would hang this just about anywhere, because it is so beautifully executed and can go from the fanciest Park Avenue living room to a cozy bedroom setting.”

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