Interview with Interior Designer Hillary Thomas

I was first introduced to interior designer, Hillary Thomas’ work in Lonny’s January/February issue and loved it instantly. In March of this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Hillary while at the Design Bloggers Conference in Los Angeles and found we share a similar design aesthetic which favors flea market finds, Asian antiques and an eclectic mix of old and new.

Based in Los Angeles, Hillary Thomas Designs was launched in 2008 when Hillary collaborated with architect Mark Appleton to redesign and decorate a Spanish-style cottage in Santa Monica. Originally from Locust Valley, Long Island, Hillary embraces a “wabi sabi” design approach; the Japanese term for “finding beauty in the imperfect.” The results are unique, refreshing and inviting interiors.
hillary thomas designer living room
Simplified Bee: Your designs are inviting, worldly and multi-layered. When did you know you wanted to be an interior designer? 
Hillary Thomas: Thank you, Cristin! And I have to just take a minute and tell you what a huge fan I am of your blog. I’m a triple Virgo (that’s right), so your artistic and gorgeous approach to organizing is heaven to me! OK…on to the interview! Like so many interior designs, I was one of those girls who would stay up into the wee hours rearranging my bedroom (and my friend’s bedrooms). And then when I went to college, the big joke amongst my friends was seeing how I would decorate my dorm room each fall. I think I really peaked when I decked out my room with all white and blue, complete with Laura Ashley border. Luckily I’ve expanded my color palate since then! After school I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. I had modest success, but found that more and more friends were asking me to help them with their homes. Finally admitting that I’m just a compulsive decorator, I decided to go professional in 2008.
hillary thomas vintage office black wallpaper
SB: How would you describe your personal style? 
HT: I’m totally inspired by the eclectic and global WASPs of the 1960s because they created a fascinating design revolution. People with the means and curiosity could engage new cultures like never before. They brought a deep respect for traditional manners and mores, which became infused with a layered, worldly, and sophisticated style. This juxtaposition of old and new brought about an entirely new design aesthetic and lifestyle that I like to call “Vintage Chic”…and that basically describes my personal style!
hillary thomas suzani ottoman living room
SB: What type of architecture are you personally drawn to? 
HT: Even though I’m from the east coast and not suppose to say this, I really adore old Hollywood architecture. It was kind of crazy, yet classic at the same time. Architects took inspiration from anything they could get their hands on — Art Deco, Spanish Colonial Revival, Monterey Revival, Italian Renaissance, etc. and made it their own. I love the timelessness of John Woolf’s estates and Paul Williams’ (did you know he was the first African American architect west of the Mississippi?) modern interpretations of Tudor, Regency and Mediterranean. 
Chic entry table and mirror design
SB: Who would you most like to collaborate with on a project? 
HT: The greats, of course! Tony Duquette and Dorothy Draper. The styles that they started just keep inspiring  designers decade after decade. I’d love to see what new and outrageous things we could come up with together for this era of design.
farrow and ball hague blue white tie
SB: Do you have “go to” paint colors? If so, which ones? 
HT: I can’t live without beautiful color. Color is really the spice of life, whether a gorgeous color on a ceiling or a pop of color in an accessory. But every designer needs a go-to white, and mine is Farrow & Ball’s White Tie. It is absolutely fool proof. But my FAVORITE??? Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue. I just melt whenever I see this color. It is perfect almost anywhere… library, bathroom, small bedroom, kitchen!
Hillary Thomas designer dining room
SB: Which of today’s interior design trends are here to stay and which ones will we see fade away? 
HT: That Restoration Hardware reclaimed look really needs to be over…so 2009! Collected, old school WASP style is back in a big way. Think Sister Parrish and Billy Baldwin. Comfortable and cozy with clean lines a beautiful color is always chic and never goes out of style!
green pink living room design
SB: Where do you recommend clients splurge versus save? 
HT: The same rules apply to interior design that apply to clothing. You know, invest in classics that you’ll have forever (a great jacket, shoes, sofa with nice, clean lines) and then go cheap and chic for the more trendy items (a cute top, a fun necklace, funky throw pillows). But above all, splurge on area rugs and window treatments. They are the shoes and handbags of a room!
hillary thomas kids playroom design
{image via Lonny Magazine}
SB: You are embracing social media and are on Facebook, Twitter and will soon be publishing a blog. Do you prefer one over the other? What is your advice to other interior designers who are timid about trying social media marketing outlets?

