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The French have long mastered savoir faire — the art of knowing the right thing to do at exactly the right time. This elegant know-how touches all aspects of their culture, from wine and gastronomy to art and décor, both maddening and fascinating those of us on the other side of the pond. When it comes to living out the savoir faire fantasy at home, Timothy Corrigan has followed the French tradition closely. Since 1997, his namesake firm has fused the French aesthetic and European flair with what he calls “comfortable elegance.”

Timothy Corrigan. Photo by Andrea Savini.

“Timelessness is so important,” explains the award-winning designer, who has offices in Los Angeles and Paris. “You want a room that was designed 20 years ago to still look fresh today. Everyone has individual definitions of what is timeless, of course — it can be contemporary or traditional. I think the key is, people want to feel their home is special.”

Corrigan’s sense of timelessness is rooted in a worldly vision that balances the one-of-a-kind with precious materials, craftsmanship and a sense of relaxation. His “aristocratic, antiques-layered” style, as Architectural Digest once described it, has caught the attention of celebrities, royalty and global tastemakers. To date, he has completed projects in over 25 countries, including a palatial Mediterranean-style residence in Doha, Qatar, for the royal family. He has offices in both Los Angeles and Paris, as well as homes in both cities — a pied-à-terre in Paris just steps from Élysée Palace (and Hermès) and a Georgian colonial house in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood. He adds two luxury faucet collections for THG and a tabletop collection for Royal Limoges to his list of design endeavors. Each project endures as a picture into his cultured yet comfortable vision of living. In a way, the confidence he wishes to impart to his clients in their homes is Corrigan’s version of savoir faire.

Living room in Corrigan’s Paris apartment. Photo from Architectural Digest by Richard Powers.

In between cross-continental trips, Corrigan recently sat down for a chat with us to cover his passion for European élan, history and the delicate art of balancing color and contrast.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury How do you bring a sense of luxury to an interior space?

Timothy Corrigan Two areas that define luxury today can be found in detailing and customization. Increasingly, my clients want things that are totally unique. I had one client in Bel Air who said to me, “I don’t want anything in my house that anyone else can have.” Everything was custom in the house; I mean, we literally had the door hardware made custom! My clients also have tremendous appreciation for highly detailed pieces in their homes. On the surface, it may be a simple black-cube side table, but upon closer inspection, it will have an intricate inlay detail. When you look at Hermès, you see this level of detailing — the designs are simple, yet it’s all about the details. Detailing, along with customization, is what makes something luxurious.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Your design approach combines European elegance with California comfort — what inspires you most about Europe, and how do you interpret that for the casual lifestyles of a California audience?

Timothy Corrigan What draws me to European design and architecture are the key elements of symmetry, proportion and details. I have great respect for the way Europeans cherish their culture and the way they integrate art and design into their everyday life. It’s in their DNA. Americans are more about experience, service and comfort. So, for me, it’s taking the best of both worlds and creating a much fuller, richer experience in your home. To me, comfort is more than just how it feels; comfort is also a rational element. When the scale and proportion are right in a room, we feel comfortable. We’ve all walked into rooms where there is too much furniture … it’s not comfortable! There are practical aspects to comfort, too. Are you afraid to put your feet up on the sofa because you’re going to stain the upholstery? Are you afraid of putting a glass of water on a table? It affects the way I design a room. I first develop a furniture plan, considering scale and proportion, and then I make sure it is physically comfortable. My team will put marine varnish on an antique table, so my clients don’t have to worry about coasters. In many ways, comfort is a state of mind.

Grand salon at Cháteau du Grand-Lucé. Photo by Eric Piasecki.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury When did your fascination with Europe first begin?

Timothy Corrigan I first moved to Europe in the late 1980s. I lived in France for seven years. Ever since then, I’ve had four different chateaux [including the recently sold Chateau du Grand-Lucé, co-listed by Ron DeSalvo of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Beverly Hills and Elizabeth Stribling of New York-based Stribling & Associates] and four different Paris apartments. I’ve also had a place in London. Most of my adult life has been spent shuttling between them. I am in Paris about one week a month. It’s very much a part of my identity. I think my connections to Europe stem from Europeans’ respect for their culture and their history. I love the fact that you can go to some obscure museum and see a family there; they value culture and history so much. Culture is the equivalent of sports to them.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury That brings me to my next question — you have one enviable collection of properties. What is your philosophy on acquiring real estate?

Timothy Corrigan I am a huge fan of properties with true architectural integrity. In France, they call an old house that is a wreck (but still very much intact architecturally) as being “dans son jus,” which means “in its own juices”; I would far rather buy a property that is rich in its original details than a perfect, brand-new house.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury What’s the secret to a great real estate find?

