Marshall Watson’s Art of Elegance

I am really looking forward to meeting Marshall Watson, the New York designer who’ll be at Hines & Co. at the Washington Design Center on Monday to speak about his new book, The Art of Elegance.

Marshall says in the introduction that “As you will see, no two of my designs are alike.” Now, every designer says this. It’s not always true. Not that it’s a bad thing—many people hire designers because because of a signature style, and they want that style adapted within their own home. So I was a little wary when I read this comment.

But goodness, does this man speak the truth. Seriously, there isn’t a single thread that runs through any of his projects. Maybe it’s because he started his career as a theater designer, and had to literally set the stage according to the playwright’s vision and not his own. He says as much here:

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.

Here’s a taste:

Photograph by Francesco Lagnese


Photograph by Luke White


Photograph by Lisa Romerin

Not only does Marshall know how to design, but he possesses a rare talent of knowing how to put his approach into words.

As he explains the dark-paneled room above, for example, “we finished the library in walnut stained a rich plum-pudding mahogany.”

In the second image, of a guesthouse in Sweden, he writes, “Colors were chosen for their responsiveness to the soft, granular northern light.”

And for this modern living room in Southern California, in home where his work was inspired by the modernist Mexican architect Luis Barragan:

The solution was evident: To simplify—indeed, clarify—the house, and make it a sublime container for the works by Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian, Frankenthaler, Leger, and other modern masters in the couple’s collection. When doubts arose, I asked myself a simple question: What would Luis do?

As a writer, I found myself tucking phrases away for when I might need them for future magazine stories. One of my favorite descriptions is the way he describes Palm Beach for a project that’s pictured on the book’s cover:

How can you not embrace the wonderfully cheeky ostentation of Palm Beach? With enormous manicured hedges surrounding French chateaux and Italian palazzi, there is a disorienting juxtaposition of over-the-top formality and an extremely informal climate. Similarly, the residents really put on the dog, but there’s a sense of humor to it, a chic Slim-Aarons-style lightness to go with the Lilly Pulitzer and the helmet hair.

Thus, one beach town does not equal another. Here’s a space he did in the Bahamas, which as you can see, has a completely different vernacular:

Photograph by Francesco Lagnese

And the designer’s own formal retreat in the Hamptons, where he was finally able to indulge a long-held desire to line room portals with Delft tile:

Photograph by Luke White

I love the girlish-yet-restrained sophistication he exercised in New York for a client’s apartment that overlooks Gramercy Square…

Photograph by Francesco Lagnese

…And how he managed to take the stuffiness out of an English-style, William-Morris-inflected library at a home in St. Louis:

Photograph by Max Kim Bee

I’ll close with what is perhaps my favorite space—a peaked and paneled breakfast room in a 1930s Mediterranean revival in Salt Lake City:

Photograph by Luke White

Marshall will be discussing his book at Hines & Co. on Monday, Feb. 5 at 11:30 am. The talk will be followed by a light lunch (click here for more details).

In case you can’t make it in the morning, he’ll be talking about his passion for gardening (and signing his book) at the Hillwood Museum at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The theater tickets are already sold out, but you can purchase $5 tickets to watch a simulcast nearby and attend the book signing. Click here for more information.


  1. Gorgeous! and I just love the idea of the Delft tiles.

  2. Thank you for the absolutely marvelous and perceptive review of my book “The Art of Elegance “
    You truly have netted out so much of the essence of
    What I try to accomplish through design
    I so look forward to meeting you and any of your loyal followers
    at the Hines showroom on Monday ( should be quite a lunch!)or the Hillwood Museum
    on Tuesday ( can’t wait to see the orchid collections too)
    Thank you again , your blog is just terrific!
    Warmest regards and keep up the good work !
    Marshall Watson