Hard work and unerring taste, the very ingredients behind the crisp clarity of Victoria Hagan’s understated yet sophisticated interiors, have always been at the root of the designer’s success. Soon after establishing her eponymous New York-based firm in 1991, she became one of her generation’s most cerebral and daring creators, devising inspired mixes of modern and traditional elements, fusions of neutral tones and vivid colour, and seamless blends of architecture and landscape. Hagan now runs a thriving 25-person office from which she works for a host of A-list clients on projects throughout the US. Delighting in not having a home office, Hagan instead cherishes her own residences as places where she can be close to nature and family. “I look at homes as they are and imagine what they might be,” Hagan says.
“I love working with my clients to find the beauty in life.” In her latest monograph, fittingly titled Dream Spaces and published by Rizzoli last October, she reveals ten of these reverie-inducing retreats. Marisa Bartolucci spoke with Hagan about how she launched her career, her approach to design and working collaboratively with clients.
When did you first become interested in interior design?
As soon as I knew what it was! When I was ten years old, growing up in Pocantico Hills, New York, I was very excited to learn that the famous New York City decorator Albert Hadley had moved to town. I would ride my bike by his house and fantasize about introducing myself and telling him I wanted to be an interior designer. At one point, I peered through his windows – those were rooms like I had never seen before! I was impressed by the fact that he was able to break rules effortlessly and gracefully. It’s nice when complicated things look easy. You shouldn’t feel the effort.
How did the partnership impact you? After graduating from New York’s Parsons School of Design, you interned for veteran New York decorator Simone Feldman. Three years later, the firm was renamed Feldman-Hagan Interiors.
Simone and I had great synergy. She taught me a lot about confidence and perspective, in addition to having great style and a sense of humour. Unfortunately, she died a few years later, but in the short time we worked together, she planted within me the confidence to move forward as a designer. Those memories inspire me every day.
How do you define your style?
Whether it’s modern or traditional, I aim to create a classic, timeless aesthetic that instantly feels distinctly American.
What do you consider to be your most important contribution to a project?
I strive to interpret clients’ dreams about how they would like to live and make them reality. Effective design requires equal parts study and consensus, exuberance and restraint.
What do you tell new clients at the start of a project?
That there is no playbook. Clients who ask a question and expect an immediate answer can find this frustrating at first, especially when I respond by saying, “Let’s figure it out together.” Nothing in design is black and white, but there are clues everywhere. It’s collaborative. That’s what makes every home unique, and the process so valuable.
What are some of the key aspects of a client-designer relationship?
Trust is paramount. Designing a home is an intimate experience. I need my clients’ trust so I can be an effective guide. The role that listening plays cannot be overstated. It’s such a critical component of the design process.
How do you begin that process?
By asking simple questions about their lives. The way a family lives dictates so much about the aesthetic. What is your typical day? Where do you drink your morning coffee? How do you entertain? Every answer helps me establish what clients want their home to be. Some bring clippings to a meeting, but the solution is typically not there. Light, architecture and landscape are significant and early on, we always discuss colour because the eye goes from there.
Does working with serious art collectors alter your process at all?
An important collection is a game changer. It influences so many design decisions. Sometimes the collection comes first, and sometimes we are collecting during the process. Either way, the art is what ultimately brings a project to life. It’s all about the narrative. And the mix. And scale and juxtaposition are so important. Artists understand scale. You can’t underestimate the power that art brings to a space.
You can’t underestimate the power that art brings to a space.
Tell us about your recent collaboration with Sotheby’s New York, creating vignettes with Old Master paintings.
With their great colours, textures and depth, Old Master paintings have such presence in a room. People have preconceived ideas about how to live with this type of art, but I tried to show that you don’t need to have a very formal home to make it work. For instance, in one of my Sotheby’s vignettes – a small living room that featured an Anthony van Dyke portrait of a nobleman – I paired a comfortable modern sofa, a steel-and-Lucite coffee table and Italian chairs from the 1960s. You don’t need to collect everything from the same era. When it comes to creating a home, people should be open. Ultimately, the beauty is in the mix.
Marisa Bartolucci is a regular contributor to Sotheby’s magazine.
Victoria Hagan: Dream Spaces is available from Rizzoli ($55).