A Chat with Designer Timothy Corrigan
On French Châteaus, The Comforts of Home
and Being Grounded in 2020
For someone who travels around the world on a monthly basis, is renovating (not his first) 18th century French château, Château de la Chevallerie, and has been named to most of the design world’s ‘Best Designer’ lists, Timothy Corrigan is refreshingly down to earth. We chatted by FaceTime and our conversation went in several directions as we talked about our mutual passion for travel and tabletop settings among other things.
Timothy Corrigan | Photograph by Nathan Kirkman
I first met Corrigan in 2013 in my first year as Show Director of the San Francisco Fall Show, when he gave a fabulous lecture about his renovation of the 45,000 square foot Château du Grand-Lucé in France’s Loire Valley (he has since sold it and it is now a luxury hotel) and again in my final year as Director in 2019 when he spoke about living with stylish and comfortable rooms. He names the Lecture Series one of his favorite elements of the show. “I love the lectures and the programs.” he admits. I still remember several lectures I saw over the years, a wonderful talk with Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, and the one with Nina Campbell, Charlotte Moss and Suzanne Tucker,” “The Divas of Design!” I reminded him. “To me,” he said, “the quality of your lecture speakers is second to none in terms of shows. And the support of the design community is amazing. It’s palpable.”
Timothy Corrigan, at his post-lecture book signing for “The New Elegance”
at the 2019 Fall Show | Photograph by Hernan Santander
Corrigan opened his design firm, Timothy Corrigan, Inc. in 1997 after a career in advertising, heading up Saatchi & Saatchi Bates Worldwide’s international operations. Today it is one of the leading design firms in the world, with offices in Paris and Los Angeles. He is a master at combining “European elegance with California comfort”. Corrigan has won numerous awards and is the author of two bestselling books, An Invitation to Château Grand- Lucé (Rizzoli, 2013), which chronicles his acquisition, restoration and decoration of a great French country house, and The New Elegance: Stylish, Comfortable Rooms for Today (Rizzoli, 2019).
With clients on four continents Corrigan is not used to sitting still, so the pandemic has been especially jarring. “I have not travelled this little in 30 years,” he admits. “I currently have projects in China, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and in six different states in America.” Despite this, he has spent most of 2020, during lockdown at his home in L.A., however, he was able to go to his office. “I’m very lucky, because our office has many windows and everyone has a private office. It helped me maintain structure and routine,” he shared.
Chateau de la Chevallerie in the Loire Valley
An Interesting Time for a Move
While most of us were getting used to the new normal as lockdown went into effect, Corrigan was moving. “The day L.A. was shut down was the first day of a 3-day move,” he shared. I was between two houses and spent the first three months unpacking. I had sold my last house unexpectedly and took a rental which I realised I hated; I did not like being home, he said. “I always tell clients their home should be a sanctuary, but this was not, so I moved and it was the most wonderful thing. I really do love this new house—the scale of the rooms—bigger rooms and fewer of them; I’m 6’4” and I need bigger spaces! And, it is much lighter and brighter—I need light.”
As moving usually does, unpacking gave Corrigan the opportunity to take stock of his art and furniture in a new way and he gained a new appreciation for one work in particular, “my Carolus-Duran painting—he was a portrait artist—a master of shadow and light,” he explained. “In the other house the walls were white, white, white. The color of walls really impact light; with paintings the background color really affects how you see the painting. I painted the walls in the new house a warm, golden, honey color—not a color that was in the painting—I just really knew that the painting needed the warm tones.”
Carolus-Duran painting | Photograph by Massimo Listri
For Corrigan, home is about comfort. “We’ve all walked into a room and you can tell that no one uses it—the formal room—those are deadly rooms,” he says. “It’s partially that the furniture is not really comfortable. It’s also a mindset where you are decorating with fabric that is too fine, too delicate.” Corrigan favors comfortable furniture where you can put your feet up. “We often put marine varnish on furniture and antiques so that you can put a hot coffee mug or a wet glass down. We use performance fabrics so you don’t have to worry about spilling wine and you can comfortably use the room, all these elements are practical.”
Jardin Tibetan Knot rug designed by Timothy Corrigan for Perrenials
Photograph by Nathan Kirkman
Corrigan feels rooms should be used. “Every room has a purpose,” he explains, “a reason for going there. In my own living room, I wasn’t using it, so I put a desk in there. You don’t have to use a room for its intended purpose; the dining room can also be a library. Rooms can have dual or multiple uses, just make sure every room is working hard for you.” For Corrigan, his favorite room in his house is anywhere he can curl up and read in a comfortable chair. “I have really enjoyed doing a lot of reading these last months. I purposely don’t read the paper in the morning, instead, I save it and come home and read The New York Times at night. It creates these special occasions for me within my home. The world is so heavy and dark right now, I don’t want to start my day with the news.”
Photograph by Amy Barnard
The New Normal
The pandemic has not changed Corrigan’s design sense, but it has changed how he works. “With so many international clients, we always did Zoom meetings, even pre-pandemic,” he said, “but we didn’t do it as much with domestic clients. I’ve learned we can be just as productive and even once the pandemic is in the past, we’ll probably do more meetings this way. I believe that just as WWI changed so many people’s habits and patterns, so will this. Nothing is like connecting in person, that will always be important, but we can be very efficient these days with technology.” Corrigan has also noticed that his clients are looking at their houses in a new way, “we’ve received phone calls from clients who say they never really appreciated their home until now,” he shares. “For a lot of my clients, their homes are showplaces, as they have several and they haven’t really experienced them until now; they are gaining a new appreciation.”
Photograph by Lee Manning
The thing Corrigan is missing most at the moment is France. “I have a new apartment in Paris, and the château I am renovating. I have been trying to do it from L.A. but there is nothing like being there.” He is now working on a new book about Château de la Chevallerie called Town & Country which is scheduled to be published in 2022.
Room at Château de la Chevallerie | Photograph by Eric Piasecki
The lockdown has not slowed Corrigan down. “We’ve gotten four new projects during this process—new construction. That part has been busy. I’ve also used the time to develop a collection of new tiles for New Ravenna, the ‘Rolls Royce’ of tiles. I do the drawings myself. And I have a new collection of fabrics and rugs which I launched a year ago with Perrenials. I am also doing a third collection of china patterns for Royal Limoges. I have 14 sets of china at the chateau,” he admitted, which got us once again talking about tabletop.
Jardin Français Collection by Timothy Corrigan for Royal Limoges
With no social engagements or travel, he has found a bit of time for relaxing, “I have never been a television person, but I’ve started watching a new Australian series called ‘A Place to Call Home’, and time for reflection, he shared his perspective on this time we are living in: “I think it is so important for people to try to find the positive thing in all this; more time with family, not traveling so much. I am trying to consider what the gift is in this. To me that is the biggest lesson.”
By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat
Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for seven 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.