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Publication Date: 2016-02-23

Inspiration

Designer to Watch: Matthew Caughy Does Traditional Design in an Entirely New, Fresh Way

A fresh face on the New York design scene, New York-based interior designer and artist Matthew Caughy makes traditional design look (dare I say it: exciting?!) relevant and crisp as can be.

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Perhaps it is his coastal upbringing, or the inspiration of his design mentors, Foley & Cox, but he gives blue and white interiors a shot in the arm. Favoring textural raffia and seagrass over solids, he understands a good room layout and uses tailored details in a less is more approach. Caughy designs pretty spaces with an eye toward the classics but reinvigorates them for today's lifestyle, which is why I think he is an up and coming designer to watch, filled with great potential. I sat down with the designer who hung out his shingle in August, 2015, to catch up on how its going, what inspires his art and design and what its like to start your own design firm.  Ahead, discover his summery designs that bring about a vacation state of mind all year long.

The living room in Caughy's beach house is filled with textural elements and a balanced mix of timeworn pieces with interesting appeal, making it the perfect spot to relax and unwind.

A simple seagrass rug and pretty antique bench welcome visitors. Nothing says vacation mode like an array of beachy straw hats that have a sculptural effect in the entry.

Q: Who did you work for and where did you study to learn the trade?

A: I worked for Foley & Cox Interiors for over 10 years. I started with them as  a junior designer when I first moved to NYC. I grew into the roll as their senior project manager. I very much enjoyed my time working for Mary and Michael and continue to appreciate their encouragement and support.  I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and earned a BFA in Interior Architecture and Design. My father wanted me to become a painter. As much as I love making fine art, I knew my heart was in design. I love creating with the balance of form and function. The act of living with items everyday is art to me. I do still love to paint, and recently painted a large oil seascape that hangs in my family room at the beach that I share on my website. The act of making art teaches you that it’s the process that determines a successful outcome.

Q: What did they teach you that you can't learn in design school?

A: See the world from your own perspective and not to take things at first sight.

Q: When did you know this was your calling in life?

A: I grew up immersed in art, drawing and painting from a young age. I knew interiors were my calling since every time I began a new art project, I would start by reorganizing my space. Before painting or drawing I always felt the urge to rearrange all the furniture in the room.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. How did you know you were ready to strike out on your own, and when did you? I went out on my own this past summer. It is a difficult decision to know when to take the leap. I came to the realization that one of my favorite parts of interior design is guiding a client to create a home of their dreams. It’s a really wonderful exchange. I think when you understand its importance you are ready.

Q: What advice do you have for others wanting to do the same?

A: Start out by working for good people. In the beginning learning is the most important thing.

Q: What was the biggest surprise or challenge in starting your own firm?

A: The hardest part for me was leaving a firm of people that are my friends. It’s always a treasure to find peers that share the same passions. 

Q: Do you have a design inspiration?

A: Henri Matisse. Growing up in Baltimore my parents would often take my siblings and I to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Cone Collection with its many Matisse paintings always captured my interest. I love the way Matisse tells a story by the items and patterns in the rooms he painted. This has always stayed with me. I like to think the objects I chose tell a story as well.

Q: What is the most practical knowledge you learned from working for a master designer?

A: Rely on your best vendors. An experienced vendor, from a skilled drapery house to a seasoned upholsterer, and a talented woodworker, they are a designers most powerful assets. They realize your designs from sketch to production. Their knowledge and craftsmanship are invaluable. When you work with the best, you get the best.

Q: What is the biggest challenge of being your own boss?

A: Balancing the creative and the business sides simultaneously. Both are equally important and you need to give each equal attention.

Q: Whose work of the past do you hold in high regard?

A: Edward Wormley. I am inspired by how his work referenced traditional elements while defining modernity. I am impressed by the craftsmanship of his pieces and how this was a standard of his time.

Q: What books do you own old and new that you constantly refer to?

A: Old: A vintage edition of ‘The Language of Flowers’. It is fascinating to read the Victorian meanings for each bloom. What a charming thought to speak in floral! New: ‘Carrier and Company Positively Chic Interiors'—I can’t put in down! Their work exudes depth and heart.

Q: Where are you going for inspiration?

A: Living in the West Village I couldn’t be more excited to have the new Whitney Museum down the street. It’s such a wonderful museum. I like to go there to refocus. There is something about the scale and finishing details of the galleries that make the art feel very accessible. 

Q: What is the best part of living and working in NYC?

A: It’s always changing. What makes NYC so inspiring is that its constantly evolving giving you the chance to contribute to its story. 

Q: What do you think is next regarding trends in color, material, style, influence, historical period and locale? 

A: I always like to look back before looking forward. I was recently at the Frick, admiring the Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland, by Whistler. The pallet of soft neutrals evokes stillness and elegance. I’d love to design an entire room based on the painting. Even though it was painted in the 1800’s, there is something endlessly fresh about this portrait. I think it speaks to today’s sensibility of casual luxury. 

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Relaxed modern with an appreciation of the past

Q: What do you collect?

A: I love mid century pottery. One of my favorite NYC spots is Leo Design in the West Village. They have a wonderful curated collection of handsome accessories and a fantastic offering of vintage pottery. Its often my husband's go-to gift for special occasions.

Q: How do your clients find you?

A: By discovering my website, www.matthewcaughy.com and I am a listed designer on Dering Hall. Instagram, it’s such a great tool. I love that it allows you to share what you find beautiful everyday.

Q: Do you have a favorite fabric pattern or print you return to?

A: Anything Robert Kime

What material do you love?

I love all things woven. It’s a weakness! 

Q: Where do you shop to get inspired?

A: I love local antiquing near my weekend home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I love the experience of walking though these shops that are far removed from current trends. Finding that hidden jewel is thrilling and they are full of endless inspiration. 

Q: What stores and or resources do you shop in the most?

A: Soane, BDDW, Wyeth, John Rosselli, and Holland and Sherry

Q: Where are you eager to do a project?

A: I have had the pleasure of working on a London townhouse but I have always wanted to design an English country home. With an American twist of course!

And can he style a tablescape or what! His styling elements add an emotional connection and insight to what he loves. Coffee table accessories are always a great way to learn more about someone.

It's the little details that make a difference, like a small lamp on the bar. Because who wants to help themselves to a drink under the cover of darkness?

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