After honing her eye at Christie's for years—her first job was in the jewelry department of the auction house—Amanda Nisbet founded her eponymous design firm in 1998. Since then, she's launched a modern, colorful lighting collection with Urban Electric and a bold, geometric line of textiles, with a couple of rug collections currently in the works and due out this spring. Last fall, the Manhattan-based designer released her first book, Dazzling Design, which chronicles some of her most vibrant projects to date (including a buttoned-up Park Avenue apartment she daringly swathed in fuchsia). Here Nisbet talks to Curbed about her love of custom work, achieving a balance between high-end and mass-market, and what it's like crafting a bed entirely from nickel.
Define luxury as what it means to you.
Quite honestly, and this may sound like a Hallmark card, but it is to be with the people you love in a well-appointed home. I like comfort and well-lit room and beautiful things, but the most important thing is you to have people you love around you.
If a house were to have only one truly high-end piece of furniture/decor/lighting/fabrics/etc, do you have an opinion about which piece folks should invest in?
To me it is different every time. Personally, I think it has to be the stand-out piece. A lot of people say upholstery, but I think it should be something that you really truly remember—say, where you were when you bought it and how fabulous it is. For me, it's these two side tables I found in London and broke the bank on, but I love them and they are unique.
When is custom the only way to go?
I primarily do custom. I love doing custom. It's so fun. Especially in New York, because you have to really be creative. I love it because it is always a chance to be creative. I don't want one client to walk into a friend's house and see something she has. I don't want formula decorating.
Anything outrageous you've designed?
Mostly it's just having to fit a myriad of needs into one room. For one client I installed aquariums along with a big roaring fire and a pool table—in case her kids wanted to play pool—all in the living room. It is a little bit like Disneyland.
What would you say is the most expensive single piece you've ever included in, and perhaps created for, a project?
I made a beautiful nickel bed that was quite expensive because it was all nickel and handcrafted with hammered scalloping. In this case, I was very blessed by a model client who gave me mostly free reign, so I really got to have fun.
What about technology? Are you often asked to incorporate it into your design?
I'm completely old fashioned and I can't stand the technology. Everything goes out of date anyway. I really just want the basic on-and-off switch!
Any requests for iPad docking stations in the say the fridge door or the bathroom?
Yes, and I defer to the architect or the contractor! I don't even believe those TVs that go up and down at the end of the bed. Keep it simple—at least in that respect.
What's the most ridiculous request, price wise, you've ever received from a client?
It's more likely to get a request to do a $500,000 dollar room for $50,000. All these HGTV-type shows have set an unreal precedent. Now it tends to be that clients want the most expensive thing but at half cost—even the wealthiest. Now, I can do expensive, that's not a problem.
With mass-market this and pre-fab that, cost-cutting measures both in terms of manufacturing and what the client pays, do you think the design industry is moving away from the high-end?
It's all a balance. I'm not saying every thing has to be a high-end piece, but I will fight for the pieces that will make the room, those the client will be happy to have for a lifetime. It's different in every situation. Not everyone can afford the best of the best. It does make it more interesting to mix it up a bit. As long as you educate your client and they know what they are getting. A Crate & Barrel table is not going to have resale value or last long. I don't like using it beyond children's room.
Do you ever blanch at using extremely high-end finishes or furnishings in a child's room?
I did do a de Gournay wallpaper for 7-year-old. One Sharpie on this, it's over, but it's a beautiful room. It's either they want the mass or they want this princess room.
Tell me about a really costly impulse buy, either for you or a client.
Everything I buy is impulse! Though I like to say it in a little more friendly way: I have a very clear idea of what I like. Usually the client can't jump as fast as I can and wants to think about it, but I just know instantly it is the right piece. My husband calls it impulsive; I call it all knowing.
They say money doesn't buy taste. Can you think of any examples where that's most definitely been true?
When they go for the bad fakes: that's the worst. A bad Louis XV is REALLY bad. I'll show a client something from Guy Regal and they'll go on to mirrors.com and find one that's the same, but it so not. They don't get it. It helps validate what I do. It's not about spending too much; it is about educating the client. All they see is gold and rectangular—they don't see gold and patina. I've had clients say to me, "But I got if for 100 dollars," and I'll say, "It looks like it."
As a young designer, what it is like working with older, perhaps more monied, clients?
They tend to like a little more muddied colors, but they see what they do and love it. It seems when they get older they want to look younger. In your 30s you want to prove yourself and look sophisticated so you go for the more traditional look, so to speak. Whereas the older client who has been-there-done-that says, you know what, this may be my last go around, and I'm going to make it really fun. They also get it, which is so lovely. They've worked with a designer before, but they are still shocked by prices. Shocked. Because everything has gotten so much more expensive.
· Amanda Nisbet Design [official site]