MODW Mary, you originally studied to be a milliner at Parsons School of Design. What made you change from hat making, to interior design?
MARY Actually I went for clothing and somehow ended up being an accidental milliner and accessories designer. I actually was feeling restless knowing since I had reps out of New York and sold all over the United States I was going to have to get more commercial about it instead of so high end specialized in millinery which my heart was not into really. I had always loved interiors since college and decorated my dorm room and first apartments with great fervor. They were not even half bad. The PR person for Robert CLergerie, the shoe and bag designer loved my old world apartment so much that she asked me to design her penthouse in the somewhat well known El Royale in Hollywood. I found the pictures recently and would have put them in my book if I located them sooner because it was quite sophisticated.
MODW You’ve recently branched into lighting. How did that come about?
MARY People have been contacting me for a few years now to do licensing agreements with them and I have been selective about what I chose. They are a great company that has worked with the esteemed David Easton as well as Jonathan Adler so I found the offer flattering. I love lighting as it is the jewelry of the room if need be. I am actually working on a fabric line for Schumacher and rugs for Patterson Flynn and Martin as well.
MODW Who are some interior decorators that have inspired you?
MARY So so many as I am appreciative of multiple styles; Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler, Roger Banks Pye, Jaques Garcia, Jeffrey Bilhuber, Van Day Truex, Madeleine Castaing, Frances Elkins, Elsie de Wolfe, The elusive Howard Slatkin and William Hodges of Boston... so so many.
MODW You have quite a diverse portfolio. Out of all the spaces you’ve worked on what is
the one you are most proud of?
MARY Hmmm that is hard because sometimes it is just a room of an entire project or just the vibe the space ended up having. I think the Harkham house in my book was probably the most "me".
MODW Is there someone, or somewhere you are dying to decorate for?
MARY Yes, definitely William and Kate. I am half British you know. I would love that.
MODW What is a typical workday like for Mary McDonald?
MARY 6:30 am coffee and pugs, then a little more coffee. I like to sit there for about an hour in the morning and review emails, send emails and plan my day. Sometimes I work out at Barry's bootcamp instead or I go at 8. I get to the office around 9:30 or 10 and am bombarded with questions from my staff. I like to have everyone write a punch list down so we can be more efficient with our time and I can work on getting them an answer in an organized fashion. The day kind of goes from there designing, shopping or job sites.
MODW In this competitive world of working women, what is the best advice you can
give to someone starting out in a similar field?
MARY I think it is important to just focus on what strength you have and keep moving instead of obsessing on the competition. There will always be someone that has more than you and less than you so worrying about competition takes you off focus. Get experience by being around the business you want to be in and try not to let the rejection hurt your feelings. Intern at a respectable office if you have to...do it on the weekends. Do something to stand out and say I am willing to learn. Nothing turns me off more than an entitled newbie.
MODW What is your next vacation destination?
MARY I think it might be Bali in June. I have never been there.
MODW Is there something you do, or somewhere you go when you are looking for design inspiration?
MARY I really love my huge collection of books. I also surf the Internet constantly and throw out random subjects and pour through the images filter.
MODW What is your favorite piece of furniture in your home?
MARY Funny enough my favorite piece of furniture is in storage right now since I can't figure out where to put it since my last house. It is an original mirrored vanity from Pamela Mason, James Mason's wife in the day.
MODW Describe your personal sense of style?
MARY Audrey Hepburn meets Auntie Mame
MODW Is there a well-known space that you haven’t designed that you think looks absolutely spectacular?
MARY OH so many. The bar on the top floor of the Standard in New York, I love most of Jacques Garcia's work including Hotel Costes and L'hotel as well as Anouska Hempel's Dillon and Blakes Hotels. I love Hoard Slatkin's own New York apartment and like quite alot of Patricia Urquiola's commercial work.
MODW How hard is it to stay current in the ever-changing world of interior design and style?
MARY I am not obsessed with being hip and groovy so my love of classicism is what I rely on most. I think there is always something current when using the bones of classicism.
MODW When you’re not busy, what do you do to unwind?
MARY Read, garden, go to nurseries, go to vintage book stores, hit vintage stores for jewelry and clothes, plan trips to weird places, drink wine and eat cheese, turn the phone off, watch old Betty Davis and Joan Crawford movies or any period films.
MODW What’s the best decorating advice you can give to someone who’s on a budget?
MARY Go for a more casual interior with perhaps one important piece of furniture such as a chest or chandelier. When you are trying to look too high end and you don't have the budget for all of it tends to look half baked. Go for a simple color, perhaps just two colors with a pop of a third and do everything in inexpensive canvas, seagrass rugs and you can paint old finds white or black. That one gilded mirror and chest you bought will look special with a really nice cohesive color scheme. Sometimes I suggest keeping it all white with a pop of just one color and that way it will flow visually. It is always easy to find reasonable things in white. Just forget the red silk damask sofa since you can't buy the rest of that look yet.