It was a move to Paris that sparked Timothy Corrigan’s interest in interior design. The man with a timeless philosophy that “combines European elegance with California comfort” was so inspired by living in the French capital that he give up a successful career in advertising with Saatchi & Saatchi’s Bates Worldwide’s international operations in order to launch his own design firm. Since 1998, Corrigan has built a clientele of A-listers.
“After spending five years working in advertising in New York City, my company transferred me to Paris to run their European network. It was a total life changing experience,” he recalls. “I was so overcome by the sheer beauty of everything in Paris and I was particularly struck by the way that culture and the arts play an important part in everyday life there. Before too long, I become addicted to the wonderful museums in Paris, the Drouot auction house and the incredible Paris flea markets. My apartment was published in House and Garden magazine and that was the beginning of my new career in design.”
Corrigan has been hailed by Architectural Digest as “Today’s Tastemaker”. He appears regularly on television and in prestigious publications such as The New York Times, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Vogue and The Wall Street Journal. Last January, he received the “Design Icon” award from the Las Vegas World Market & Design Center. Additional accolades include the “Star of Design Award” from the Pacific Design Center. He was the first American designer to be honored by French Heritage for his restoration of several national landmarks in France. His book An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé is a lavishly illustrated monograph that highlights Corrigan’s design philosophy and brings to life the fundamental principles of his work. Published by Rizzoli, the volume chronicles an astounding restoration project he carried out on his 18th-century château in the Loire Valley.
“The restoration of Grand-Lucé was one of the biggest design challenges I have faced as an interior designer,” says Corrigan. “Because it is an historic listed property, there were many restrictions. I was forced to come up with creative solutions. The process was very rewarding, because in the end I stretched myself creatively while respecting the history of the property and the country.”
Other projects for Corrigan include fabrics, trims, furniture and floor coverings for Schumacher and Patterson and Flynn & Martin, as well as two tabletop collections for Royal Limoges. His collection of bath fixtures for THG Paris debuted this year. Coming soon is a collection of passementerie for Samuel & Sons and wallpaper for Fromental. Corrigan has been fascinated by architecture for as long as he can remember.
“I was born in Minnesota, in the heartland of America, and raised in Los Angeles. As a boy I was fascinated by architecture. I designed houses out of balsa wood and even created the landscaping around them,” he recalls. “I was lucky enough to have great exposure to the arts as a child. My mother took us to museums, and I think that early exposure established my connection with art and culture.
“I had a long career in advertising, overseeing 6,000 employees and close to 200 offices around the world. Over time, I started to realise that I had become so removed from the creative process that I could have been working for a company that was making paperclips. I took a leap of faith to pursue my passion for design and I have never looked back.”
How does Corrigan describe his style? “In a word, timeless,” he replies. “By mixing styles, periods, textures and cultures into a single space, it can feel fresh and alive both today and for years to come. I urge people to strive to make their home look and feel like it has been achieved over time, and truly reflects their interests and personality.”
The client always comes first for Corrigan: “No matter the size or style of the project, I always focus first on how my clients want to live in their homes. Based on that, we work on getting the basic furniture plan right. Then I add in the comfort and décor. You have to start out with the right plan before you even begin to think about the decorative design elements. What good is it to have a beautiful room that you never use or that doesn’t work for you?
“Design is all about trust between you and your clients; you must establish that sense of mutual trust and continue to reinforce it all along the way. Designers need to listen to their clients and then figure out the best way to give them what they want. One mistake that many designers make is forgetting that it’s not about them or their ego. “My clients range from European and Middle Eastern royalty to Hollywood celebrities and corporate leaders. I’ve had clients from the worlds of fashion, law, education, philanthropy and technology. I’m lucky to call most of my clients friends and I’ve done multiple projects for most of them, which is the ultimate compliment and business model.”
Corrigan’s goal is to create “a room that is beautiful, elegant, layered and inviting. I try to create environments where people feel really at home and welcome. Comfort is the key ingredient. Comfort is more than just being soft and cozy though. Comfort is also a mental thing. Do you feel comfortable enough to be able to put your feet up on something? Can you put down a glass on a table without worrying about leaving a mark? Can you let the kids play in the room without being afraid that they are going to ruin something? That’s essential.
“In all of my projects, there is a strong foundation in classical design. I believe that a successful project is one that looks timeless and never looks as if it has been ‘decorated’. In order to achieve this objective, I carefully mix the best examples of furniture, art and design from different periods, in order to create a space that is interesting, alive and vital. I hate looking at a space in which you can easily identify where all of the pieces and fabrics come from.
“At first glance, my projects appear elegant, and while they may appear that way, I really focus a lot on comfort and practicality. For that reason, I often use high-performance and outdoor fabrics on sofas and upholstered pieces in high-traffic areas. With all of the new technology available today, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between performance and luxury fabrics.”
What’s the most interesting project Corrigan has ever taken on for a client? “Right now we are working a historic mansion in Beverly Hills,” he says. “The clients are very daring and are pushing us to create rooms that are dramatic and whimsical. We are doing the grand living room, with walls inspired by early 20th-century artist Jose Maria Sert, complete with murals painted on silver leafed walls and a mix of real, plaster and designer painted drapes. The breakfast-room walls, ceiling and drapes are covered with real leaves and the table base looks like a tree trunk plated in metal.”
The best thing about his work, Corrigan says, is “having numerous opportunities to try new and different things. I also love the challenge of taking the architecture from an earlier time, in which people lived very differently and the figuring out how to appropriately update that structure for the way we live and work today. Finally, there is nothing as rewarding as having clients tell me that even after a number of years, they love their home even more today than they
did on the first day that we presented it to them. “I feel that I have been incredibly blessed to be able to express my creative spirit in so many different arenas. My goal as a designer is for people to start to understand that there is a direct correlation between one’s surroundings and the way that they see and actually live in the world. Whether it is our home, a restaurant or a hotel room, all of these places are opportunities for one to feel that they are being welcomed, nurtured and enriched. In sum, our surroundings should be the place that let us be our very best selves.”
Finally, what does Corrigan like his own homes to look like? “In all my homes the furniture is a mix of antiques from around the world, along with furniture from the 1930s and 40s and a few pieces from my own design for Schumacher and Timothy Corrigan Home,” says. “I like mixing things up and I constantly move things around in my home, because if you leave something in the same place for too long you actually stop ‘seeing’ it. One thing that you will never find in any of my homes is an uncomfortable chair.”