Eighteen years ago, House & Garden dispatched New Orleans-based writer Mimi Read to write about New York-based interior designer Tom Scheerer. A lasting friendship was born between the two, and now design enthusiasts can enjoy Scheerer's and Read's combined talents in Read's book, Tom Scheerer Decorates, with photos by Francesco Lagnese. The book takes readers inside Manhattan apartments, seaside cottages and country houses, all bearing Scheerer's brand of sophistication tempered with practicality and authenticity. This month, CUE turned the tables on Read, who writes for House Beautiful, making her the subject of our Q & A.
CUE: You've written about countless interior designers over the years. Why did you choose to write your first book about Tom Scheerer's work?
Read: I think he's one of the best decorators working today. ... He has a talent for radical simplification. His house in the Bahamas has no dishwasher or subzero refrigerator or clothes dryer and not even glass or screens in the windows. He doesn't generally impose this extremism on clients but the underlying idea comes through to me in some subliminal way, even in his work for very fancy people. [His style] is both very modern and unapologetically old-fashioned.
: What was it like working together?
R: I've written about Tom for magazines four or five times and it's always dead easy because he's so articulate and lively. He manages to have good manners and yet be totally unguarded in his opinions, and his opinions are entertaining to me and of a high order. These are great qualities in my book and absolute requirements for close friendship. So I always learn something from him. In our conversations we both discover things and get places we might not get to by ourselves. We work together very naturally.
: What do you think readers will take away from this book?
R: I hope they take away the idea that decorating isn't just for rich people. It's expressive and it's practical in that it makes life more comfortable and beautiful. One of the reasons people go to such incredible lengths to have great houses is that a house is an important clue to an inhabitant's identity and status, and whether people admit it or not, everybody cares about those things. But a house reveals things the homeowner wants you to know as well as things they don't necessarily want you to know. So, our houses have psychological significance on every level — they're for us and about us.
: What's the best piece of decorating advice Scheerer ever gave you?
R: Everything needs to work and make sense and feel authentic. If you have a 19th-century cottage that was built for a modest working person, even if it has beautiful high ceilings and elegant proportions, you don't add fancy crown molding and silk curtains. You go with what you have because it has its own beauty and you only hurt it by dolling it up. All of his advice to me essentially boils down to this: If you're a New Orleans writer from an Uptown family, you don't decorate like a French aristocrat or a Brooklyn hipster or a Los Angeles style setter or a trust fund hippie who just got back from Morocco. If you like modern art, you acquire it, and if you don't, you don't bother. You be yourself, or perhaps a slightly better version of yourself — but not too much better. So much decorating seems like dressing a dog in a ball gown. Tom's does not.