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Nathan Turner on Hamsters, Pickup Trucks, and the Frankensofa

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Welcome back to Curbed Interviews, wherein Raina Cox (of If the Lamp Shade Fits and Curbed's Moonlighting series) interviews major players in shelter media and interior design. Have a suggestion for someone whose voice should be heard? Send it here.

His clients are the who's who of young Hollywood, but interior designer and shopkeeper Nathan Turner is a Ford pickup-driving, fourth-generation Californian. His life of international buying trips, reality-show filming, and parties with the fabulous and famous may seem like a world away from his cattle-ranching roots. But Turner easily combines these disparate influences in a laid-back aesthetic of patinated antiques and global textiles. We recently caught up with the preternaturally chipper designer as he put the finishing touches on a project that brings him (literally) closer to a fellow Bravo Million Dollar Decorators castmate.

You recently spent some time in a Bloomingdale's store window and liveblogged about your new pieces for Elite Leather. Tell us about it.
The store window was so much fun! Furniture doesn’t get a lot of play in a window in a major city like New York. I think the furniture department gets a main window like twice a year. It doesn’t come up that often. So I was super excited when they asked if I would do it, and they basically said I could do whatever I wanted as long as I use the pieces of mine that they sell, which is great. So I decided I wanted to make it look like a living room. You know, window displays can be super whimsical or overly decorative, so I said, I’m just going to do a really pretty living room in the space. And since it was coming out in July, I kind of wanted it to be summer-y beach-y. But I took a northern California beach house take on it, instead of a Hamptons thing.

Tell us more about the specific decor of the Bloomie's window.
What I wanted to do was panel the walls with a gray pickled or limed wood that has that driftwood kind of vibe. But then we were getting out of control cost-wise and they were like “Wait a minute.” And then I found this wallpaper I’m now obsessed with from Nobilis. It’s so great—it looks like wood paneling. For me to describe it, it sounds hideous. You start thinking of bad 1970s paneling. But it looks so good and it’s not like I try to use it in lieu of wood. It’s almost like a fun, easier way to do it. And I ran it horizontally and loved the way it looked and kind of did oil paintings and seascapes and my furniture and then mixed in some mid-century modern pieces and some pottery and a big tree. And it was fun! I thought, of course, they were going to give me some stepchild window around the corner on 3rd Avenue or something, but they gave me a big window right on Lexington Avenue, which was fun.

And how was the liveblogging?
Okay, that was weirdest thing I’ve ever done. [Laughs.] It was! They asked me,”What would you think about sitting in the window and blogging?” And I thought,”Oh, okay. Sure. Why not? Not even really thinking about it. And when I walked into the window, it was like 100 degrees and I thought I was going to die in there. The other thing is now I know what it feels like to be a hamster. It’s like this weird little glass box. It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday in New York City on Lexington Avenue. Tons of people walking by. You know what was really funny was that it’s like so New York—they don’t care about anything. People were just walking by, and you could tell they were like “Oh yeah! I’ve seen that show” or “What’s that idiot doing?” and then walking off. Which I probably would have been doing the latter as well. Actually, it made me laugh.

The Bloomingdale's buyers made a lot of noise in Million Dollar Decorators episode seven about re-working the design of your Hughes—the famous Frankensofa—but the piece looks to be quite similar to the High Point showroom model.
Yeah, they actually didn’t do anything to it. They just loved it as it is. We slightly changed the fabric and the leather on it. That’s a challenge when working with a large manufacturer like Elite, because their customers are large retailers so everybody has to have their point of view. And I want to be a team player and I want to work with people and I feel like I can learn from them, too. They know what people want. But, ultimately, I don’t want to put my name on something that I don’t like. I won’t. Like if it’s some ugly piece of furniture, the last thing I want to do is slap my name on it. So it’s usually kind of that thing where you pick your battles. Usually, like everything, it comes down to money. So changing a small detail or removing a small detail to bring the cost down, whether it’s something as simple as a different grade of fabric or leather—that’s a really easy one. Or, like, not putting nail heads on it or something like that. Which most of those I’m like “Okay, fine.” I can live with that.

What does your job as Special Projects Editor for Elle Decor involve?
I’ve been doing magazine stuff for probably five years. I used to be Lifestyle Editor for Domino, and then when they closed I was asked by Elle Decor. Basically what that means is I will take stories to them first (of mine). I will also scout stuff for them, and if it’s something I bring to the table, then I’ll kind of act as on-set stylist. I’ll style the shoot and that sort of thing. I’ll do things on their website for them. I do a lot of entertaining pieces that are easy and quick. Maybe they’ll come to me and say “Hey, we need a little thing on Christmas entertaining on the website.” So just kind of, you know, pop in and out.

