Because we aren’t able to hold any book signings as we would have in pre-pandemic times during the different markets, we thought we’d highlight a sampling of the ones debuting this fall that would have captured our attention for in-person signings. It’s our way of offering you a dash of beauty and possibly the perfect holiday gift for someone! First up is Through a Designer’s Eye: A Focus on Interiors by Matthew Patrick Smyth. Released by The Monacelli Press last month, the book reveals many aspects of Matthew’s design philosophy and brings his photographic creativity into focus.
A Talent for Authentic Beauty
Matthew is renowned for elegant, sophisticated rooms that combine sumptuous fabrics, well-selected antiques, and contemporary comfort. He says, “So much of what I do as an interior designer—and so much of what I see as a photographer—is ultimately about line, form, and silhouette.” In the book you’ll find a wide range of projects. There is a traditional Park Avenue apartment; an edgy Tribeca loft in Manhattan; waterfront homes in Florida, New England, and Long Island; and his own home in Salisbury, Connecticut.
Matthew talks engagingly about his formative experiences with theater and photography, and focuses on five elements of interior design. These include an appreciation of artisanal and handcrafted elements, understanding history and context, evaluating light and seasonal change, weaving furnishings and art into a coherent mise-en-scene, and creating an inviting atmosphere. Interspersed with graceful images of the rooms Matthew designed—captured by Simon Upton, John Gruen, and Pieter Estersohn—are vignettes and details Matthew has photographed. The images, which are interspersed throughout the book in pastiche, illustrate the breadth of his curiosity and the sophistication of his eye.
Journalist and author Wendy Goodman, who wrote the foreword, said of his abilities, “Matthew’s work is as varied as his clients’ tastes, but the one thing that remains consistent is his brilliance at delivering authentic beauty and true comfort no matter where his talent lands.” Matthew says in his introduction, “The eye constantly evolves. The more we look, the more we experience, the better we are able to see.” He credits photography for a shift in his understanding: “Taking pictures again has made me rethink just about everything I have learned about interiors over the years. It has also shown me that even as tastes and styles change, as they invariably do, my own included, what captures my eye has remained remarkably consistent.”
One of the people to whom Matthew dedicates the book is known for her unique style. “It was Gloria Vanderbilt who inspired me to return to photography,” he wrote. “Collaborating with her for the first time at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in 2009 on the re-creation of the bedroom her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney decorated for her as a teenager made me look at everything a little bit differently. Gloria’s work, whether painting, sculpture, or collage, always celebrated the most extreme details.”
He was especially taken with her use of collage because she honored the tiniest elements that she would find in flea markets and even on the street. “As I got to know her, I found her ability to see the beauty in the smallest things and her joy in putting these pieces together to create something so much more powerful both inspiring and eye-opening.” He called knowing her “a wake-up call” and “a reminder to always look closely at my surroundings and not take any part of them for granted.” He said it was Gloria, along with the emergence of the phone camera, that led him back to photography. We’re all the beneficiaries given how much beauty he has shared through his images.
To provide our readers with more insight into this lovely new book, we asked Matthew a few questions that illuminate different aspects of it:
C&C: How did you meet Gloria Vanderbilt and can you tell our readers how she made an impact on your life?
MPS: I met Gloria by chance; it all happened very quickly. One afternoon I had an idea for a project for her and I emailed her biographer, Wendy Goodman, to ask if she thought Gloria would be interested. She wrote back minutes later and asked if I could be at Gloria’s apartment at 5 pm that day. It took off from there. Gloria never wasted any time: it’s a concept that I realize now more than ever is so important. As I mentioned in the book, her attention to and love of details was literally refreshing. It renewed my interest in seeing things around me in detail and not necessarily as a whole. I think my photography became more interesting because of her influence.
C&C: Wendy Goodman is one of the coolest kids out there. How does it feel to read from such a lauded writer that the one thing that remains consistent in your work is your brilliance at delivering authentic beauty?
MPS: Wendy is such an icon in our industry and one of the most sensitive and giving people I know. I was thrilled that she agreed to write the foreword. Reading that quote was really quite moving at this point in my career. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I’ve tried consciously or subconsciously to achieve beautiful work all along but didn’t realize anyone noticed! Wendy did and I’m forever grateful. It was a lovely quote and one that’s more touching later into one’s career!
C&C: We share your love of history; tell our readers a recent example of being inspired by something historical.
MPS: This past March, we all experienced a sudden amount of free time, especially in the evenings! Netflix, HBO, Britbox, etc. became my best friends. Early on in the lockdown, I re-watched the Brideshead Revisited series, which thirty-something years ago was such an influence on my design path. I had always loved antiques and they were, for a long time, 70% of what I used on projects until they slowly fell out of favor. Watching the series and having the time to delight in the beautiful interiors again brought me back to center. I pulled all the English and French antique furniture books down from my shelves, and spent the rest of the winter getting back on track with the roots of what I loved most in design. I don’t expect to go back to 70% but 50/50 from now on for sure!
C&C: What is your favorite thing about how this book turned out?
MPS: I’m happy with how my own photography worked so well as a whole. I was most concerned about that aspect and wondered if they would actually blend well with the interior photos. I am also so happy that people are enjoying the text. I wanted the narrative to hold equal weight with the visuals, and thanks to working with Judith Nasatir, I’m told it does. Judith is a wonder! She tidied up all my thoughts, guided the dialogue, and made it flow.
A Note of Thanks
We’d like to thank Matthew for sharing deeper details about the book than we would have gleaned from simply reading it and for providing the images, which hold so much beauty, to illustrate this post. You can order Through a Designer’s Eye: A Focus on Interiors through Amazon and Bookshop.org, which supports independent bookstores. We also want to thank him for showing us how lovely our Primo Black Nickel Wall Sconces look in the classic rooms in which he placed them!