HT: As we learned from Ronda Carmen at the Design Bloggers Conference, “Twitter is a cocktail party” and I’m not one to miss a cocktail party! I’ve recently starting “tweeting” and it’s fun! I love the idea of being able to have these really quick, cheeky conversations with fans and my heros as well. But I have to admit that I do prefer Facebook. Maybe I’m just an old fashioned girl, but it just seems like an easier place to connect with others in the design world. Yes, our blog will be live in about a month and it’s called “Happiness is a Pink Foo Dog.” I’ll be contributing along with all the gals in the office. We’re very excited about it! Our belief is inspiration is where you find it and that’s what our blog is about. My advice to designers who are timid about social media….you just have to do it and the sooner the better! That is the future of everything, especially design. Just start with Facebook because it is the easiest and get some comfort with that, then quickly move to Twitter and whatever else will be next. 

hillary thomas chinoiserie chic entry
SB: Fill in the blank. No room is complete without…
HT: a bar (even if it is just a tray with some cool vintage glasses and a bottle of water), a splash of color (get creative and take a risk), fresh flowers (I’m partial to pink peonies), a stack of books (the more wabi-sabi, the better), and a very friendly dog (or maybe one that just roams room to room)! 

hillary thomas chic shop
SB: What’s next for Hillary Thomas Designs? 
HT: At Chic Shop, we are about to introduce a whole new line of products that bring back in a really chic way what one might associate with a beloved grandmother, like needlepoint brick doorstops and Boyfriend Pillows (formerly known as Bedrest Pillows). Also watch out for a Dixie Highway Container Sale for One Kings Lane. Trés Vintage Chic! And a bunch of other things that my partner says I’m not suppose to talk about yet..:) Stay tuned!
*all images used with permission from Hillary Thomas Designs
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10 Responses to Interview with Interior Designer Hillary Thomas

  1. Kimberly Grigg April 16, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    I absolutely love her design style and the term “wabi sabi”. There is definitely something magical about “finding beauty in the imperfect.” Thanks for sharing this interview!

  2. Ideezine April 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm #


    Nice to learn about Hillary and her design thought process. Fresh new ideas are always welcome in design.

  3. Sweet Jennies April 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Wonderful interview. I am absolutely loving this style.

  4. Jen of MadeByGirl April 14, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    HA! I like how she said that Restoration Hardware reclaimed look is sooo 2009! i happen to like trends after they are over with…but i dont think i have reclaimed stuff in my home – or do i? Hmmm

  5. Tammy@InStitches April 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Really great interview, Cristin ! I love the name of her blog and her views about investing in quality window treatments, look forward to connecting with her on twitter.

  6. The enchanted home April 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Nice interview…I like her fresh innovative style. Its young and hip…a nice fresh take.

  7. Journey April 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Great interview! I've seen that living room with the peacock mirror and suzani ottoman before – and love it – so it was fun to read more about the creative mind who designed it.

  8. Martine Louise Resnick April 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Cristin! I love this post! Hilary's work is stunning!! I'm also a Virgo and love the fact you tie the organized with the beautiful. Ahhhh, heaven. The Spanish style cottage in Santa Monica is adorable and fits that area perfectly. This look would look great in my mother-in-laws bungalow in SM. I'm going to share with her! m

  9. Michaela April 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    Love this interview, Cristin. I like her advice on where to splurge and save! Beautiful spaces pictured…I love the pink curtains (:

  10. Karena April 14, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Cristin a wonderful interview with Hillary. That sofa in the first image made me melt! I love it all.

    She had some great sugestions and reminders as well.


    Art by Karena