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Matthew Smyth: The Accidental Interior Designer

Apr. 12th, 2011 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
Photo Courtesy of Matthew Smyth
Matthew Patrick Smyth's traditional middle class Irish Catholic upbringing did not include exposure to interior design. He discovered his accidental career path when attending a dinner party in Lake Forest, Illinois.

When his dinner partner vividly described the process of designing and weaving a custom rug for a home under construction, Smyth was intrigued. Smyth's business degree did not feed his passion, so he researched the field of interior design and discovered the work of legendary David Easton. Matthew Smyth instantly knew he wanted to work for Easton, but not until he completed an interior design degree and had experience working for another firm.

Even though Smyth's portfolio review for acceptance at the Fashion Institute of Technology was termed weak, they decided to take a chance on him. After graduating, Smyth was shocked to learn that 90 percent of interior design is paperwork. Smyth quickly learned the art of follow-up, persistence and not to believe what people said. When he began his career, his tools were the typewriter and mimeograph machine.

Interior designs complexity took time to learn. As Smyths experience grew, his instincts and speed increased. Every project had new problems with resources and suppliers and he quickly learned valuable problem solving skills. He worked extremely hard and fast and he learned never to assume.

It is typical in interior design to have an apprenticeship for three to five years. Right on schedule Smyth realized four years after joining Easton's firm that he had it, and by the end of his sixth year with Easton, he knew it was time to start his own firm.

Smyth shared common misconceptions about interior design. The best clients have tried it for themselves. They don't realize how much time is required and the frustration with making so many decisions. For example, a skilled designer can quickly narrow shopping for fabric from eighteen floors of showrooms to four specific ones that fit the clients taste.

Smyth doesn't mind if clients buy things on their own, but believes that when they shop online or at retail, their homes rarely express their unique personality. An interior designer offers custom design with resources and details that take years to master.

Interior design is a business. A designers job is to select good quality furnishings, professionally order the right things, organize projects, solve problems and get things done. Interior decorating is fun and games.

"The designer is responsible for so many things. We're directors in a movie. We appreciate the performers, and we rely on them. As designers, we see the artistic range and we look for artisans who are flexible and can be herded," said Smyth.

A few years ago, there was one time when Smyth felt a lack of chemistry when showing his portfolio to a prospective client. "I need to feel they can work with me and vice versa. This is a subjective and personal business, and I work with nice people who enjoy the process. I interview them in their home to get a sense of them, and then again in my office so they can see I have a real business. It is best if they interview other designers first."

What is his favorite compliment from a treasured client? "It looks like I did it myself and I knew what I was doing."

Smyth's favorite accessory is an Anglo-Indian sandalwood box given to him by a special client. If you look carefully in his new book, Living Traditions: Interiors by Matthew Patrick Smyth, you will see his "good luck" sandalwood box in more than one photograph.

Smyth dreams of working in the Dakota building in New York and designing and renovating a fabulous Georgian home on the West coast of Ireland. He loves the challenge and process of modernizing an older home while maintaining its historical integrity.

Smyths sartorial style is professional and sophisticated when in New York. You will never see him without a jacket in New York City even on 103 degree days. When he is not in the city, you might find him browsing unshaven at his secret obsession, Target, in jeans and a t-shirt. Smyths favorite quote? A recent guest at his home raved about his burnt cherry living room walls and said, "I wish I could go through life with these walls behind me."
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