Google Timothy Godbold and you’ll find two very different people: one a Long Island–based interior designer, the other the author of a book about the influence of military uniforms on fashion. Turns out they’re the same Australian-born Jack-of-all-trades. After he moved from Manhattan to the Hamptons in 2012, he had nothing to do at night, Godbold explains. So, why not write a book? The topic was something he’d been thinking about for years. The grandson of a general, he was steeped in military culture as a boy. Then, in his teens, “I saw Adam Ant in his hussar jacket,” he recalls, “and bands like Duran Duran in military-inspired suits.” Fascinated by the cultural crossover, he took notes, and in 2016 Phaidon published his lavishly illustrated volume, Military Style Invades Fashion.
What does that have to do with Godbold’s day job? As the designer of high-end interiors, Godbold isn’t making bedrooms look like barracks or dining rooms imitate mess halls. Still, he perceives a military influence in everything he does. For one thing, Godbold designs almost entirely in neutrals — a parade of grays and beiges and khakis that, he says, recalls “the French Foreign Legion in those old movies with Gary Cooper.” And there’s a discipline to his work that helps him please clients, most of whom are married couples. “The wives hire me, but the husbands end up happy — I think because the rooms are very masculine.”
Whatever the origins of his Desert Storm palette, it works. “Colors can become dated quickly, but black and white and beige are timeless,” he says, adding that he avoids rooms that are overdone, “like a decorator spent too long at the swatch bar.”
Godbold doesn’t spend too long on anything. He prides himself on moving quickly — renovating large houses in as little as three months. It helps that he buys a lot of what he needs online. “I literally hang out on 1stdibs at night,” he says. One of his current projects, for which he is stockpiling black-and-white furniture, is in Palm Beach: “It’s an eighties travertine colossus, and we’re going to turn it into something special.”
Godbold has gotten work through 1stdibs. A California couple found him on the site and asked him to renovate their 9,000-square-foot house in Palo Alto. Godbold placed molded leather dining chairs, which the clients already owned, to great effect around a vintage walnut and steel table, which sits on a speckled Rosemary Hallgarten rug amid white-painted walls. The family room is done in beiges and taupes and grays, with seating arranged along a circa 1970 French travertine coffee table and a trio of Galets (small, organically shaped tables) that Godbold purchased on 1stdibs.
In place of vivid colors, Godbold turned to vivid shapes, deploying pieces with strong outlines, like the many-legged taboret table by Lawson-Fenning. Multiple narrow legs also appear in a console table designed by Godbold, its arches echoing one of his favorite buildings, the so-called square colosseum (now Fendi’s headquarters) in Rome. The living room is a bit darker and a bit more formal, with khaki walls and tufted sofas facing each other across a giant tufted ottoman-settee, a Godbold design in walnut and mohair velvet.
Godbold stripped the kitchen both physically — removing all the upper cabinets, which “create shadows and close off the space” — and visually, sticking with white tiles and white and gray woodwork. But in another room he added bit of Joan Miró-esque whimsy: After ruminating for years on a picture he saw in a magazine, he decided to paint a girl’s face in the couple’s bathtub. “I was in the tub with a paintbrush, not knowing if it would look cool. But I’m not afraid to fail.” Indeed, he says, “I like to be scared when I’m designing. There’s got to be a certain element of uncertainty. If not, I haven’t tried hard enough.”
Godbold grew up in the 1970s in Kalamunda, a small town in Western Australia. He escaped the isolation by watching movies and then escaped for real when he moved to London and, later, New York, in both cases to work for Ralph Lauren. In 2009, he started a women’s fashion line. “It was fun,” he says, “until it wasn’t.” In 2012, he went out to Long Island for Memorial Day weekend and never left. “I had an epiphany,” he says. “I realized I could have a new career.” The builder of the Sag Harbor interiors store Monc XIII, where he worked for a time, offered him his first interior design job: doing a whole house on a $100,000 budget.
To save money, Godbold drew on his experience designing clothing. “I bought a lot of upholstered pieces that no one wanted, because I knew I could do a lot with fabrics,” he says. He had a Swedish chair in an “ugly brown floral” recovered in Italian suede and linen — not contrasting colors, but contrasting textures.
The client was happy, and Godbold realized that he liked interior design. As a fashion designer, he says, he had to please a crowd, but as an interior designer he only has to please one client at a time. That makes his new vocation more creative — and more fun — than he expected.
Soon he was doing bigger jobs: The owner of a newish Hamptons house asked him to turn the nursery into a home gym. One thing led to another (surprise!), and soon Godbold was redoing every one of the house’s 12,000 square feet. His favorite room is the foyer, so generously proportioned that he put a dining table in the middle of it. “I’m not afraid to go big,” he says.
That’s true of his personality, as well. “I’m not a pocket-square-wearing designer,” says Godbold, whose nine tattoos include his name scrawled across his chest and serpents and Viking symbols on his arms. “I’m a big guy, solid and confident, and I use my physical presence to get what I want. I’m quite forthright. My former clients always tell my new clients, ‘Just let Tim do it. You’re going to love it.’ ”
In 2015, Godbold began undergoing cancer treatments, which kept him from designing for more than a year. Now, he’s cured and “revving up again.” But he doesn’t plan to add employees to his three-person firm (not including three freelancers). He wants to keep overhead down so he can choose his clients and not have to say yes to every job. He isn’t lonely in the tiny office, in part, he says, because he’s made friends with dealers on 1stdibs. Two of his favorites are Nick Batchelder, of Archive 20th Century, in Costa Mesa, California, and Cécile Romein, of Morentz, in the Netherlands, both of whom have sold him vintage pieces by the Swiss architect Mario Botta.
He has no plans to write another book (although he hopes to write a screenplay one day). He does, however, present clients with a “book” on move-in day. Each contains pictures of how everything should look — even table settings — and instructions on care and maintenance (even on watering the house plants). Controlling?
“I do act like a bit of a general,” Godbold jokes, perhaps thinking of his grandfather. “But the clients appreciate it, and we share a lot of laughs.”