The Expert - French Art Deco, Upholstered Walls, and Horsehair—Patrick McGrath Has a Thing for Tradition
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1930s French Design, Upholstered Walls, and Horsehair—Patrick McGrath Has a Thing for Tradition

Words by Gabrielle Savoie
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Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

When Patrick McGrath left AD100 Frank de Biasi’s firm for a career in fashion in 2011, he didn’t think he’d pivot back to interiors… But fate had a way of reeling him right back in.

After seven years at Giorgio Armani (he also had stints at Ralph Lauren and Gucci), his friends started asking for design help—and not just for any old house: a 9,000 square foot Aspen chalet was in the mix. A year of juggling both worlds was enough for the designer: In 2016, he decided to make things official and venture out on his own. The timing was fortuitous too: Holiday House approached him to design a men’s dressing room for their Soho townhouse that very year: “It got some attention and became my re-introduction to the design world,” he says.

Six years later, Patrick has been featured on the Elle Decor A-List, he’s transformed homes in almost every Manhattan neighborhood—and, more recently, in many nearby weekend destinations—his own idyllic East Hampton escape was published in Architectural Digest in the early days of the Covid lockdown. Here, he talks about his love for upholstered walls, the architectural period inspiring him right now, and the popular design trend he’d like to see disappear.

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Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

What architectural style and design era is inspiring you right now?

1930s French design: Jean-Michel Frank, Leleu, Dominique, Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier… You can’t go wrong there.

Name an architectural pet peeve that always needs fixing in any project—big or small?

Often in old New York apartments, there are columns and little jigs and jags that I always like to furr out so that the planes are all clean.

If your design style was a fashion icon, who would it be and why?

I’ve had people say that I remind them of Jed Johnson which obviously I take as a very generous compliment, especially since the new Andy Warhol Netflix series came out.

You’re designing a room—where do you start?

I like to start with the furniture plan first and determine the program for the space will be with my client. That being said, design often starts with either a special piece of art or a beautiful carpet… Each project evolves organically.

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Photo courtesy of Patrick McGrath

Favorite question or design problem you’ve ever gotten on an Expert consultation?

“How can I convince my partner that we need to do this?”

What are you dying for a client to request?

A project with no budget, hah!

Which design trend needs to be retired and which should make a comeback?

I think a lot of this funky ’80s-inspired curved and overstuffed upholstered furniture could take a back seat. But different strokes for different folks!

Where to save / where to splurge?

It’s important to use what you have (if you have good pieces that can be reused or repurposed). That can help save on budget and allow for some bigger-ticket items down the road.

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Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

What should you always buy vintage? 

Buying vintage is very instinctual so I tend to buy when I have an emotional reaction to things. I can tell you what you should never buy vintage, though: sheets and towels 😵‍💫

Describe your dream sofa: what does it look like, how is it built, and how does it feel?

Oh, it’s probably handmade at Jonas in NYC with horsehair and down cushions. It’s deep, has a tight back, and is upholstered in a wool cashmere or something really soft and comfortable.

Coffee table or ottoman? 

Coffee table for living room, ottoman for family room.

Formal dining room or eat-in kitchen?

I love an eat-in kitchen, but it’s obviously also nice to have a dining room for parties. No open floor plans though! 

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Photo by Fran Parente

What are your go-to finishing touches that always elevate a room?

I like to upholster walls—especially in smaller rooms, it can feel really elevated.

What hotel anywhere in the world represents ultimate luxury to you and why?

The Ritz in Paris. It’s old-school comfort. No need to reinvent the wheel there.

What’s next for you? 

We are working on a house in Southampton, a penthouse gut renovation in Soho, a ground-up project in Rhinebeck, and a pied-à-terre on Fifth Avenue. I feel really grateful to have such cool clients.

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Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

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