If you are looking for divine design inspiration, look no further than design maven Iris Apfel. At 96, she has influenced interior design, textile design and fashion for over sixty years. Her spirit, her vision and most of all, how she defines style, resonates with me.
Style is an attitude. It isn’t about what interior or fashion looks are trending, but how you wear, live and embody your personal style. Style is an ease of expression, about allowing things to come to you and relishing surprises, being open to new directions, and knowing and trusting your instincts. More than anything else, interpreting style is what I love most about my design work.
I could not live in Iris’s living room. The furniture would not function for my lifestyle and I prefer to mix and match old and new. I do like her whimsy though, and how she’s played with angles in what is sure to be her apartment’s square rooms footprint. Angling a main piece of furniture completely changes the feel of a room, its flow is altered and sight lines shift. The opposition colour palette works well for her traditional style, but red here is used as an accent, to highlight that fabulous French bergere chair. I am also a fan of layering. We are complex creatures and, if you are like me, you have favourite collectibles, art and objects competing for space and prominence. We leave books on tables, remote controls on coffee tables and little canvasses picked up in a market stall on the wall. And definitely a throw or two on the sofa in winter. Rooms become comfortable when window, wall and floor treatments, furniture and decorative, as well as ordinary useful things, mingle. The design touchstones of layering, working with angles, colour placement and low lighting that creates a feeling of intimacy are definitely worth adopting from Iris’ living room design.
Iris isn’t the sort of woman who moves through life unnoticed. Her strong design statements have impressed generations of fashionistas, designers and celebrities. Her antique packed apartment casts aside stuffy traditionalism for a playful mix of priceless and the charmingly camp. Her rooms and closets overflow with designer and bargain clothing and accessories, and she once had a warehouse packed with furniture and art collected from her years of extensive traveling. One of her famous quotes, “More is more and less is a bore,” will have minimalists running for wide open spaces. Having fun with your stuff is what Iris is about. I could not agree more.
Avid globe trotters, Iris and her husband Carl sourced fabrics and furnishings for their interior design business and such luminaries as Estée Lauder and Greta Garbo. Her work has also been featured at the White House as her clients have included several US presidents. In 1950, the couple established Old World Weavers to meet client demand for the kind of high quality fabrics that she and Carl discovered on their travels throughout Europe and Asia.
Well established in high society, Iris became a mainstream design icon on the international stage in 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted the exhibition, Rara Avis: Selctions from the Iris Apfel Collection, a showcase of her eclectic and extensive wardrobe and accessory collection. Her story was captured by the documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles in Iris (2014). Feature interviews and fashion and style magazine spreads abound, with a 2014 New York Times video interview a particular highlight. In March 2018 a new book, Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon, launches.
A rare bird indeed, Iris is a design and style icon who challenges us to consider how we embody our own personal style.