With a career spanning more than 20 years, Tommy Smythe, owner of TOM Interior Design Studio, is a familiar face to design aficionados. From television shows to magazine stories, Tommy has wowed us with his work and entertained us along the way.
A “Tommy” interior typically incorporates traditional and modern elements, often with a daring ingenious twist that makes it instantly recognizable. This fall marks the launch of his latest adventure: a collab with Canadian retailer Urban Barn that includes a collection of 16 sustainable, veganbased home accessories. We caught up with Tommy to find out his secrets for adding big-time designer style to any space.
KL: Many of your interiors showcase vintage or antique elements. What do they add to a room and is it okay to use reproduction pieces to achieve the look?
TS: I try to incorporate classic antiques with vintage modern elements and then throw in a few store-bought things. The clean lines of modern vintage combined with the ornate contrast of much older things works because most of these items, objects or art have longevity regardless of their place within the timeline between antique and vintage. The very new pieces can be cycled in and out with the changing trends, but rooms decorated with this approach will enjoy a longer life if the baseline is built on these rooting elements. Reproductions are a great way to get classic design at a lower cost. I encourage buying licensed reproduction products. They’re a better investment than knockoffs.
KL: What is your secret to creating a balanced look when mixing different styles?
TS: A lot of it is instinct, a little is scholarship and the rest is good old-fashioned trial and error...in other words, failure! It’s okay to experiment and it’s okay if you don’t get it right every time. My eye for my own particular mix did start with a degree of aptitude, but the rest is experience and practice. Youssef Hasbani [a design retailer in Toronto] is the great master of the mix and was one of my early mentors. I learned a lot by observing him. What struck me about his approach to design was that he took huge risks. There isn’t enough of that in the decorating and design industry right now – everything symmetrical and safe is celebrated these days.
KL: Say goodbye to the colour grey and hello to...? What is a new paint colour you are excited to use in a project?
TS: I’ve been thrilled to see a shift away from grey. It’s time. One of our project managers at TOM recently unearthed a somewhat stealth Farrow & Ball colour collection called Colour by Nature for a project we’re working on in a historical Toronto home. It’s just 16 swatches assembled in collaboration with Britain’s Natural History Museum. My current obsession, Duck Green, comes from this secret little source. I’ve used a lot of black in my work, so this deep green, which verges on black, is a way for me to vibe on an old favourite whilst still keeping things fresh.
KL: Is there a fave accessory that appears in almost every living room you design?
TS: That’s easy! I’m eternally in love with vases. I have an ever-changing collection of vintage, antique and new flower vessels in all imaginable shapes, sizes and colours. The best ones look just as good empty as they do filled with seasonal blooms, because let’s face it, there isn’t time to get to the market for fresh flowers as often as we’d like. As a professional decorator, I can feed my addiction because invariably a few I’ve gathered will end up in a client project, having waited for just the right room, table or vignette.
KL: Small spaces and decorating with deep, dark colours: what is the one designer secret to making it work?
TS: The best piece of advice I have is don’t stop until you’re done. So many home decorators start off with a courageous wallpaper or a deep, bold paint colour and then they panic. Seeing such a strong statement without its supporting players (curtains, artwork, mirrors, furnishings) can be jarring, but if you stay the course and add in the remaining ingredients, you’ll see that a lot of that strength is softened by those other elements.
KL: What’s the easiest way to add drama and style to a powder room?
TS: The powder room is one of the few rooms where bolder is better in almost every material and furnishing selection! If I were forced to choose just one item to go bold with, I’d reach for the faucet. It’s an up close and personal element in a powder room, interacted with by every user – I would hope! – so it should look and feel special. I’ve found beautiful vintage faucets, but I’m just as into what’s new and next. This is what I always say about the powder room: you’re there for a good time, not a long time. Make it count! Tommy X UB assorted ACCESSORIES, Urban Barn, urbanbarn.com.