A Conversation With Mary McDonald, Celebrity Designer

Millions of people know Mary McDonald the celebrity designer. She's the star of Bravo's Million Dollar Decorators and Property Envy, author of Mary McDonald Interiors: The Allure of Style (Rizzoli), and creator of fabric, lighting, rug and furniture lines for luxury brands. But her clients, who come to the Los Angeles-based interior designer from around the world, know her as a down-to-earth collaborator with the ability to disappear behind her glamorous designs. "Being known on TV does not mean you are not having real conversations with people," she says. "Hundreds still want to know if the chair is comfortable."

In May, McDonald will deliver the keynote address at the Denver Design District's Launch Spring Market. We get to know her better here.

CHRISTINE DEORIO: What sparks your prodigious creativity?

MARY MCDONALD: The world is full of inspirational forms. I like to pore over books and auction catalogues, get lost down that rabbit hole of images floating around the Web, and get out there and see things through travel. Sometimes weird bits of nature excite me, like the fallen, curly tree pods on Newbury Street in Boston. I find myself wanting to gather them and plate them for a necklace, or cast one as a light fixture.

CD: Your designs are often described as glamorous. What does "glamour" mean to you? 

MM: It is a thoughtful configuration of space and objects with a magnetic beauty to it. It can be as simple as a room with a grand high ceiling, or a distinctive element that stands out above all others to set a space or a person apart. It has a certain sex appeal.

CD: What inspired your licensed product lines for Schumacher, Robert Abbey, Patterson Flynn Martin, and Chaddock?

MM: I wanted to have certain products for myself—like full-wall-height, Chinoiserie wallpaper-style fabric; and super-wide trims in lieu of custom embroidery. I had received calls almost daily about my painted-sisal and seagrass rugs that had been published, so I knew they were things people wanted. It often starts with an "I wish there were a…" which gives a line a purpose. 

CD: Share a decorating trick you swear by—and that can be done in a weekend. 

MM: Paint your ceiling a color. It adds spunk. Even soft, shell pink. 

CD: If you could design a space anywhere in Colorado, where would it be and what would it look like? 

MM: Aspen. I really love a committed theme, so I see a lot of horn, plaid and logs in the most old-school way. 

Categories: Stylemakers