Michael Carter: Million Dollar Decorator

January 3, 2012

In my last blog,  I reported on the fantastic visit to Los Angeles with David Webster and John Becker of Webster & Company to view the full spectrum of all things Rose Tarlow Melrose House. With husband David Rousseau and fellow Carter & Company designer Douglas Truesdale in tow, we explored the ultra-sophisticated collection now housed in the California-chic showroom on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. It was tremendous!

As hoped, there were celebrity sightings of the Hollywood type: Anderson Cooper at breakfast, Geena Davis that cute kid who plays Blaine on Glee in our hotel lobby (The London, which deserves its own blog full of accolades–so chic!). But the real bonanza for me was the plethora of designer celebrities at every turn.

Our host herself–that being the doyenne of design, Rose Tarlow–goes at the top of the column. I was completely amused by her obsession with her dog, Ollie. Rose is obviously still the creative force behind the venerable Melrose House, but I daresay that Ollie is the creative force behind Rose Tarlow! The thing she and Douglas really connected on was textiles, as Douglas has an encyclopedic memory for fabrics, and together they enjoyed remembrances of prints past

Our first evening was spent dining with two celebrity designers from the hit TV show Million Dollar Decorator: Jeffrey Alan Marks and his partner Ross Cassidy. We were dining at a wonderful restaurant called Tavern, in Brentwood, and were on either side of me at the main table as we enjoyed their very own design handiwork: the entire rear section of the restaurant, a huge, cavernous space that had been unused for years. Now, in the hands of Marks and Cassidy, it enjoyed a renaissance. But first a word or two about the show, in case you’re not a fan as I am.

Million Dollar Decorator is the best design show ever to be aired on television. Why? Two reasons. One is its pure entertainment value, with a well-selected cast of colorful characters. The series explores the trials and tribulations, the triumphs and tragedies of real professionals, real LA designers with real LA clients, real homes, real issues. Sure it’s Hollywood, and everything is a big drama. But unlike these other ridiculous shows where rooms are done in a week for $500 or entire homes are leveled and rebuilt, landscaped and decorated in eight days (as the world watches with hanky in hand), this show comes the closest to anything I know and understand about the wonderful, glamorous and not-so-wonderful and not-so-glamorous world in which I have been immersed for the last sixteen years, with all its ups and downs. It quickly becomes apparent that lots can go wrong and does go wrong in their perilous professional world filled with high-maintenance clients, as we sit and squirm at home watching these celebrity designers worm their way out of troubles, nod approvingly at their successes, and howl at their antics.

So what of Jeffrey Alan Marks and Ross Cassidy? Well, the series would have you believe they are a bit of a circus act, but spending an evening in their company and in a space that they have created would say otherwise. They were delightful, on their game and genuinely interested in meeting us. I found out that they are filming part of the next season’s installment on Nantucket, and I’m very excited to see the project that they’re undertaking–which has a fun twist, as their client has given them some restrictive guidelines that will make it very challenging.

We also bumped into Nathan Turner at Melrose House, and shopped in his new store on Melrose Avenue where I picked up a few nifty gifts. He was quite pleasant and personable. And we spent an afternoon at Greystone Mansion, currently the designer show house in Beverly Hills where virtually all the members of the MDD cast have done a space, including Martyn Lawrence Bullard. His master bedroom suite was all in shades of black and white and grays and was nicely done–but of course nicely done with the new collection of fabrics that he has designed exclusively for Schumacher. Particularly effective was a super-size wool paisley that he used to upholster large panels of the bedroom walls. And, by the way, Martyn is a doll! We had dinner in Boston recently as guests of Schumacher, and I have to say (God forgive me), he actually is as delicious in life as he is on television (“delicious†being his word du jour!).

The other big LA designer name, if not the biggest name, of course, is Michael Smith, with whom I also recently dined at No. 9 Park here in Boston. He initially seemed uninterested in the guests at the table, but when he did engage, I really appreciated what he had to say about managing a large firm. He said he has a staff of thirty-five. Can you imagine? And all through the evening the calls kept coming in from LA as we were three hours earlier than his office staff. Suddenly I understood. Not easy being big. I love, love, love his work!

And who is the most down-to-earth celebrity designer I’ve ever met? That honor comes back to the East Coast and goes to the legendary Bunny Williams: that hardworking, knowledgeable, ever-versatile, both country and city, no-airs, class act of a designer. Can you tell I’m a huge fan? Naturally, she’s a good Southern girl, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with it!

–Michael Carter
Michael Carter is an interior designer and principal and owner of Carter & Company Interior Design.

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