New York City decorator Jeffrey Bilhuber. Photograph by William Abranowicz

The Collective Questionnaire

Jeffrey Bilhuber

By Megan Deem
November 20, 2017

He’s known for his eclectic eye, but the ever-witty New York decorator knows that good design is never random

New York City decorator Jeffrey Bilhuber is beloved by his loyal clientele—a mix of celebrities and industry titans—not only for his warm and witty manner, but for the effortless, confident way he cross-pollinates materials, periods, and ideas. A member of the AD100, Bilhuber is the author of four design books and recently debuted a furniture line for Henredon, a carpet collection with Elson & Co., and has plans for a porcelain service for de Gournay next year. Whew!

“Color,” says Bilhuber, “is a great indicator of confidence.” Photograph by William Waldron
“Color,” says Bilhuber, “is a great indicator of confidence.” Photograph by William Waldron

Q: How do you feel about changing your décor with the seasons? Do people still do that?

A: It would be a lovely thing. We change our clothes, so it would be nice to change some component you live with. For spring/summer, it could be as easy, honestly, as rolling up the carpet. You don’t need to replace it with anything, just clean the damn floors. It’s also a wonderful time to take the curtains down and send them out to be cleaned. Those are just routine maintenance things that should happen seasonally. As far as decorating tips, everyone knows I’m an enormous advocate and admirer of wicker and all of its guises, from 19th century to 21st century. Seasonally, if you think of summer, you think of wicker, boom. Just look under that category and see what happens. You’d be surprised, whether it’s a wicker lamp you stumble upon or a wicker chair that you would love to have, it’s just going to lighten up the house.

Color is a great indicator of confidence and a signature part of my work.

Q: That leads us to the question of sourcing and finding that wicker furniture. Where do you look?

A: Online sourcing opens up a wealth of opportunity, but you have to go to the source of information knowing what you’re looking for. Establish a list of priorities; don’t go randomly. If it’s a sideboard you’re looking for, search under sideboards. If it’s a sideboard you know has to work with a polished wood table, and you have enough wood in the house, search under lacquered sideboards or painted-wood sideboards. Narrow the field of options until you begin to focus your attention. That’s the way I do it.

Q: And set a budget, I assume.

A: Work within your financial framework. If you have $5,000 for a dining table, do not—under any circumstances—look at tables for $10,000 because that means you’re going to have porch furniture in the living room. There’s no reason not to buy a big-ticket item online or at auction or through eBay. But I wouldn’t go online searching for deals; I would go looking for what I need.

A Manhattan apartment by Bilhuber. Photograph by William Waldron
A Manhattan apartment by Bilhuber. Photograph by William Waldron

Q: Do you think that’s a trap people fall into—seeking out bargains instead of filling design gaps?

A: Completely. If you go into it looking for that best price markdown, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. That shouldn’t be the driver. That’s not the goal. The goal is to use these platforms to search and find what you need.

Q: Your new furniture collection with Henredon is remarkable, in part, for its exuberant use of color. Is color something we all need more of in our homes?

A: Color is a great indicator of confidence and a signature part of my work. But I don’t interpret it in an old-fashioned way where you need to link color together with a connective tissue, such as a multi-colored chintz or a multi-colored stripe. We’re used to seeing color, but we’re used to seeing how it unifies through something obvious. What I do is much the same way that you can accept Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings, where it’s simply color-feel. I’m asking the consumer to accept that Cobalt, Cinnabar, Emerald, and Persian Blue all belong together simply because they’re happy to be in the same room.

Good home design should be a reflection of one’s personality, says Bilhuber. Photograph by William Waldron
Good home design should be a reflection of one’s personality, says Bilhuber. Photograph by William Waldron