Q&A: Betsy Burnham

(The designer, pictured in her living room. All photos courtesy of Burnham Design)
Name: Betsy Burnham
Occupation: Founder of Burnham Design
Resides in: Los Angeles
Best known for: Bold, fashiony interiors with masterfully balanced palettes. 

1. Antique or modern?
In my work, I use both. The mix is much more interesting than the all-or-nothing.

2. City or country?
City. Even if I don’t always take advantage of it, I need culture and shopping and good food and lots of people close by. I’m also crazy about the beach.

3. Which colors do you use most?
Pale blue-gray, olive green, cream, and white.

4. Favorite materials or textures?
Washed linen, ceramic tile, painted wood, faux bamboo, and denim.

5. What is your favorite interior design-related word?
In my office, we use the word 'crispy' a lot. We use it to describe bright white painted trim, smartly tailored drapery panels, a well-accessorized space, or a particularly sweet outfit.

(A Benedict Canyon residence's office, packed with jet-set curios.)
6. Does your current home look like the one you grew up in?
Oddly enough, it does. I grew up in a lovely old house in Connecticut. My mom and dad had more formal, traditional taste than I do, but either consciously or unconsciously, I brought a lot of that house in when I decorated: including elements like vintage rugs, skirted upholstery, ceramic tile, white painted trim, and wallpaper.

7. Does a room need a view?
I appreciate a gorgeous view, but a room doesn’t need one. Greenery outside the windows and inside the house, as well as art on the walls, can give every room depth, interest and life.

8. Favorite designer or architect?
Tom Scheerer puts together warm and wonderfully unfussy rooms. He uses color and scale in unexpected ways and layers on old-school elements I love—like wicker, painted floors and printed fabrics.

9. Which design blog, website, TV show, or magazine would you be lost without?
I’m still watching Project Runway like the true fashion addict I am. What I love about it really isn’t just the snarky stuff—it’s watching the creative process happen in (almost) real time. Plus, I wish I could sew.

10. What qualities do you most admire in a room?
Great light and original architectural details.

(A Beverly Hills living room gets a densely layered neutral treatment.)
11. What is a forbidden word in your house?
On the professional side: 'transitional.' On the personal side, 'shut up.' Although I guess that’s two words.

12. Design rule you love to break?
I’m always suggesting white twill and light-colored linen upholstery for sofas. My clients think I’m crazy until I show them how many great stain-resistant and indoor-outdoor fabrics there are these days. The Nanotex line at Holly Hunt is just fantastic, and completely child- and pet-friendly.

13. What is your favorite room in the house?
The living room. I love doing furniture plans, and living rooms offer the most options for experimentation.

14. What is your most treasured possession?
I really love my house. We’ve lived here for close to 18 years, my company has been based here for 12, and it’s become an extension of who I am. It’s a 1927 European traditional that’s covered in ivy, has wonderfully scaled rooms, great light, not enough air conditioning, and always needs work.

15. What do you wish you could do without?
I really wish I could come up with a uniform so I wouldn’t have to think about putting clothes together every day. This is something I’m actively working on, because even though fashion is my number-one hobby, it’s exhausting.

(The violet-tinted sitting room in a Beverly Hills home.)
16. How does West Coast design differ from East Coast design? Does it?
West Coast design is more relaxed and indoor-outdoor oriented. East Coast design has a stateliness and formality to it that's truly wonderful but seems out of place here.

17. What is your favorite thing about the West Coast—design-related or otherwise?
Besides the fact that we have the best weather in the world, I love the open-mindedness here. And the healthy food.

18. If you could live in one historical figure’s house, whose would it be?
I’d live in the Eames House. I love the mix of modern and organic, the high ceilings, the fabulous windows, the shelves and shelves of books, and the fact that it’s remained timeless.

19. On what movie set would you like to live?
I love and am inspired by the sets of The Royal Tenenbaums (all that fabulous wall color! all that stuff!) and A Single Man (I’ve had a mild obsession with curved-back sofas ever since I saw it).

20. To which country would you move for the design?
Morocco—in a second—for the textiles, tiles, rugs, and ironwork, but also because the light is so special there; it makes whites look cleaner, and colors more saturated than they do at home.

21. If you were reborn as a piece of furniture or an object, what would it be?
A piece of contemporary art or photography. I love the idea of jazzing up any room and inspiring people to think and talk and (hopefully) smile.
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