Victoria Hagan Shares Design Advice She Wishes More People Knew

The world-renowned designer shares how to live your best life in the COVID-19 era
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Natural Influence When it comes to finding inspiration, says Hagan, “Each hue takes its cue from the majestic mountains beyond…. The honey-colored kitchen cabinets, the honed backsplash….” | Photography by Lisa Romerein

Designer Victoria Hagan knows American style—just ask the Bidens. She famously designed interiors for the couple (though she is not a name-dropping kind of gal).

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Her third book, “Live Now” (Rizzoli, October 2021) is so chockablock with vital information on how to live your best life in the COVID-19 era that her publishers asked her to put it together on a fast-tracked timeline.

“This past year has been so crazy,” says Hagan. “As a designer, I’ve always realized the importance of home, but I think this year really made us realize the power of home—that home can provide such a refuge to us. It’s also taught us the value of time.”

We chatted with Hagan about how things have changed in her daily work and what she wishes more people knew about decorating (it’s not what you think).

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Effortless Elegance Like her interiors, Connecticut-based designer Victoria Hagan exudes an easygoing sense of classic, confident American style. | Portrait by Thomas Loof

How has COVID-19 changed design?

As a designer, I am tap-dancing as fast as I can, in that everyone wants things much quicker than before. Projects that we would do in a typical time, we’re doing in halftime now. And, in a way, it’s been really nice. Design is my sport, so this has provided some great training, and it’s really been an exciting time for me. I think I’ve been training my entire life for this time.

Also, as designers, we’re always solving problems, right? We’re always fixers. We’re always trying to look on the bright side. And I think designers, by nature, are positive—always seeing the potential.

With everything going on, it’s been an opportunity to show the kind of joy that you can create, especially at home.

What are some ways you’ve done that lately for clients?

A lot of times you talk about a home, and you talk about how you’d use a room on a weekend, how you’d use a room when the family comes together.… All these imaginary little times that we use spaces were basically thrown out the window, and every room was used so much more.

Everyone seemed to be sitting at a computer, on the phone, on a Zoom call, just trying to reach out and connect with people.

Now, I’m not sure I do a room that doesn’t have a desk in it or a place where someone can sit and pop up a laptop. All spaces have become much more multipurpose. A family room now has a dining component, and a dining room has a lounging, work element involved.

“In this living room, clusters of plush seating are arranged to foster conversation, as well as to allow for full enjoyment of mountain views that are never less than dazzling.”
– Victoria Hagan

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Aspen Idyll Without any pattern to speak of, the sculptural snow-white furniture Hagan placed in this sitting area lets the rolling view out the window be the star of the show. Their plush softness also juxtaposes nicely against the linear metal coffee table.

How do you bring nature indoors in inexpensive ways?

I love to always make sure I have something green or flowers in my home. It doesn’t need to be a big flower arrangement—sometimes, it’s just a clip of a branch. I also [create ways] to be able to sit by your window to experience the light, the times of day, and to really look out at the view.

When I draw a furniture plan, I’m always drawing the view angle. What do I see? How do I feel? With some of the projects in my new book, we really pushed that concept of inside-out, outside-in … really breaking down that barrier in so many homes.

Tell me how you design differently in Colorado.

In Aspen, or out west, you have these really empowering views—the majesty of mountains and the sky and the clouds are so moving. And in this home [pictured above], we made a real focus on comfort and softness, and really tapping into the natural quality of the materials—the grains of the wood, the texture of stones. It’s those little things that I think are so important.

When did you know you’d be a designer?

From a very early age, I loved looking at textiles. I loved looking. My mother took me to museums and gardens, and I was struck from the time I was still holding my mother’s hand and not being able to see above a counter, remembering how different spaces made you feel and the difference of how things made you feel. So, whether it was color or scale, I could recite all these memories of sitting in different kinds of chairs. I always was very in tune to that.

What’s your favorite upholstery for a cozy sofa?

Soft is key. Things get thrown off my design table when they’re not soft—when you just can’t touch them. So we use a lot of velvet in a casual way, and there’s a softness to that. And we use lots of texture, lots of wool textures and cotton textures.

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A Study in Contrast Soft fabrics, light hues, and traditional woodwork contrast with a black, modern dining table and chairs to create subtle textural and color visual interest.

Is there a film you watch when you need inspiration?

One of my favorite films is “Out of Africa.” How it makes you feel—the movement, the surroundings, and how the surroundings have such an impact on the beauty. In so many of the photos in [this new] book, we show the connection to the landscape.

In this past year, we have been doing so much more entertaining outside, and that has been such an important aspect that I don’t think will change at all. Just instead of a porch, now it’s an outside living room. We put a lot more emphasis into how those spaces work, and it’s been great. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone complain about that. Everyone really enjoys being outside more.

What hallmarks of American style do you employ in every project?

There’s a special, relaxed quality to living that I think is particularly American. There’s a confidence to the work and the style, and I enjoy that. I think I embrace that, and I have fun with that. Classic American style is having that confidence to be open to the possibilities.

What’s a piece of design advice you wish more people knew?

We’ve really paid a lot more attention about opening our windows and doors and letting in the fresh air. Homes are not sealed up in the same way these days. When I went to design school, I wanted to learn about decorating, and they don’t teach you about decorating—they teach you about how design affects your senses, all your senses.

And I think that is the key: There’s nothing better than walking into a home and smelling a roaring fire or something in the kitchen. So, the scent is something so important, but also how it feels. And just, I think this past year, I really felt the connection between our eyes, our heads, and our hearts. Listen to that voice inside that tells you when it’s just right. And trust that little voice.

Categories: Stylemakers