I nterior design has always been more than a calling for Remy Renzullo: in many ways, it was a birthright. The American decorator and antique expert was raised in homes that splendidly mingled Renaissance paintings with petrified fossils, birds nests with wicker curios — care of his interior designer mother. It's a small wonder, then, that this fantastical layered splendour is at the heart of Remy’s interior design practice, reflected in the elegantly undone spaces he imagines for stately British homes to New York townhouses. A peripatetic spirit, the designer flits between his native Connecticut, London and Italy while tackling projects everywhere in-between for a client list that belies his years in the industry.
For the autumn season of Sotheby's Classic Design sales, Sotheby's have joined forces with Remy and London-based textile brand Watts 1874, to present the Indienne Collection: a curated assortment of fabrics and wallpaper meticulously recreated from the original 19th-century patterns of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, England. A vignette in Sotheby's New Bond Street galleries, curated by Remy, formed part of the exclusive unveiling of these refined wall coverings — and a sumptuous complement to the global Classic Design exhibitions that took place this autumn.
We sat down with Remy to discuss his design obsessions, the mystique of anonymity, and how to achieve a pitch-perfect interior. Plus, he shares with us his tips for how to approach interior design at home.
When did your passion for interior decorating and antique furniture first form?
In many ways, it’s been a lifelong passion as I come from an interiors-heavy family. My mum was a decorator and I grew up in houses in Connecticut that were incredibly wonderful and really quite mad — a testament to our passion for collecting. These homes didn’t exist in the present or the past: they were always suspended somewhere in-between and filled with the most extraordinary 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century antiques. Some of which my mum had bought, some of which she had inherited, some of which were immensely valuable, and some of which weren't. She created a wonderful mis-en-scène where nothing was precious and nothing really was formal.
How did your upbringing in rural Connecticut influence your practice?
The interiors that I grew up in — which form so much of my aesthetic — centred on what was in them as opposed to any sense of decoration. And really, I am anti-decoration. My interest in interiors sprang from a passion for furniture and objects.
Designer Remy Renzullo Shows How a Room Can Tell a Story
Can you recall your earliest encounter with design?
I spent a huge part of my childhood with rainy days — especially during our summers holidaying in Maine. And when it was the type of day where we couldn’t do something outside, I would trawl some of the great vestiges of New England antique dealers, going to antique fairs and auctions. I have these memories of being ensconced on the sofa in our summer home, at about age seven, sitting next to my mum as she pored over auction catalogues. I’ve had that spirit in me my whole life.
"The most important tenet — which I would say I’ve staked my business on — is to create rooms that look as though they’ve always been there"
How would you define your personal design philosophy?
The most important tenet — which I would say I’ve staked my business on — is to create rooms that look as though they’ve always been there. And that, of course, means different things for different places. In that sense, I’m lucky that I get to work on a dynamic array of projects. What feels right and natural at Castle Howard is obviously different for an apartment in New York, or a house being built from the ground up in Wyoming — those are just some of the projects that I’m currently working on.
What are you ultimately looking to achieve in your projects?
While I feel that I have an incredibly strong aesthetic and there are signatures to my work, I hate the idea that someone could identify my work because it looks like another house or project I’ve done. For me, part of what my generation has lost is the idea of the anonymity of the decorator.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I have such a curatorial approach to my work that I try to see as much as possible. My idea of a wonderful holiday is being in a city — small or large — with amazing museums, houses and art to see. I also spend as much time as I can devouring reference books and catalogues, or going to auctions and galleries. So much of my inspiration is drawn from what’s come before me: it’s about not recreating it, but reinterpreting it for today.
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
I have been in the business for seven years and have tried to approach what I hope is a long career with as much humility as possible — there is still so much in front of me I have to learn and understand. That being said, Castle Howard will be one of those career-defining moments. It would be difficult to find a more extraordinary place or project than that.
"So much of my inspiration is drawn from what’s come before me: it’s about not recreating it, but reinterpreting it for today"
What do you find exciting about creating in a stately home like Castle Howard?
