WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT: RITA KONIG





rita


Focus/13 and Decorex International 2013 are now in full swing; London is buzzing and living up to the title The New York Times gave it last year as the ‘design capital of the world’. And what could be better than this, you may wonder?!

Another installment of A-Gent of Style‘s interview series
‘We Need To Talk About…’ of course!




Rita Konig had been on A-Gent of Style‘s radar for a few years now and it was just a question of time before they met.




There were only two degrees of separation between Rita and myself: we had met briefly last summer at Tissus d’Hélène through Helen Cormack and also Rita’s office is situated at Redloh House, the destination textiles mews in Chelsea’s Old Gas Works regrouping “The Golden Girls of Prints”, as I like to call them.

So when the opportunity arose for A-Gent of Style to properly meet the tastemaker and interview her, there was no time to waste.





Over the years, I had followed Rita’s journalistic and decorating pursuits and had gradually become a fan of hers, from a distance, reading the articles and columns she wrote in various publications, and I was also charmed by the flats she lived and decorated in New York that kept being featured on design sites and blogs, the latest of them being The Selby.



Having returned two years ago to London after six years in New York, the English style writer and interior decorator who has been living, writing and working from both sides of the pond for over a decade is currently the European Editor for the T Magazine of
The New York Times and a features writer on their website, whilst continuing design projects mainly in America but also in England. In New York, she was Editor-at-Large for the now sadly defunct design publication Domino until 2009. (post-publication addendum 02/2015: Rita is now a columinst for House & Garden).

Rita has written for some of the best publications in the world such as Harper’s Bazaar, Tatler, House & Garden US and UK, Architectural Digest, The London Telegraph, the Style section of The Sunday Times and The  Telegraph magazine and had her own cult columns Rita Says in Vogue, Off Duty in The Wall Street Journal and Inside Out in The New York Times. She has written two books, Domestic Bliss and Rita’s Culinary Trickery, published in both the UK and USA, both met with critical acclaim. She recently created a furniture and accessories collection with The Lacquer Company, which I adore (of course; see A-Gent of Style‘s own lacquer retrospective here). Another attribute to add to her impressive CV and accomplishments.



When you look at Rita’s interiors, there is a palpable feeling of joie-de-vivre, an infectious sense of colourful, bold and feminine style and a confident mix of old and new where comfort, relaxed informality and quirky personality shine through. Despite her ‘English woman in New York’ history, Rita has undeniably stayed true to some beloved English decorating traditions and sensibilities – the seemingly mismatched, cluttered, piled-on but cozy, elegant and studied British look – that successfully result in home-making rather than a polished and polite construct. I see a lot of similarities between Rita’s décors and Hamish Bowles‘s or Isabella Blow’s apartments which I love so much. To me, the result always appears fresh, real, elegant but also fearless of any trends or conventions.

During our interview in her office, Rita proved to encapsulate all of the above and even more;
she did not disappoint. A multi-faceted 21st C style commentator and translator,
she has oodles of charm, energy and wit and not an iota of pretension, all of which will come across during our interview I hope.





So now, you can sit back and relax in your favourite armchair and enjoy an intimate moment with…Rita Konig.


Do you plan things in life, for instance your career, or are you quite happy to go off on tangents and see where life takes you?

When I started writing, I was working for my mother [the acclaimed interior decorator Nina Campbell] in her shop and did a couple of decorating jobs, one of which was a nightmare because of the builders – I hate builders, well not all of them – and decided never to do it again but somehow I kept coming back to it; the writing and decorating are both kept in tandem and seem to feed each other.






Did your childhood influence your work?

Oh yes, I’m sure. I used to redecorate my bedrooms since we moved a lot. With my mother, travelling or going shopping was always alluring and exciting. You know the feelings and the pleasure you get from the comfort when you go and sit into a room, those specials feelings that I definitely have that not everybody has.





What did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn’t want to do anything! I remember looking out of the window and looking at these ladies walking their dogs and going to buy their groceries and I thought that would be a nice thing to do. Then I wanted to be a mimic or an actor and then
a fashion designer.




Some parents, especially artists, can deter their children from doing the same job as them. Did you experience that?

No, my mother didn’t deter me but she didn’t encourage me as such or it wasn’t something that was voiced upon me. It’s not something I always wanted to do, except I kept being asked to do it which is how it started.





Do you have any design icon?

I love the old American decorators like Albert Hadley but I am more drawn to people with taste rather than decorators per se. I love Veere Grenney and what Marella Agnelli does. For instance, in the magazines I write for, I’ve never been interested in publishing houses that decorators have done. And if I ever introduced a decorator’s project, it would have always been their own house; it’s far more interesting.


Albert Hadley

Albert Hadley

 

by Veere Grenney Associates

by Veere Grenney Associates

 

Marella Agnelli for Vogue by Horst, 1963

Marella Agnelli for Vogue by Horst, 1963



Do you remember the first piece of vintage or antique furniture you bought?

Probably my first set of plates from Alfies [Antiques Market, NW8] for my first flat. And vintage curtains I regret selling when I moved.





