Tricks of the Trade

Granny Chic: The Ultimate Inspiration For These 6 Designers

May 6, 2019

For these design pros, the style apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked them to divulge a few cherished memories of the elegant, whip-smart grand dames they called Grandma and their enduring wisdom that continues to inspire them to this day.

Ashley Whittaker


My grandmother Violet had the most amazing scenic wallpaper in her Florida dining room in the 1970s. It was a French pastoral scene that she bought from the local wallpaper store. She didn’t use a decorator, but just knew how to create an effortlessly sophisticated room with what she had. Even her famous ‘produce parties’ centered around one beautiful, simple component: January was a celebration of the navel oranges; in March, a soirée with strawberry shortcake and in July, a watermelon backyard bash. It was effortless entertaining to the core.

Gil Schafer


My grandmother was from a time when not everyone had a decorator. A room—or a person for that matter—either had style or didn’t. And yet her house in Georgia was loaded with style and taste. All the elements were there, from color and scale to a mix of high and low; but most important, there was charm and a lack of pretention. She didn’t dole out a ton of advice, but what I did take away from her was the importance of generosity and giving back. If you were blessed, it was always expected that you would share those blessings with others.

Thomas O’Brien


Calm and careful, my grandmother taught me to look and learn, and to treasure time and beloved things. I remember when she redecorated her 1840s house and joined the two small front rooms to make one big space with elegant new moulding details. It felt traditional and modern at the same time. I loved all the cool blues mixed with brown and celadon—and still do!

Max Sinsteden


My paternal grandmother, or Oma as I called her, was as poised and polished a woman as there ever was. Her cooking was legendary and she often invented her own recipes. When she eventually moved into a senior living community, she would lay the table in the communal dining room with her linens, porcelain, and flatware. For her, there was no reason to change standards. She was to the last discerning, elegant and humorous.

Mary McDonald

I’m actually named after my maternal grandmother: my real first name is Mary Rea, while hers was only Rea, yet there was nothing ‘only’ about her. A 1917 Stanford graduate with a PhD in psychology, she was full of advice more educated than I cared to listen to as a child, but I still remember her cool elegance and reserved style: her simple scarf and bejeweled brooch, boucle suits from Hong Kong, antique jade bracelets, my great-grandmother’s Victorian Jet cuffs and her stately pair of 10-foot aubergine velvet tuxedo sofas flanked by my favorite floral chintz chairs and French marble urns. She was a woman who preferred edited classicism and showed me the importance of selective restraint. She was the yin to my yang; her old-world values tempering my fiery creative mischievousness.

Miles Redd


My paternal grandmother was a great baker with a colossal sweet tooth,
something she definitely passed on to me. She made paper thin sandwiches
spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar, which were a childhood favorite! I also remember her setting a beautiful table with big bowls of camellias and loads of polished silver. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, was a bit of a pistol and just a little wicked. I remember one Sunday lunch she was nursing a Bloody Mary and debating on a second one when she leaned in to me and said, ‘a bird can’t fly with one wing.’ She preferred things simple and edited—‘Not a lot of fuss,’ she liked to say—and always drove a black Cadillac and wore black clothes. Only now can I see the stylishness in it all.