It’s extraordinary — I have such a love for Castle Howard. Nicholas and Victoria Howard, who own and run it, are just the most wonderful clients and patrons to have — they’ve become my second family in many ways. I’ve spent more time there than any other place over the last three years because it’s not exactly a place that can be decorated remotely, or that you can understand even after several site visits. I’m there probably once or twice a month and that’s so imperative for the design process, because it is so unlike any other project.
Tell us about your collaboration with British textile house Watts 1874.
Immediately before I came to work at Castle Howard, the house and Watts had embarked on a partnership to reproduce documents and fabric in its [Castle Howard’s] archives that had recently been discovered. I have such a passion for textiles and was given the reins, working closely with Watts’s creative director Fiona Flint — she’s an extraordinary dynamo. Together we touched upon a number of designs that we wanted to reproduce and develop.
"When these fabrics and wallpapers were originally made, it was during a time where everything was done by hand and where dyes were made from vegetables"
Can you elaborate on the process – how do you approach centuries-old design with modern techniques?
There’s a misconception that the process to reproduce something is straightforward and simple. In many ways, it’s more difficult than coming up with something from scratch. When these fabrics and wallpapers were originally made, it was during a time where everything was done by hand and where dyes were made from vegetables. The printing quality in the 19th century was far and above what is possible today. We ended up doing at least a dozen strike-offs for each fabric because of our insistence that they were as true to the original as possible, from the fineness of line quality to the vividness and colour of the original wood. It’s a fun and wonderful process that also takes an enormous amount of patience.
How do you find a creative balance between the client’s vision and yours?
It’s such an evolutionary process. For example, I’ve been working on a beautiful townhouse in Brooklyn Heights, New York, for five years. Part of that is due to construction delays and Covid. But the client has been living in the house for over a year and it’s still not ‘finished’ in any of our eyes because we’re still looking for the contents of it; that is my dream client. Frankly, I wouldn’t suggest hiring me if you want a home where every piece of furniture or artwork has been chosen. I don’t believe that a house is ever finished.
How do you form a design narrative throughout a home?
Narrative is incredibly important in being able to combine disparate periods, or styles. Again, I think a lot of where the narrative originates is from the house itself, or from the place and context. That goes back to my mission statement: I want my rooms to look like they've always been there.
Are there any rooms of the home you particularly enjoy designing?
Living or drawing rooms, of course, are easy and great fun to work on.
How can sustainability be incorporated in interior decorating?
I count myself among one of the more sustainable creatives working in this industry, namely because I almost exclusively buy objects that were made hundreds of years ago. To me, that's the most sustainable that anyone can be. I work so much with antique furniture, textiles, and carpets — most of the contents of my projects are already in existence. It’s almost unthinkable to buy newly-made furniture from a shop or a big chain because — like in fashion — the supply chains are awful and the quality is mediocre. Much more appealing is purchasing a sofa that was made 100 years ago or 60 years ago made with unique materials in a Sotheby’s sale. It may need some restoration work — or maybe not — but that is sustainability. The idea is to not buy anything extraneous or to be creating something new for the sake of creating something new. And where I do make new things, it’s done in collaboration with artisans who employ the same techniques that have been used for hundreds of years. It’s about keeping that craft alive.
Think Natural! Remy Renzullo's Home Design Tips
"A house should feel very natural and effortless. My aim is that when a house is ‘finished’, people walk in and don’t think that it’s been recently decorated"
"The most important thing is: don’t fight the room or the space. If a space is small, make it feel like a jewel box. If a space is dark, work with deep, rich colours and make it feel so intimate and atmospheric. I always emphasise that you have to work with the bones of the space and especially with how natural light plays into it. It’s important to determine what you're trying to achieve with that space."
"I love to cook — it’s my great passion and what I do to unwind. But I only ever live in places that have tiny kitchens and I never invest money in them. If you love to cook, you don’t need the perfect fitted kitchen: buy a beautiful piece of furniture instead. My clients always laugh when I say this."
"Dining rooms have such a wonderful atmosphere to them — I approach them in a specific way because you have to consider how this room is going to look in the evening or at night when it’s really being used."
"I love bedrooms because they can be refuges with layers and depth that can surprise you."