Last week, the Kuotes had the amazing opportunity to chat with our neighborhood friend—Sheila Bridges. Sheila lives nearby the KKH offices in her Harlem apartment atop an Italian Renaissance palazzo-style edifice that she has transformed into a perfectly-balanced, classical medley of pattern and color. Sheila is not only a local icon, but a national icon in the world of interior design. Some of her accomplishments include designing the 8,300 foot Harlem office for former president Bill Clinton, hosting her own television show on the Fine Living Network, having her Harlem Toile De Jouy wallpaper represented in the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and being listed in Top Interior Designer lists by CNN, TIME, Gotham Magazine, New York Magazine, House Beautiful, Elle Decor… We could go on. Sheila is so inspiring to us, both as a designer and as a woman (we recommend reading her delightful memoir), so we’re honored to share her insights with all of you! P.S. Check out our Lookbook inspired by Sheila.
How would you describe your design style?
I don’t really like the word “eclectic,” but until I find another word that describes my style in a better way, I guess “eclectic” will have to do. I love mixing old and new, modern and antique, and putting patterns and prints together in unpredictable ways. I guess maybe my style could be described as modern classic… but a bit more edgy or urban.
Tell us about your apartment in Harlem. What was your inspiration?
I moved to my apartment more than twenty years ago, and it was a wreck after having been used as a location for Spike Lee’s film Jungle Fever. I don’t really have a favorite room because all of my rooms have evolved and changed so much over time. My home really is my design laboratory where I am free to experiment with color, texture, paint and wallpaper in ways that clients won’t let me. When I first moved into my apartment, I painted everything in a shade of creamy white, but two decades later it’s full of bright color and bold pattern, which I love.
What are some of your favorite places in the neighborhood?
My favorite spots are Chez Lucienne, The Cecil and Maison Harlem for dinner, and I like Barawine and Vinateria for drinks. I love spending time in Morningside Park and walking my two dogs around the Harlem Meer in Central Park.
What is your favorite part about living in New York City?
I love that New York is such a pedestrian city. I always enjoy walking around, checking out the great architecture, neighborhood shops, museums and people. I can always find inspiration when I stroll the streets, whether I’m in Harlem or all the way downtown on the lower East or in the meatpacking district. There is so much visual stimulation that I never run out of design ideas or inspiration!
Being such a renowned designer, how do you measure success in a design?
I measure success as being extremely proud of my own body of creative work in design, which includes more than two decades worth of work that is tangible. That includes having a high-end interior design firm for 22 years, four seasons of my own television show, writing and publishing books, having a small retail shop in Hudson NY, designing home furnishing products for retailers, teaching design, etc. I’m passionate about all types of design, and I am looking forward to what 2016 might bring.
Having worked for so many impressive clients, do you have a favorite project?
Every single client is unique, and therefore the challenges are always different for each project. Can’t say that I have a favorite project. But anyone who wants a good story can read my personal memoir, The Bald Mermaid, which I wrote in 2013. It’s full of funny and candid stories about my career and personal life.
Was there ever a time where something went terribly wrong during a design project? What did you do?
Sure—things constantly go wrong. In fact, that’s part of the profession. Design is definitely one part Murphy’s Law. You need to be very detail-oriented to be a good designer. The key is to try to anticipate what might go wrong, or at a minimum you should be prepared to fix whatever does go wrong in order to keep your clients happy!
What trends are you looking forward to in 2016?
I love that wallpapers are so big right now, and I’m working on some new patterns. People no longer have to adhere to specific rules or expectations when it comes to design, so I am looking forward to seeing edgier or more interesting work from young designers.
Are there any upcoming projects we can be looking forward to?
I just launched my first collection of rain umbrellas based on my Harlem Toile De Jouy wallpaper. Other than that, I’m going to just keep doing what I love to do (design!) and we’ll see what happens next!