Mary McGee: My client loves clear and pretty colors, and pink is her absolute favorite. In the living room, I made it feel rich and sophisticated by using deep shades of raspberry, then I introduced graphic black-and-white patterns and art, like the Richard Serra charcoal drawing over a sofa. The combination makes the room feel edgy and modern as opposed to sweet or feminine.
And yet the house’s architecture is anything but edgy.
My clients love design, but family comes first — they have four kids, and they wanted a big, happy home that would feel grounded in history. We renovated this house in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in the Georgian style and gave it classical moldings and proportions.
And then you offset that with the interior’s vibrant design.
When you have these really serious rooms, it’s nice to bring in things that are a little more fun, to introduce a chic, hip vibe. For instance, the living room’s Plexiglas table feels young and fresh, and the transparency helps to balance out all the color in the room.
Throughout the house, you use decor as a counterweight to the architecture.
Yes. The dining room felt less stuffy once we brought in those bamboo armchairs, Warhol artworks, and vintage Lucite candlesticks. And even the antiques are a mixture of styles and periods, starting with the English table, which the clients received as a wedding gift. I surrounded it with chairs modeled on an 18th-century French design I really liked, and I had them covered in jazzy coral fabrics. I’ve found that if you use all English furniture, a room can feel too heavy, while entirely French pieces can get a little too precious. I always mix it up.
What is the best strategy to complement such clear, strong colors?
The client wanted the whole house to feel light, so I used a crisp white to make the colors stand out, but with a touch of cream for warmth. In the breakfast nook, I chose white linen curtains and white-painted chairs and trim to brighten the dark wood table and floors.
You also employed white to create contrast between the rooms.
Yes — in the entry hall, I kept the palette neutral because right off of this space is a raspberry living room and a yellow- and-coral dining room! I also used black accents in the entry, which are echoed in the adjacent rooms — a zebra rug in the hall, for example, and chic striped-silk stools in the living room.
And then you introduced natural textures, which make all of the fabric pat- terns in the house really pop.
The legendary decorator Billy Baldwin, who inspired me, used to do that all the time in the high-end glamorous spaces he designed. Mixing silks with raffia adds uniqueness and character to a room, and the raffia slipper chairs in the living room are a custom design that I had made at my furniture studio in Los Angeles. They’re one of my favorite things: dainty and so elegant. The raffia also helps to show off the pink-and-black fabric on the seat cushions, which I had designed by artisans in Ghana as part of my new ethical fabric collection, Mary McGee X Africa.
They’re gorgeous! Tell me more about this wonderful project.
It goes back to my college years in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when I interned at VSA [Very Special Arts], a nonprofit started by Jean Kennedy Smith that employs the arts to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities. I have always wanted to use design to do something positive in the world, and four years ago I began working with artisans in places like Kenya, Ghana and Zambia. I sought out people who are in vulnerable situations — some are impoverished, and one group consists of refugee women who were victims of war crimes. So far, we’ve hired roughly 100 artisans and helped them to become more independent and self-sufficient. Best of all, the fabrics are luxurious and just exquisite. It’s a win-win.