Wednesday, October 28
Sisters: Sallie Giordano
Leta Austin Foster may not be a household name, but ask any recognized or respected member of the design world and the accolades come flowing. Leta Austin Foster established her New York design firm over thirty years ago with two objectives: that one job should never look like another and that attention to detail would be her trademark. These objectives have lead to a successful career, with offices in Palm Beach as well as New York.
Leta’s guiding principles were passed on to her three daughters (all interior designers): Sallie Giordano, Lizzie Dinkel, India Foster. On my recent trip to the States I had the pleasure of meeting Sallie in New York and Lizzie in LA (India resides in Palm Beach – unfortunately my itinerary did not include a stop there). Sallie and India still work with their mother's firm and Lizzie has established her own firm in Los Angeles. I thought it would be fun to introduce you to the work and personalities of these three sisters over the next few days, starting with Sallie Giordano.
Over the past 12 years Sallie has overseen the Leta Austin Foster New York office, while establishing her own loyal clientele and following (Leta is now based in Palm Beach). If you own the book Farrow and Ball: The Art of Color, you will have seen stunning residences designed by both Leta and Sallie. Sallie is a master at delivering traditional interiors with a light and skillful hand. No matter the trends, I am a traditionalist at heart, if only in small doses. Sallie’s comfortable, yet sophisticated approach to design certainly captures my heart and imagination.
Sallie has participated in several showhouses, including Kips Bay, Abigail Adams Museum and the South Hampton House and Garden showhouse. Additionally, her work has been featured in House & Garden and Quest.
Which talent would I most like to possess?
A flair for gardening! I love beautiful gardens; they really are outdoor living rooms, and I am hopeless with plants! Everything grows too big or too small and I can’t seem to ever get the proportions right, sadly.
What is your most prized possession?
A sculpture of a naked torso in dark bronze given to me as a birthday present from my husband. It is both ancient-looking and contemporary, thought-provoking in the purity of its simplicity, and it constantly reminds me that less is often more.
Who are your style icons?
My two mothers, my own and that of one of my best friends, who sadly passed away last year. Both women are adamant in their beliefs of what makes a beautiful home, honed by decades of gracious living and entertaining. My mother, Leta Foster, has the wondrous ability to conjure glamour and luxury out of the simplest ingredients, a room entirely upholstered in cotton check with the perfect shade of aqua woodwork, for example.
Siggy Berwind was a style maven who cared not a scrap for what was supposed to go together or any other rules of the game. Her houses were crazy collages of objects picked up around the world from all cultures and periods, one cloaked in a 17th century brocade, with an ancient farm tool propped up next to it. Somehow it all worked gorgeously!
Who would you most like to collaborate with on a project?
David Kleinberg, another designer who knows how to make simple luxurious.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
When the Astors owned New York by Justin Kaplan, a fascinating study of the creation of a city and its architectural metamorphosis (with some great juicy gossip thrown in) and Mountains Beyond Mountains, the life-changing biography of Dr. Paul Farmer.
What is your favorite luxury in life?
My sheets from my mother’s store. So luxurious and blissful my husband and I jokingly say we are unworthy.
Who would you most like to meet and how would you spend the day?
Paul Farmer. We would tour his medical mission in Haiti.
How would you describe personal style?
Personal style is knowing who you are. Often that means getting in touch with several personalities because we are not always the same person in every situation. But personal style demands that you follow your own dictates and not the trend of the moment. What is really great is when the trend finally catches up with you so that a version of that African necklace you have worn for 15 years is now shown on the Paris runways and the bedspread you brought back from your honeymoon in India could come straight out of John Robshaw’s latest fabric collection.
With which iconic interior decorator or architect do you most identify?
The esigner who has most inspired me is probably Jed Johnson. I loved the way he worked in a myriad of different styles, always exploring and trying out new ideas, even if they came from 1000 years ago. The one overarching philosophy was beautiful workmanship and an incredible attention to detail, two things we have always emphasized above all else in our own firm.
What is your greatest personal achievement?
My greatest personal achievement has been my family: two beautiful, smart and charming daughters and an amazingly generous, handsome, patient and well-trained or should I say well-adapted husband!
My greatest professional achievement was a project in Richmond, a gorgeous Bottomley house overlooking the James River that hadn’t been touched since its first decoration. Our client was the granddaughter of the builder who had worked closely with Bottomley on several of his houses, and she was loathed to change any of the original design, including the paint colors, which had gone distinctly grayer underneath nearly a century’s worth of dust. The challenge was to modernize the house’s lifestyle without sacrificing the original elegance. So we very carefully found ways to hide the central air and updated the kitchen and baths without disturbing all the exquisite architectural detailing. We had the historic wallpaper discovered under all the grime in the family dining room reprinted in a slightly more vibrant colorway to wonderful effect.
The hardest part was convincing the client that the house did not have to be a museum, that it could tolerate and even welcome contemporary living with comfortable upholstery, brighter colors and lush, fuller curtains with all the details we are known for but which were rarely used when the house was built. The result is truly magical, the bones of the best period of American architecture exquisitely arrayed by one of its masters, adorned in 21st century design couture.
Profile by Ronda Carman