How would you describe your own style or design aesthetics?

Look around the room: a real mess! I like an undecorated look, little pictures on the walls, things to be a bit haphazard, funny irregular lamps; I’m not crazy about symmetry; I love colour, pattern and wallpaper. I don’t know if one can be very objective about one’s own style but I’m not terribly fussy, maybe more…tidy.
Taste is something you don’t really choose.




How does your London flat differ from your New York apartment?

I own my London flat which I didn’t in New York. In London, I am doing everything from scratch. The process of decorating a rental is so much more enjoyable and carefree: you can put pictures up or change the wallpaper for instance. You only do the fun bit because the minute you have to deal with some bad builders, you can have the most hideous time. And I did on some occasions! As a result, these photographs of my New York flat were done quickly and looked terrific.
London however is more grown-up, it has a good functioning kitchen!



Ideally, do you prefer your client(s) come with a lot of furniture for you to work with or do you prefer a blank canvas so you can start from scratch and source for almost everything?

I don’t think a room benefits from starting from scratch. Obviously, it’s tough when you are faced with a room full of stuff that looks dated. I believe it’s important to have a mixture: I like doing a bit of shopping with them and I like to see what they’re bringing. And also couples should go to shops and buy together; it’s such a nice way to build your house and that’s when a house looks great. When you sit down and you remember the afternoon you spent together when you bought that chair or that picture. It becomes part of their story. I think that’s more important actually than finding the perfect thing that matches with the rest. To a degree, I wish my look was more polished, finished and beautiful, because you’d end up with a more picture-perfect product. My instinct is that you need to make a room for someone to live in.





Talking about instinct, did you train as an interior designer? Do you think it can be taught or should it be innate?

I think taste is innate, I don’t think you can be taught taste. I didn’t train; sometimes I think it would have been great if I did but so much of it is a combination of taste and having a business mind and also having a good team. Your team is worth everything. No one can teach you taste and I don’t think there are rules; it doesn’t work. What works in a room doesn’t necessarily work if you’d dissected everything before; what could have looked disgusting on a mood or sample board can look terrific when installed. And reversely, what looks beautiful on a board sometimes makes for a dull room, it doesn’t necessarily work.




Do you find commercial projects less personal and ‘cold’?

No, I don’t actually. I’m about to do a hotel in the States. You still have a client. There are boundaries because there, they are a business, they can’t change their mind all the time which makes the job easier. And that’s the reason why I’m being employed, for my look. I decorated years ago two flats for a rental properties company and each time, I had to create a client for myself. For one of the flats, I designed it as if a girl like Amélie would live there and in the end this girl rented the flat; and I designed the other flat for a banker, with a man in mind, and a banker rented it. I had to create for myself a personality. When you are left alone, you can give the project that special energy.


Pret a Manger, Broad Street, New York by Rita Konig

A commercial project by Rita: Pret a Manger, Broad Street, New York



Who and what inspires you?

Inspiration comes from finding or doing something new or coming across it. it can be a new shop or a new person for instance.





You’ve designed a furniture and accessories collection
for The Lacquer Company. Would you like to design your own range of fabrics/wallpapers?

I guess so; it’s something I’d like to do. I’d love to have my own things.

















Would you like to work on a collaboration with your mother?

We used to work together and I’ve always said no, never. But lately I thought it would be fun since she has that great wealth of knowledge and experience.





Do you have any design pet peeves?

I hate cushions standing on their corners like diamonds. And maybe white lampshades.





Who is your ideal client?

Somebody who has a good idea of what they like and has an opinion. And somebody who trusts you. I love the interaction, the back and forth, what you learn from them, when you learn new ways of doing things.





How do you define luxury?

It’s comfort. Sitting in a comfortable chair is luxury. If you look at private jets, what’s luxurious about that?





What is beauty?

Something a bit frayed, not too perfect; like the fragments of a beautiful old silk; things that have been and lived. Not the perfect Botoxed face but the face that’s lived and laughed. Beauty has got to have some age…or a story.




Clever, beautiful or rich?

Does that mean that if you are clever, you would be brutally ugly and desperately poor? I don’t think I need any of them but to be starved of any would be just appalling.




You’ve already written two books (Domestic Bliss and Rita’s Culinery Trickery). Would you like to write another one?

I would. I don’t know if I would be any good at fiction but I’d like the next one to be about decorating. Having lived in America in two spaces that were rented, maybe I’d like to do a book about decorating rentals. But I don’t think the world needs another beautiful coffee table photographic book. Somehow it’s not very helpful to see pictures of beautiful, perfect rooms, when in reality your bathroom is in a different place or the windows are in a different shape; but if you are reading something and it’s illustrated with drawings, then you can be inspired, you think “I can understand that, I can do that”. That‘s what I like imparting when I write about decorating.





Do you judge a book by its cover?

Yes, generally by its author’s photograph. I should learn not to. I do think covers are important. When I did my first book, somebody said to me if you get somebody to pick up a book in a bookstore, you’re 80% of the way to selling it. Especially, if it’s red and shiny. So my first cover was red and shiny.





