Originally from Oklahoma, renowned interior designer Stephen Sills spends the majority of his time in New York State, moving between the city and his country home in Bedford, Westchester. However, Europe holds a special place in his heart — especially Paris and London (one of his previous projects was The Connaught Hotel) — and he gets much of his inspiration from traveling, taking particular pleasure in seeking out art and antiques.
The first thing I do is… Before I go to bed, I make a list of things I need to do and things that I need to address very quickly. Writing this list before I sleep is the best time to do it, because my mind is calm and I can focus — if I don’t make a list, I’m lost. There are so many things going on. I wake up at about 6am and slowly get up, usually dragging myself out of bed by 7am.
You can often find me… In New York, where I’m based and where the studio is. I go into the studio every day — there are always a million questions to answer, things to review, and strange problems to solve. On the weekends I go to Westchester, to Bedford, where I have my country house. It’s such a different pace of life and a great retreat, although I’m always working out there, too.
I love traveling, especially to Europe. I love London and Paris, and I’ve been going to Italy more as well. A few years ago, I went to Torino for the first time. It was so charming and wonderful. When I’m on vacation, it always takes some time to fall back into a slower way of living. Everything is so hyper in New York, it’s always ‘run, run, run.’ I try to give myself space when I’m traveling. The only thing I’ll carry is my phone to take pictures. I get so much inspiration from going to new places, often finding new products and ideas.
My work is… Incredibly varied. Every day is very different — I can be running around, going to see a client or the artisans I work with in Queens and Brooklyn, or preparing for a meeting in the studio. Our work is very detail-oriented and almost everything is handmade, so I spend a lot of time checking in with vendors and making sure that what we’ve drawn up is executed correctly. There are some amazing craftspeople in the New York area; they can build or make anything we come up with.
I love checking in with my team and working with them. Almost everyone has been working with me for over 10 years — some for almost 25 years — so it’s a very tight ship. I’m involved in everything: the planning, the execution, organizing furniture and finishes for storage if the project isn’t ready for them yet. I have a close relationship with many of my clients. If you pay attention to the client and understand what they’re expecting and what kind of atmosphere they want to live in, you do get the best result.
I am usually wearing… New York’s grand decorators were always so elegant — they always dressed in suits and ties, and I really respect that. But I was young when I moved to New York from the Midwest, and I dressed very casually. The only time I dressed up was when I got an interview with Ian Schrager — I bought an Armani suit for the interview, and I think I got the job because he liked it! If I need a suit now, I go to de Corato Atelier. Conveniently, its showroom is across the hall from my studio. Nowadays I’m still a very casual dresser; my go-to is Brunello Cucinelli. When I’m not seeing clients, I go into the studio in jeans, maybe a cashmere sweater.
However, when I meet a client, I do make the effort to put on a nice jacket or a tie. I love clothes and I like good quality. If I’m in Paris, for example, I’ll have a couple of shirts made for me. They can always be paired with jeans and a jacket for a more casual look. One of my biggest purchases was a Loro Piana fur-lined coat. It was the best investment I’ve ever made — it’s better than anything I’ve ever bought before.
I always find time to… Get out in the garden. It’s my passion; I’ve been gardening seriously for probably the last 15 years. I’ve got a big garden at my house in Bedford. I love to design the layout, pick the plants and place them, but I have help with the day-to-day maintenance. Gardening is a lot of work — I have a gardener who has worked with me for 20 years. He’s brilliant. I’m very blessed with the people around me.
I also love to paint. I paint objects mainly, often from the studio. When it’s really intense, I go to the studio kitchen and paint something. It relaxes me, and it’s fun to create compositions and work with colors; it complements my work nicely without creating more pressure.
At the end of the workday, I’ll often get home and dig into Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. It’s very easy to lose yourself in a story — I find it therapeutic. Something I’ve been watching over and over recently is the new Tina Turner documentary. She’s a great friend of mine — I designed her houses in the South of France and in Zurich. It’s an incredibly human story; she overcame such a dire situation, and her talent, passion and love always shone through. She’s one of the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met. She’s really been a gift in my life.
I’m excited about… My third book, which includes the newest projects from the last nine years. A lot of the projects I’m showcasing in it have never been published. My clients are totally on board with the book — they know I’ve worked for it and they’re proud of it. The book will also include my process and how I work. I want it to be a bit of a ‘teaching’ book. It was originally due this year, but I want to tour with it, so I put it off for a year. I think it will be ready next May.
Something I would tell my younger self is… It’s very important to keep learning. You can learn as much from bad work or failure as you can from good work, or your successes. It might sound strange, but I think it’s more important to learn what you don’t want to do in this life than what you do want to do — it shapes you more.
This article appears in the 26 Aug 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Fall 2021