Published 4th November 2022
A few weeks ago, the halls of Chelsea Harbour erupted with laughter. Has the decorative community dipped their toes into the side hustle of stand-up? One could have been fooled. Instead, it was Billy Cotton in conversation with the editor of House & Garden, Hatta Byng. I know that the aisles were bursting as I was in them. I have been a long-time fan of Billy Cotton; he was one of the first interior designers to show interest in Tat. So when I found out he would be giving a talk at the design week, I hastily purchased a ticket. As the laughter above denotes, It was a hoot. Billy Cotton is not one to take himself seriously, which is surprising as he is undoubtedly one of those esteemed creatives who sits between artist and designer.
Like many of the greats, he started his design journey at the Pratt Institute in New York. Here he studied industrial design. After graduating, he started his company Custom Resource where he became (in his own words) a *'high-end handyman'. This multi-disciplined company would see him fixing stools, stitching drapery and helping with all those jobs that you can never find someone to do. Inevitably the relationship between him and his clients would grow and they'd solicit his advice for their interiors. Although Billy did enjoy that side of things, he wanted to concentrate on what he primarily studied, which was product. He set about releasing a line of table top pieces; simple, well-made items in beautiful block colours that could be mixed and matched. It was a huge hit. They were stocked in Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Harrods.
But as you can imagine, retail on that scale is challenging. You have to contend with copycats, nightmare logistics and mind-numbing admin. So it's not hard to see that it was tempting when the opportunity arose to work with the artist Cindy Sherman to decorate her Hamptons home. With that project he learnt about architectural design, *"that layer to interior design that really made it feel that [this is] something I can do for the rest of my life." Thank goodness for that. His work is loved by many, featured in the pages of New York Times, House and Garden and Architectural Digest, not to mention being in their AD Top 100. No surprises there. His work straddles the world of whimsy whilst also having a very practical edge. *"He relates to those clients, real or imagined, in a visceral way. He dreamed up, for example, a well-born lady, genteelly gone to seed, a fusion of Miss Havisham and a woeful Jean Rhys character, whose bedroom Mr. Cotton conjured for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in 2017." Although these imagined clients' requirements are important, his need for the furniture to have a dialogue and the right proportions is ever-present.
All in all, for me, to see a Billy Cotton project is genuine excitement. There is no copy and pasting here, which is why his book 'Billy Cotton: Interior and Design Work' it a must. Each project tells a different story, showing how one can mingle historic, eclectic design while also creating a home one can live in.
I was so pleased that Mr Cotton gave me the time to participate in Tete a Tat. It is a true honour!
How many pillows do you sleep with?
4 in bed total. I sleep with two, very soft on top of the medium. Feathers always for life.
If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
Oprah, Oscar Wilde, Khloe Kardashian, Richard Rohr.
What is the best gift you have been given?
Unconditional love and a small Wolfgang Tillman's photo.
Best piece of advice you've been given, and who gave it to you?
Be on time – Ms Egan, my 2nd-grade teacher.
What is the worst gift you have received?
It was definitely a scented candle of some kind.
What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
Can't Buy Me love.
Favourite Holiday Destination?
Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
PG TIPS? Does that count as a necessity?
List two pet peeves.
Dishonesty and pretentiousness
Hillstone in NYC .. le Voltaire in Paris.. L’ottomofiore Milan.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I would like to !