At Home in Connecticut with Designer Bunny Williams

Anyone who knows interior design knows the name Bunny Williams. She has made an indelible mark and is one of the most recognizable names in the industry. Her half-century career started with an apprenticeship at the legendary design firm Parish-Hadley Associates. Then, in 1988 she started her own firm and the rest is history. Bunny and her team work their magic for commissions across the globe, many for repeat, longtime clients.

Bunny has authored seven books on design and gardening, her latest Love Affairs with Houses (Abrams, 2019), presents new work from 15 houses she has decorated and fallen in love with. She has won numerous awards, has devoted her time to several philanthropic organisations and is a coveted speaker on the topics of design, gardening, and entertaining. The San Francisco Fall Show has featured her in its Lecture Series several times over the years.

Bunny and her husband, the antiques dealer John Rosselli, have their primary residence and offices in Manhattan, but for the last six months of 2020, they have been hunkering down in their home in Connecticut, which is where she was when we chatted by phone. “Do I ever want to go back to New York City?” she mused, “many people in the city have moved out.” But her Connecticut home sounds dreamy. “I have a studio that is my office–it’s a house up on a hill in the clouds—a separate building next to our house, and I have built up an incredible library of samples and textiles there. I can’t tell you how much this studio means to me,” she shared. “If you can do your work in another place, you can reduce the time you spend in the city.”

Bunny created this spacious, bright studio space as a place to work, paint, study and be absorbed in her many projects. She wanted the space to feel modern in contrast to her more traditional house and barn.
Photograph by Carter Berg

Bunny’s homes have provided inspiration for many of her books, and with a collection of so many beautiful pieces, she had trouble picking a favourite. “It’s usually the newest thing I bought,” she confessed. But if I have to choose, I have a Danish Neo-Classical secretary desk in Connecticut; my house is Federal and it fits with the house, it has personality and I never get tired of it. I like things that are unique, that have a soul.”

Bunny purchased this Swedish secretary desk from Danish antiques dealer ​Arne Schlesch​ at auction when he was closing his New York shop to return to Denmark. The height of the piece helps balance the elevation of the door on the other side of the fireplace. Photograph courtesy of Bunny Williams

The secretary desktop: Bunny likes to surround herself with small objects that bring back special memories when she sits down at her desk.
Photograph by Timothy Street-Porter

Not wanting to leave out her New York residence, she shared: “John found a four-poster canopy bed at a Sotheby’s auction 30 years ago. It was designed by the Parisian designer, Serge Roche. It is covered with antique mirrors and I just love it.”

In Bunny’s New York City apartment, a mirrored bed by Serge Roche takes center stage in her bedroom. It is from the 1940s and previously belonged to socialite Dorothy Hart Hirshon. Bunny’s husband, John Rosselli, spotted it dismantled at a Sotheby’s auction years ago. Photograph by Reid Rolls

It was also not easy to nail Bunny down on a favourite room. “I move around a lot,” she admitted. “I use the whole house; I think people should use their whole house. We use every room. Sometimes people need to force themselves to use a room. For instance, if you have a formal living room that you find you rarely use, put a square game table in there for puzzles and chess and checkers, or put a TV in there, somewhere that you can hide it away,” she suggested.

“In the summer, we’re out on the screened-in porch a lot, but I suppose my favourite space is my huge studio. It’s a dream. I have a drafting table and I work here, the dogs are outside playing, then I go down to the house and have dinner with John,” she shared. “You have to live in your house. You have to decorate it, of course, but it’s the newspapers on the bench, the books on the shelf, the flowers and plants that make it a home,” she explained. “I love ‘playing house’.” I do flower arrangements every weekend and the house comes alive. Flowers keep a home from becoming stale.”

Screened-in Porch, Photograph by Tony Vu

Wicker chaises with botanical pillows make for the perfect reading spot.

A metal mesh table with four chairs is a common summer lunch spot.
Photograph by Tony Vu

An antique plant stand is covered with ivies, ferns, and other plants. A wicker dog carrier and a few birdhouses (which Bunny collects) are tucked underneath.

These pieces were collected over time with little emphasis on matching – though there is a pair of matching tole tables and rush-bottomed Irish chairs.

The lockdown–and being at home for such an extended period of time–has not changed Bunny’s design sense, “but it has slowed me down” she admitted. “For the first time I have had no speaking engagements, and no travel for six months! It has given me more time to focus on design and to think about things. I work on so many projects, it has given me time to do research.”

But even with no events or travel on the calendar, Bunny keeps busy. “I have a huge garden and I have been trying to learn the plant names and do a herbarium on all my plants. Pre-pandemic, I took a course at the New York Botanical Gardens, but the irony is that once the pandemic struck, I had to devote most of my extra time to the computer—there was such a learning curve for me–to work remotely, and so I haven’t had much time for the herbarium!”

But the downtime has allowed Bunny to focus on herself, “one thing I decided was to take the time to exercise more. I have a little gym, and I have a trainer who comes three days a week. I’ve allowed myself to take better care of myself.”

The 11-foot-long library table in the middle of Bunny’s studio is from RT Facts in Kent, Connecticut. Floors are polished concrete and the walls have a natural, hand-troweled finish. Photograph by Carter Berg

Bunny built bookcases along the North wall to house her collection of design, architecture, art and gardening books. Photograph by Carter Berg

As the Fall Show will be online, (on InCollect) this year, I asked Bunny what she will miss and what she loves about attending the annual San Francisco fair. To her, it is all about the dealers: “I love the variety of the dealers the show brings: French, English, Asian, Modern Art and Fine Art, decorative objects and furniture…” she said. “And the price points vary wonderfully. I have always bought something. You have to really walk around the show, you have to look at every booth, there is such great variety, and it is all so beautiful.”

Bunny speaking to a packed house at the 2019 San Francisco Fall Show Lecture Series

And what does she look forward to when the world goes ‘back to normal’? “I’m very happy right now,” she confessed. “I’ll be missing the city when the Fall comes; the openings, the theatre, opera and the culture, but being in my house in Connecticut, I have been able to enjoy something I haven’t really had the time to enjoy for the last 30 years. The plus is that I’m married to someone I want to be married to.”

I’d call that a big plus.

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat
Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director at Large, living in London with her family.  Follow Ariane on her blog, Sojournest, where she focuses on all things home and travel.