Fawn Galli spent the first seven years of her life on a Northern California commune with no electricity. But if her interiors are any indication, the New York-based designer feels little nostalgia for her rugged childhood. She has no interest in the current trend toward earthy, rough-hewn materials; rather, Galli admits a predilection for lacquer and Lucite. Still, the natural world remains close to her heart and central to her aesthetic. “For me, nature is about enchantment and beauty,” she says. And indeed, in her airy yet sumptuous spaces, flora and fauna in luxe materials abound, including bronze lion paws, sculpted deer antlers and rich butterfly-patterned wallpaper. “I try to incorporate a sense of fantasy because I want rooms to have a transporting quality,” explains Galli, who cites Yves Saint Laurent and C.S. Lewis as two of her biggest inspirations.
Combining her sophisticated allusions to nature with antiques, contemporary art and a refreshing dose of colour, Galli has fashioned a style that is glamorous, bohemian and whimsical all at once. The mix reflects her personal history. After falling in love with Paris while studying abroad, she later returned to the capital to study French at the Sorbonne and decorative arts at the Louvre. Arriving in New York, Galli worked for architect Robert M. Stern and design impresario Peter Marino before launching her own firm from her apartment in 2007. Much larger now, her office is in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park area, and she lives in Brooklyn with her architect husband and two young sons.
You have such a sophisticated way of alluding to nature in your designs. Would you say it has been a significant influence on your style?
I’m deeply connected to nature: It’s a strong motif, and there is so much beauty in it. Just think of peacock feathers and all their colours and patterns. If nature is used correctly, it’s just fabulous, as in the work of François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne. The nature I’m envisioning comes from the stories of my youth, Alice in Wonderland and C.S. Lewis. But I’ve also taken a lot from other sources – the architecture of European cities, the glamorous discos of Paris. The list goes on.
What else did you take away from your formative years in Paris?
So much. But I’d say the flea markets really inspired me. I love their charm. The mixing of styles and periods there really influenced me.
THE LIVING ROOM OF A WEST VILLAGE APARTMENT, WITH A PAINTING BY ANNE SIEMS. PHOTOGRAPH BY EMILY GILBERT. ALL IMAGES COURTESY FAWN
GALLI INTERIOR DESIGN.
Early in your career you worked for Robert Stern, one of the figureheads of American Postmodern architecture. Had your design vision formed by then?
I was forming it. I decorated his loft in New Haven. It was great timing because he was just made dean at Yale and wanted something fresh, not stodgy or derivative. We both learned a lot from each other. He has such a strong opinion about his surroundings. It was a great challenge to give him what he wanted but maybe a little out of his comfort zone. He’s very comfortable with Eames and mid-century classic designers, but I brought in Jean Prouvé and Norman Foster and younger names who weren’t quite established yet, like the Campana Brothers.
You also worked in the office of Peter Marino for a while. What was your biggest takeaway?
That he’s a total genius with materials. What really solidified that for me was how he was able to do so much with the high-and-low mix. He has such a discerning eye for beauty.
ERIC CAHAN’S SKY SERIES IN A GRAMERCY PARK KITCHEN. THE CEILING FIXTURE IS BY ANGELO LELLI. PHOTOGRAPH BY COSTAS PICADAS.
Was your predilection for shiny surfaces influenced by Marino as well as by Paris discos?
I do a lot of New York town houses, and many of them tend to lack light. Light is very important to me, so I use metallics – in wallpaper, for example – lacquer and other finishes with different degrees of reflection. I also like a certain amount of sparseness and pops of colour on neutrals. It makes things feel bright and light.
You’ve worked in homes with fantastic contemporary art. How do you balance the bolder wallpapers, textiles and vibrant colours you use with that art?
The challenge is not to compete with the art, but to have the furnishings and fabrics stand strong next to it. The trick is to have bold pieces, but not a lot of them: You need to have air to breathe around the art. In a foyer I did, there was a photograph by Paul McCarthy, his Violet Bear/Pink. I commissioned a hot-pink round ottoman and paired it with an Alexander McQueen rug with skulls.
THE NEW YORK APARTMENT DESIGNED BY GALLI FOR AN ART CONSULTANT FEATURES A MARK GROTJAHN BUTTERFLY PAINTING AND A THOMAS HOUSAGO
SCULPTURE, AMONG OTHER WORKS. THE COFFEE TABLE IS BY MATTIA BONETTI; THE SCONCE IS FONTANA ARTE. PHOTOGRAPH BY COSTAS PICADAS.
Do you ever commission artists or designers to create work?
Yes, definitely. I was really excited about a piece for the home of a New York fashion designer I commissioned from Chilean artist Iván Navarro: an infinity light box made with neon tubes. I love Navarro’s work not only because it has light, simplicity, infinity and fantasy, but also because it is socially and politically charged.
You talk a lot about fantasy, and your interiors often have some wildly fantastical elements, even when the architecture is traditional or conventional. How do your clients react?
I think it’s something that I ease people into. I try to find the dream or fantasy of the people who are living there and really pull it out and push that. Each room needs at least one thing that’s magical, that has a spark. It could be anything – a tile, a textile, a piece of art, furniture. Anything that makes it unexpected or a little bit weird.
EERO SAARINEN CHAIRS IN A CENTRAL PARK WEST DINING ROOM. PHOTOGRAPH BY COSTAS PICADAS.
If there’s one piece out there you could have, what would it be?
Maybe the Cocodoll bed that François-Xavier Lalanne designed in 1964. I worship that piece: the glamour, the beauty, the decadence – all of it, I love.
Meredith Mendelsohn writes about art and design for The Wall Street Journal, Artsy, ARTnews and other publications.