A Q&A with interiors maestro Muriel Brandolini

Setting the Mood

By Scott Indrisek

With a playful yet refined style, Muriel Brandolini has earned her status as an icon in the interior design world. “I am inspired by anything and everything—nature, film, art,” she says. “I love to daydream and have an active imagination, so I make new discoveries wherever I am.”

Brandolini, who got her start as a fashion stylist, cites three major factors at work in her design aesthetic: "My color sense; a mix of styles and periods; and the warmth I try to achieve in every home." Her interiors, including many private commissions in New York City, don’t shy away from mingling bold patterns and statement pieces—like a ship-shaped sculpture suspended, chandelier-style, from a living room ceiling; stairwell walls adorned with snippets of bright, pop text; or sweeping, illustrative patterns that move across all planes of a space, from the walls to the carpet, creating livable jewel-like spaces of artful detail. Minimalism is not Brandolini's domain; this is interior design at its most opinionated, exuberant, and personal.

Whether she's working with a private client or approaching her own space, a restless curiosity is key for Brandolini. "I am constantly changing my own home, even if it's just rearranging a few pieces of furniture or objects on a table,” she says. "I dislike the feeling of a room being perfectly set: where is the sense of spontaneity? I choose pieces not to fit a certain look, but because I’m attracted to their lines and their use of materials." We spoke with the globetrotting designer to learn more about her inspirations and influences.


Scott Indrisek: Can you recall the first interior-design project you ever embarked upon?

Muriel Brandolini: My first interior-design project—besides decorating my own apartments and homes—was for my good friends. They had just gotten married, and it was a joyful, optimistic time. I chose a sunny lemon yellow for the living room walls, and the curtains were my first patchwork inspired by a Dolce & Gabbana skirt! Their home was a reflection of their Italian and South African backgrounds.

SI: Do you find that your personal taste is the same as it was for those earliest commissions?

MB: My eye has constantly evolved, and I always strive to not repeat myself—so I believe that my style has also changed. However, my aesthetic sensibility has remained constant.

SI: When you're approaching a private commission, are you thinking of interior design purely in terms of the physical space, or is it equally important to reflect and somewhat mirror the tastes and personality of the clients?

MB: As a designer, you enter into the life of a client on an intimate level. Trust must be set from the beginning. A home should protect and reflect you. When I design for a client, it is all about them and how they can enjoy and grow in the space. I always keep in mind the practical needs, and how a family can live in the space. The home is a place where you should feel nurtured.

SI: How do you pick the design items and materials you'll work with?

MB: When I make a selection, it's not a deeply analytical process: one could almost say that it is love at first sight. I believe that great design remains great, no matter the era, designer, or culture. I mix pieces that I am attracted to for their shape, texture, material, and color.

SI: You're known for having a cosmopolitan design sensibility. What particular regional aesthetics or specific designers have been moving you the most lately?

It is about the mood and fantasy you want to create.

MB: The part of my background that has had the biggest impact on me is Vietnam. I left when I was a young girl, but the impressions have lasted a lifetime. Since I first visited her homes in Venice and Vistorta, I have always admired the taste and vision of my mother in law, Cristiana Brandolini. There is no pretension in her interiors, but comfort and warmth found in details like painted lampshades or a collection of family photographs. Travel is always inspiring because you are exposed to new sights. The most important thing is to keep your eyes and mind open. I bring back anything I might find—from handwoven placemats in Paraguay to a set of wicker chairs from a Parisian flea market. Everything flies back with me!

SI: How do you work with others to achieve what is ultimately your vision for a space?

MB: Collaboration and communication are crucial. It is absolutely all about the client and their needs. I want to know their likes and dislikes, what colors they absolutely love or hate. I take their boundaries [into account], but then I let my mind run free within them.

SI: Is there a single underlying spirit or sensibility at play within your commissions and projects?

MB: There is no such thing as a "perfectly" decorated home, or a right or wrong way to design a space. It is about the mood and fantasy you want to create. An interior is failed to me when it feels like there is no room to grow.

SI: What role do fabrics and textiles play in your practice?

MB: I have always preferred upholstery over wallpaper or paint, as it gives a three dimensional depth to the space. I love the details that go into upholstered pieces of furniture—for example,  my signature slipper chair. For me it is a final touch, like creating haute couture. For one client, I imagined the stool of her coiffeuse as a woman’s gown; the "skirt" is even lined with crinoline. I go to antique stores, showrooms, and the flea market to find and discover the little bits and pieces that will make a pillow or chair complete.

SI: At the moment, what specific projects and ideas are occupying your time?

MB: There are always many ideas in my head. Besides my interior design projects and fabric line with Holland & Sherry—for which I am launching a new collection—I have a surprise that will be revealed this summer...

SI: What advice might you offer to an aspiring interior designer?

MB: A lot of it comes naturally, but I also do believe that one can learn to observe and become more visual if you keep your mind and eyes open to the world around you.

  • Text by

    • Scott Indrisek

      Scott Indrisek

      Scott is the executive editor of Modern Painters and the founder of Brant Watch. He lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with two erudite cats.

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