In an interview last month, Martyn Lawrence-Bullard spoke of some over-the-top projects he has lined up for season two of Million Dollar Decorators. Can you confirm there will be a second season?
I can’t! We haven’t heard a dang thing about it. We don’t know anything. You know, the funny thing isn’t we didn’t know anything during the season. We taped in December of last year, and we would only see what was aired the Wednesday before. They would send us a disc of what was coming up so we could comment on it on our blogs on Bravo.com. So it was really kind of interesting. I know what I taped. I know what I did. I just never knew what they were going to use and how they were going to use it.

How do you think you and your fellow cast members were portrayed? Do you think it was fair?
I do. I think everybody was pretty true to who they are. A lot of, you know, always the "volume up." You know what I mean? It was editing. There’s some stuff that gets chopped off halfway in the middle, and you don’t see the full thing. It doesn’t explain stuff totally. It was such a weird thing for me, this show. You put yourself out there, and you have to own where the pieces fall.

Lawrence Bullard also hinted at a joint project you and he are working on—something next door to his offices. What might that be?
Oh yeah—I’m moving! Actually, I moved out of my shop on Almont [Street in Los Angeles], which was sad but also exciting. I have the retail space under Martyn’s office now.

How long had you been in the previous location?
It’s the only place I’ve ever been. We opened like almost nine years ago. I always joke that it was my first job. And so it was kind of sad to leave because it’s really where I started my business. But I’m excited! I moved to Melrose [Avenue] right next to Rose Tarlow and across the street from [White House decorator] Michael Smith, so I kinda joke that I’m a big boy now. I’m in a grown-up space.

What does the new space afford you?
It’s a little bit bigger and I just think the profile is great. It’s right on Melrose. We’re right in the design district at Melrose and La Cienega [Boulevard]. I’ve never been on one of the main thoroughfares. I’m just looking forward to seeing more traffic, being out there a little bit more.

Is the Ford pickup truck you’re seen driving in Million Dollar Decorators really yours?
Yes, I promise you it’s mine! I got so many comments and tweets about it. People are like “WHAT?!” But, okay, think about it—it’s so practical for a decorator and with two dogs that, like, you touch them and hair flies just all over the place. I’m not fussy. You know, I always say I’m not a “perfect” gay, like Jeffrey and Ross are “perfect” gays— they’re handsome and they’re always dressed perfectly and their house is perfect. And you know I’m like “sloppy cousin” gay. I mean it’s practical—my truck has dings and dents and scrapes, and the thing is I don’t care. You know, the more the better. I let it get beat up and the dogs get in it wet, and then I haul stuff around. I have this store and I don’t care what people say about the “glamour” of this industry, glorified movers is what we do for a living. So I’m always hauling something around. I just found that it was super practical for me. And my family has a cattle ranch in northern California, so I grew up with “country.” I listen to country music, it’s totally, like, a part of me. Both of my brothers have pickup trucks, and they tease me that I have a fancy pickup truck. I’m like “What? It like has chintz-upholstered seats?” And they’re like, “If you did that, we’d kill you.”

Can you share a favorite decorating tip?
I think that one thing I say is to trust your instinct and not be afraid of it. I just came off a panel that was about trends and spotting new trends. I kept saying trends are great and it’s nice to see what’s out there and expose yourself to something new, but ultimately you want to live the way you want to live and it’s your home. It’s the most personal, intimate thing. Don’t worry so much about what other people are doing, and do what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. Because it’s sensory, it’s about making a space that makes you feel good. So trust your instincts with it and do what you want to do.

· Nathan Turner Designs [official site]
· Bravo Star Nathan Turner Reports Live from Inside a Bloomie's Window [Racked National]
· Nathan Turner for Elite Leather [Bloomingdale's]
· Nobilis "Wood" wallpaper [Home Portfolio]
· 'Million Dollar Decorators' Designer Teases Finale & More Celebs for Season 2 [AolTV.com]
· Episode Seven: Frankensofas, No-Tell Motels, and Purple Lemonade [Curbed National]
· Nathan Turner's Million Dollar Decorators blog [Bravo]
· If the Lamp Shade Fits [official site]