Designed to serve

Marshall Watson is one interior designer who believes in serving his client’s vision, rather than imposing his own. 

“I use my talents, training and experience —really everything I’ve learned in the course of a lifetime — to become a conduit for other people’s aspirations,” Watson writes, with Marc Kristal, in “The Art of Elegance: Classic Interiors” (March 2017, Rizzoli, $55, 256 pages). “The great playwright Samuel Beckett spoke of learning to write ‘without language.’ You might say that I have sought to design without a personal signature style, to absent myself to the greatest possible extent and make each project about realizing and refining my clients’ most heartfelt fantasies of home. “

Perhaps Watson’s approach stems from the fact that he was not a designer first but rather at last. The Kansas City, Kansas, native studied engineering and literature, along with design, at Stanford University. This led to a first act as a painter and a second one as a theatrical designer. A third act found him exploring character acting. In the end, he realized, that all these professions were excellent preparation for a 30-year — and counting — career as a designer of homes that are intimate, integrated and understated in their luxuriousness.

“Thus my projects may not scream ‘look at me’ and, you may ask, if my objective is to disappear into every role, then what makes a ‘Marshall Watson interior’?“ he writes. “What constitutes my indelible set of fingerprints? My answer would be that, in all ways, I embrace the principles that transform a series of rooms into the true definition of elegance: Warmth. Light. Peace. Balance. Proportion. Livability. “

As the book’s pages attest, that rings true from the Italianate and Spanish-style forecourt of a Mexican hacienda, with its arcade of Doric columns overlooking the Sea of Cortés, to the Georgian pool house that echoes a 1920s home in St. Louis to the richly tropical media room/bar of a Bahamian residence. 

Watson’s own neoclassical East Hampton home — which he enjoys with husband Paul — closes the book. Unable to afford an architect after having gone way over budget, Watson decided to create the house of his dreams himself. It’s here that you may notice a thread through the book — the use of a Van Gogh-ish, blue-and-yellow palette that conveys the light and warmth of which Watson writes.

It’s perhaps as close as the reader is going to get to a signature for a designer whose style is really your own.

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