Timothy Corrigan Being willing to do a thorough and totally exhaustive search until you find the true gem that is right for you! I have probably looked at over 400 chateaux and twice that number of apartments and houses to find the ones that I have had in my lifetime. I am a total house junkie!

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Looking back on your acquisitions as a whole — from properties to antiques and art — what is the one unifying quality?

Timothy Corrigan That’s a terrific question that I have never even thought about … all collectors should be asked that question! I love art, antiques and real estate that have a sense of history and provenance about them. It doesn’t have to be history from the deep dark past, but it is wonderful to own something that you know has been loved and cared for by someone before you. I have made a point of learning about the people who have owned the houses that I have bought. Sometimes I have bought art and antiques more because of the history of the previous owners than of the piece itself. One of my favorite pieces is a cabinet that had been made for and belonged to Catherine the Great.

Red living room. Photo by Lee Manning.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury When it comes to matching precious and sometimes disparate objects, what is your motto?

Timothy Corrigan Don’t be afraid to mix fearlessly. Mixing things that are totally different — in terms of quality, style, texture and material — makes a space feel much more alive and fresh. When you try to match things too much in a room, it ends up feeling like a period room in a museum. No one wants to live like that. By mixing elements — maybe you have a traditional Korean mask in your collection and mix it with ultra-modern style, as an example — you are showing your interests as a person. It shows people how you live and think. I would much rather mix too much in a space than play it safe. It’s boring.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury So, you are not opposed to bringing in modern elements?

Timothy Corrigan Not at all. When you place a contemporary piece next to a traditional piece, it creates contrast in a space. To me, when you place a clean, modern table next to a Baroque painting, you end up appreciating those objects more because the placement highlights their differences.

Living room with mix of antiques and contemporary art by Warhol. Photo by Jim Barsch.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury How important is contrast and the idea of juxtaposition?

Timothy Corrigan I think interior design is all about juxtaposition. It’s so wonderful to take something like a piece of concrete — rough and primitive — and place it next to something that is carved and detailed. That is not to say that every element in a room needs to be juxtaposed. But placing different elements together is what gives a space a feeling of energy and life.

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Do you think your “comfortable elegance” approach has universal applications? It’s not just a California thing?

Timothy Corrigan About 80% of our projects are actually outside of California, and 60% are outside of America. We are a global firm. Comfortable elegance is desirable, no matter where you live. Even in extremely formal settings — we’ve done a few royal palaces — my clients want their spaces to feel more human and relatable and comfortable. They don’t want the “you-can-look-but-don’t-touch” approach. That’s just not the way we live anymore. A king wanted an outdoor fabric in his living room in case his grandkids spill food or drinks. If a king can say that about his own home, we can all be more relaxed about our own spaces!

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury Can you talk a little about your latest collaboration with THG?

Timothy Corrigan THG is very well known in Europe. The brand is revered for its ornate and fancy bathroom faucetry and for collaborating with many famous French designers, including Alberto Pinto and Pierre-Yves Rochon. As the executive leadership team wanted to make a bigger splash in the American market, they began looking at designers who could interpret French art and style into an American vernacular. I think it has been an amazing marriage. To me, THG is like jewelry for the bathroom. Their products are incredible to touch and feel — the quality, the workmanship and the details. We’ve debuted two faucet collections: Grand Central, which is inspired by the columns of Grand Central Station in New York, and West Coast, which mimics the relaxed pattern of linen.

THG’s West Coast collection by Timothy Corrigan

THG’s Grand Central by Timothy Corrigan

Coldwell Banker Global Luxury What inspires you as a designer?

Timothy Corrigan What inspires me most is when I’m put into situations where I cannot operate on autopilot. I like to be a little uncomfortable. It’s a way to stretch and grow, personally and creatively, when you are exposed to different things. For example, we were recently designing a project in India. I’ve never studied Indian art before. So, I was exposed to this whole new culture. The client didn’t want an Indian house, per se, but I decided to use the colors of India — which are more saturated and vibrant than what we are accustomed to in Western-style design. I was also heavily influenced by the materials and stones of Mumbai and decided to incorporate all those elements to create a more integrated design. I am sensitive to the location of where I am designing. As a designer, I find it deeply inspiring to operate outside my safety zone.

After two decades in the interior design world, Timothy Corrigan has accumulated a host of accolades to go along with his enviable property collection, including the AD100, Robb Report’s Top 40 and the Luxe Gold List. This year, Las Vegas Market named him “2017 Icon of Design.” He is the author of “An Invitation to Chateau du Grand-Lucé: Decorating a Great French Country House”; his second book is due to publish next year by Rizzoli. More information can be found at www.timothy-corrigan.com.


By Alyson Pitarre

This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine.