“The portrait will only be away for a month. I should think you could easily spare it for that time. In fact, you are sure to be out of town. And if you keep it always behind a screen, you can’t care much about it.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Words and Interview Brit Parks

A perfect martini is an art form. First it requires a space that has been conceived by an eye with vision. Visions of texture, visions of light glows, visions of scented spectacles. Then there is the matter of a perfectly chilled glass that a barkeep adds his expert admixture. As a martini has such a minimum of ingredients there is nowhere to hide a flaw. And finally your company. In this case it is the incomparable interior designer Joyce Sitterly. It’s untaxing to imagine Oscar Wilde, or Dorian Gray for that matter, sitting primly to confer on the poetics of space as Sitterly sees it as well as her take on being a new resident of London Town.

Sitterly has lived in Manhattan for the last twenty years. She spent formidable years working at the New Museum with its groundbreaking exhibitions. When reflecting on her past, it’s promptly apparent she has spent every spare moment either working at auction houses or haunting them with her fierce and loving eye for the past. Sitterly studied Interior Design at renowned Parsons School of Design. In 2011, she started her own design firm, Joyce Sitterly Interior Design, and quickly captured the ardor of New York clients. As an avid international seeker, she extended her work to London and has since made it her home base after falling in love with a Brit. With a cool hawk-edged eye you will find her with a light step taking on grand spaces and churning them through her adulation of the past with a distinct acumen on modern foundations. Sitterly is known for her propensity towards lulled tonal palettes and her singular mastery of detail. She never repeats herself, she conjures up a new concept that creates a cohesion of space for each client. When I walk through Sitterly’s homes, I am ever-struck by the surprise objects and furniture she has culled to live in a newly defined movement. She is also adamant about never being overly precious, she creates spaces to truly be lived in regardless of their grandeur. Her warmth of personality and charmed dry humor makes it clear she’s coming from a place of her own making. Her recent project in London was the home of a partner in the infamously low key-chic social club Laylow born of a bohemian longing with stunning execution of food, music, and atmosphere. I pulsed Sitterly on her bespoke design and the theories behind her own brand of mystique that comes as natural to her as gin to an olive.

Brit Parks: What are the initial steps you take in approaching a new project.

Joyce Sitterly: The first step is finding my inspiration such as studying similar spaces. I constantly take in galleries as they are filled with all manner of beauty. I also love to watch a film that seems relevant to the project and speaks to an era. Many beloved hours are spent paging through interior and design books. From there, I create a storyboard to give a client a sense of where my ideas are headed. Early presentations are about mood rather than the literal outcome. I think it’s important to have room for change in the beginning as the client and I feed off of one another in this stage which is the point things truly ignite.

In my own home, there is not a grand plan, it is as simple as acquiring the things I love and making them work together. (With the idea in the back of my mind that my home is styled after an opium den.) 

BP: Can you talk about some of the most unusual things or places you have drawn inspiration from.

JS: Hotels are a constant favorite. I love staying in them, having cocktails or just lounging in them by day to take in the space. In New York, I would sit in hotel lobbies and just observe everything that was happening. Movement and flow is critical to any project and hotels are a good place for watching flow unfold. They invite a fascinating mix of politicians, prostitutes, celebrities, and families out of their element.

I also love places honoring death such as cemeteries, mausoleums, and crypts. It’s their last hurrah! Therefore, historically the deceased really went for it. Capuchin Crypt in Rome is breathtaking.

When I am at work, I saturate the air with scents that bring forth images and music that fills out the edges. It starts to truly create a unique feeling I want to communicate through my design.

BP: What are some of your core philosophies as a designer that you never stray from.

JS: It should feel elegant, not trendy. 

It shouldn’t feel decorated, it should feel collected over time (even if it wasn’t.)

It shouldn’t be precious, It should be livable, touchable, breakable, and spillable. COASTERS ARE FOR NEUROTICS. 

One should love everything in their home, down to a dinner napkin. I wander through my own home cherishing prized objects, even the ones I’ve had for ages. I want to inspire my clients to do the same.

BP: Your reverence for tonal palettes seems like an unmistakable signature. And at the same time, I always find a surprise move that I know immediately is from your hand. 

JS: I’m generally not drawn to bright colors. In my perfect world it would be ivory, black, and brown peppered with dots of mustard. When I incorporate bold colors, it’s from a want of my client and their personality. I push myself out of my comfort zone and look to existing color combinations to inform my concepts. A blue ocean that meets a pink sky as a background for a whitewashed cottage brimming with terracotta pots may become a palette for a space. I am definitely drawn to art after years in the museum world and my own love of it, I love the sense artists make out of using unusual colors together.

BP: Can you speak to how you work in a more formal way on a project and how you calculate the more rarified elements you want to include.

JS: I have an array of projects that range from traditional brownstones, austere lofts, modern high rises, and layered Victorian homes. Each requires a particular approach and look depending on the architecture of the space and the lifestyle of its inhabitants. I love all periods and so many different styles which makes me a natural chameleon. And there are always finishing touches that make it truly feel like my work.

BP: Do you have new favorite haunts in London and elsewhere that serve as influence.

JS: Sir John Soane’s Museum in London I go to over and over. He was an obsessive collector like me. He was an architect whose home is now a museum. It is covered from floor to ceiling in architectural elements, friezes, paintings, and anything else he adored. There are even double layered walls that fold out for more surface area for hanging.

Recently, I toured Henry Moore’s home an hour outside of London which was filled with inspiring objects and sculptures; you could tell they were pieces to touch and love. He was a hoarder, which was such a surprise. I had it pictured as minimal and stark like his work. 

There’s a beach in Suffolk called Shingle Street which is a pebble beach with a lonely strip of homes covered in patinas from the salt air. It feels post-apocalyptic with strange plants pushing their way through the pebbles. It is solitary in the most perfect way. It’s beautiful inspiration for color and texture.

I love old bars with silver haired foxes sipping martinis. Rules is the oldest restaurant in London and has an amazing cocktail bar. Dukes is tucked away on a quiet street in the middle of town. In New York, my favorite is Bemelmans in The Carlyle where I have spent many Sundays.

My husband Arthur de Borman has a production company, AdB, and works across multiple mediums. It’s a lovely bond to both have professions where we are creating environments. We make cultural excursions out of our holidays collecting ideas. We visit auction houses constantly acquiring pieces for our own home. We send each other Instagram posts that we like to share thoughts. We love to stay in unexpected places and observe how people behave in these environments. We both like weird places and weird people. Maybe we’re the weird ones. 

BP: What places do you return to as a backbone of beauty you want to replicate.

JS: The rugged countryside. I was raised in the country so I’m very connected to it. The hues and textures are unparalleled. Arthur and I go to Wales often and recently spent three weeks in Scotland in the Highlands and the Isle of Sky for our honeymoon. That said, I’m very American about being in the country. I like seeing it from a window, preferably in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine. Or driving through it with the radio and seat heaters on. I am not one for these long ‘walks’ that the Brits so love!

I love Paris as Parisians unapologetically love beauty and style. It’s not about being materialistic, it’s about ceremony, reverence, and craft. It’s in everything they do, down to something as simple as buying bread. They respect what is old and new equally, which is very much my approach. I’ve always imagined I would live there at some point.

Marrakech and Morocco is a newer one. It’s so vibrant and life is lived so differently than London or New York which makes me notice things in a different way than I would at home. I always come home rife with inspiration.

I have spent twenty years in New York and I’m still there frequently for projects. It never gets old. It’s a romanticized version of real life, except it is real life. It is endlessly inspired and challenging. It is always cool and innovative. For me New York is a collective of sights, scents, people, and sounds. It’s a full experience. 

BP: As your recent project in London was the home of a partner of  Laylow, what do you love about the club.

JS: When I was dividing my time between London and New York, my apartment in London was on Golborne Road in Notting Hill, a few doors down from the building that is now Laylow. I fell in love with the area. Portobello market, the fishmongers, delis, the vintage shops all really defined how I saw London. Laylow was very careful about respecting the neighborhood and not changing the local feel as it was built. There is art and music at the core of their programming which gives a soul to a member’s club that is unique. It sits unassumingly on Golborne road yet when you walk inside it’s entirely raucous and beautiful.

BP: How has London begun to change your mood toward your work – If at all.

JS: I was in New York for my entire adult life and I’ve been here for less than two years so I’m still getting a sense of it. New York life is fast, glamorous, and ever-changing. I didn’t realize how much until I moved here as it seems very normal when you are part of it. In my New York projects the architecture tends to have very clean lines, reflecting the modernity of the city. It’s important to source iconic pieces that have proven the test of time while also working with new designers and contemporary artists. And of course in New York there is always a question of where the bar will go.

In London, Brits are very sentimental about their history. As I lean towards the past with my taste, it’s really lovely to be in a place that celebrates tradition and antiquity. Due to the rain and cold, I am more focused on comfort and staying warm. I have developed a recent obsession with old linens, slipcovers, and mud rooms rather than bar placement. (laughs)

And with that Sitterly gives off her other signature, her dry unmatched sense of humor. There are a lot of people who design but it’s an entirely other breed that create an environment that instantly becomes a memory.

“And so, when a poet rubs a piece of furniture-even vicariously – when he puts a little fragrant wax on his table with the woolen cloth that lends warmth to everything it touches, he creates a new object.”

-Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

Website: http://www.joycesitterly.com

IG: @joycesitterly / @joycesitterlyinteriordesign

Photography credits:

London Project: Billal Taright @billaltaright
Brooklyn Project: Sean Litchfield @seanlitchfield
Other images courtesy of Joyce Sitterly Interior Design and Arthur de Borman