What are the top 3 magazines you would take with you on a plane?

Vogue Entertaining + Travel, The World of Interiors, the Spanish Architectural Digest.

Favourite natural scent?

Lily of the Valley or very velvety narcissus.





If Proust had his ‘madeleines’, what takes you back instantly to a place, a moment in life or a person?

Any of the scents my mother wore as a child like Opium. And my grandmother wore Mitsouko. Guerlain scents. As a child you don’t know what smells are but then you discover them later in life. My grandmother’s house smelled of cigarettes and Rigaud candles with some Mitsouko or Shalimar mixed in with a bit of dust too. I like that old-fashioned smell.







What is your favourite gift to give or to receive?

I love giving things but I hate having to find presents on demand for a special occasion for instance; I find it difficult. The rest of the time I find it easy, I love the unusual, the unexpected; it’s so amazing when you open a parcel and it’s something you never imagined but it’s exactly what you love whether it is a vintage linen French tea towel with initials or the latest pair of electric blue Nike tops I gave my godchild. And it’s the same for me: when I am given something and it’s that exact thing that I wanted but I never thought I’d get it. That’s magical.





What painting, sculpture or other work of art would you like to own?

I’d really like to have a Rothko or a Henry Moore in a landscape, a sculpture outside but not in a sculpture park; I love the idea of coming across something.

Henry Moore

Henry Moore




If you were an animal, what would you be?

A bird.



Dusk or dawn?

Dusk if I’m somewhere really beautiful, with a drink, maybe in the English countryside with a really good gin & tonic and somebody lovely to be with. But there is something so invigorating about the dawn, if you’re up before anybody else.
But I’m not very often!




Afternoon tea or cocktails?

Probably cocktails because I love afternoon teas and all those cakes and sandwiches – I have a horrible sweet tooth – and you know what that does to you! There is something special about that first drink when you are somewhere lovely, having a Campari and ginger ale, or a beautiful glass of white wine that has frost on it when it’s crisp and fresh. And the first drink is always the best drink of the evening even though one rarely has only one glass!





Cats or dogs?

Dogs. I don’t have one but I’ve been considering having one. I like Patterdales or Welsh terriers.




Can you share a guilty pleasure?

I suppose sweets, and bad TV like trashy box sets.

What’s your perfect day off?

A long breakfast or lunch; it would involve finding a lovely market, packages or having a picnic in the hills of Scotland. I love the discovery of shopping, more for the home than for clothes actually. And not having to rush anywhere.




What keeps you awake at night?

A pressing deadline; and money. Or…Father Christmas.

What’s your greatest fear?

The gutter.

What do you never leave home without?

My door keys but I never always manage it!

Who are you most grateful to and why?

My mother for giving us a great start in life and for working so hard and being a very strong backbone; it’s a great comfort to know you have support.




Which actress would play you in the film of your life?

I don’t want to sound conceited but maybe Kate Winslet when she was younger or perhaps Meryl Streep; she can play almost everybody. I adore Frances McDormand but I’ve never been interested by celebrities.

What would be your last supper like?

It would have to be with no more than 6 people, probably a lunch under a sun-dappled shade, probably in Italy, I love Italian food like at the River Café or Ottolenghi’s. Spaghetti would feature. I’m not very good at music, I love it being there but music that’s distant, in the next room, the sounds of bagpipes retreating or advancing but not near me, or the sound of the piano in the next door house. Something atmospheric. I can’t bear loud music.




Finally, tell us something we don’t know about you

I have a fear of travel and leaving home which is funny seeing that I spend so much of my time doing exactly that, doing travel stories for work. I feel things were much more different when I was single but now I am marrying.






– all photos of interiors are by Rita Konig –




4 comments


  • What a fabulous and in depth interview! I loved her flat when I saw it in the NYTimes ages ago and then was not so surprised to realize she was the daughter of another amazing designer like Nina. I would say it is genetic but then again I have seen too many offspring who prove biology wrong…I must say the talk yesterday at Tissus d’Helene was so interesting! I wish we could have stayed longer…I went to other talks yesterday and Helen’s talk was the most informative and fun! She was just lovely and I do wish to revisit and have a proper browse. PS love your truly stylish blog and was nice to briefly meet you in passing.

    September 24, 2013
    • fabricebana

      I wished we’d had more time Naomi. Next time. Thanks for your lovely comments. I will pass them on to Helen and my colleagues. The talks were very inspirational . I like you r comment about the genetic element of creativity. There’s a lot to be said about it! Your A-Gent x

      September 29, 2013
  • I really enjoyed reading this. Rita’s style is so refreshing in a world of super-stylized & photoshopped interiors. I wish I could fly her in to do my house!

    March 7, 2014
  • Fabrice this is a beautiful interview. You have totally got the essence of Rita and it feels intimate and like her; not an easy thing to do. Having been to both of Rita’s flats in NY it is lovely to go down memory lane and see all the photos. She is the best host too and feeling at home in her home is something she could do very well.

    February 17, 2015

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