AT Interview: Betsy Burnham

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

(This is a new feature from Vanessa – studio interviews with LA designers. )

Interior designer Betsy Burnham is certainly not afraid of mixing bold colors and fabrics, as it is evident in her designs. Her style can be best described as thrift meet couture, which she quotes in my interview with her.

Having first seen her home during a Christmas party I was blown away by her fearless interior design. Everywhere you looked there was something unexpected that caught your eye. Betsy designed her Hancock Park home – an area known for its grand French and Spanish revival architecture, as a chic eclectic space, which compliments the true aesthetic of its historical charm.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

You might be familiar with her work as her home was published in the 2005 Fall/Winter issue of Instyle Home. If you missed the issue, you can see it on her
website under “press”.

Following are some questions I asked Betsy about her experience in the design field.

How did you come to be a designer?
I studied fine art in college and worked for years in product development in the fashion industry. So I definitely have a creative background. What got me started in interiors though, was a party I had at my home almost ten years ago. One of my guests hired me the following week to design her house, and I haven’t stopped working since.

What’s your favorite color to work with and why?
My favorite color to work with is more of a variable than a constant. A couple of years ago, I couldn’t get enough of any greyed-out beige, and then there was a stretch when I was mad for navy blue. Right now, I love creamy vanilla, especially used with white.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What color combinations do you see using in the future?

I’m feeling cameo pink. It’s fantastic with olives and browns.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?
Travel, even if it’s just to Santa Monica.

Which interior or furniture designers, past or present, do you most admire?
Albert Hadley. He is always been way ahead of all of us.

Describe your design theory in 4-6 words.
Mixing thrift with couture, be fearless.

What is your signature mark that you always try to implement in a space?
A smidgen of taxidermy.

If you could redo any space, past or present, what would it be?
The guest rooms at the Pierre hotel in New York. To me, that place is pure old school chic, and very luxurious, but the interiors upstairs are a nightmare of chintz and over-embellished windows.

What have you learned from having your own business that you wish you knew when you were just starting out?
That’s a hard question, because I feel like I learn something new about business every day. I guess I wish I had known that this business is as much (if not more) about follow through, as it is about design and accounting. There is an incredible amount of paperwork and detail.

What are your best practices when it comes to client relations?
Honesty. Let them know, verbally and through your actions, that you’re their ally in the process, and they will reward you with their trust.

Are there any hard and/or fast dos and don’ts you’d like to share?
Trust, and be true to, your instinct. Respect the architecture.
Challenge yourself creatively. Say no if the project or client seems wrong, regardless of how big the job is. Discuss the clients’ budget and your fees up front and in detail. Hire excellent people and pay them fairly.
Expect something in the process to go wrong; it always does.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you think you would be doing now?

Running a little vintage business on ebay.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t plan to stop designing or exploring new aspects of this business, but hopefully I’ll be working from my beach house somewhere fabulous.