Interviews: William T. Baker on Designing Exceptional Residences for Exceptional Clients...

William T. Baker

We've all had the experience of driving into a community and encountering a stunning house that takes our breath away. The type of residence that makes us pause to quietly wonder.. Who precisely lives there? What type of fabulous fetes do they host - and for whom? What do they do for a living? And (if you're even one bit like me) what fabulous fashion investments are safely stored in the master closet? Oh, if walls (and Chanel bags) could talk!

We know these magnificent homes. Fellow Dallas friends can agree these are the noteworthy addresses embossed on invites for significant holiday parties, charity events or designer show houses. Once you've stepped inside one, life can never - ever - be the same. 

While we may daydream about the fabulous lives of the inhabitants (and one day intend to be one ourselves), I happen to know someone who designs such estates. The esteemed William T. Baker. This award-winning residential designer will be familiar to many of you in the interior design industry. He's been featured in glossy publications such Veranda, Arch Digest, Elle Decor, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles and many others. I've written about his work here numerous times (see here & here) and have always admired his impeccable style. His homes are often decorated by such noted talents as Suzanne Kasler & Melanie Turner - two of my favorite interior designers.

Let's step inside the the mind of the man responsible for designing the private homes of influential citizens, successful corporate titans and successful entrepreneurs all over the globe. In celebration of his latest book, Great American Homes Volume III, I've take a moment to interview the talented Mr. Baker to learn more about the creation of these dreamy residences and what evolution he's noticing in the market.

Here's what he had to say...

Tell us what excites you most about the release of Great American Homes Volume III.
Having the opportunity to design families' dream homes is such a privilege! I am excited to share some of these incredible homes with the public.  These homes represent the finest in both comfortable living as well as residential architecture that will stand the test of time.  The reader will find that the book is illustrated with the floor plan for each home as well as the landscape plan. Together with the interior photographs , a reader can form a good impression of the total project. A careful study of the plans will reveal the continuing evolution of the American house plan.   

What project within the book do you feel will surprise readers & fans the most?
One of the hallmarks of my firm's work is that we are adept at designing homes in a number of vernacular styles. While some firms have a single trademark look, we pride ourselves in being able to "speak" many architectural languages. The readers will find a wide variety of homes from grand estates to more simple shake style homes.

Why is that? What makes that residence stand out from the others? A departure in style? An unusual location?
One of the reasons people love to follow my work is that there is an careful handling of the architectural scale and proportions. The details are thoughtfully considered and executed.  Our houses definitely set high standard for their communities and become cherished architectural treasures in the years ahead.   

Our expectations of “home” evolve over time. What changes are you seeing lately in terms of features your clients are requesting in their homes?
The trend toward more casual living is continuing to the point that we are seeing the formal dining room evolving into a more open room located toward the rear of the house rather than being located on the front as is traditionally the case. We are also seeing the wine function moving upstairs from he basement so that it is now a feature wall in the butler's pantry or even the dining room itself. Master closets continue to expand and the in the master bath we are receiving see requests for his and her toilet compartments or even his and her baths.

For busy professionals, we often hear of the need for a separate exit from the master suite so the person with an early schedule can exit without disturbing their sleeping partner.  We are also seeing an amazing number of requests for indoor sport courts. These require 20' ceilings and are usually located below ground so they are major structures.
Your ability to personalize your projects to accommodate the unique collections or preferences of your clients has always impressed me. From statement-making leaded glass windows to antique French paneled walls, I love seeing spaces with treasured art pieces infused into the architecture of the home. Is there an aspect of a project featured in Great American Homes III that stands out for your creative collaboration efforts with the owners? Tell us about that project. 
The cover house certainly comes to mind as that was a wonderful collaboration between myself and the owner. The inspiration was a house in France that the owner knew and thus began a journey to create a limestone clad house with overtones from the original. The floor plan was designed around a major acquisition of a stained glass window for the paneled library. The axis of the central hallway allows the window to be seen from the owner's chair in the dining room. Furthermore, the great room is double height and we broke up the volume with banding and paneling that gives the room scale. 

These large rooms often feel cavernous but with the architecture of the paneled walls, this room feels comfortable whether its two or two hundred people using it. Lastly, we wanted the family room off the kitchen to have dramatic architecture so we designed it with a coffer barrel ceiling.  It took the trim carpenters weeks to build it out! But as the reader will see, the effect is wonderful. 

And finally, what can we expect next from William T. Baker & Associates?
Most people think of me as a designer of grand estates. But I have designed a number of resort homes at various coastal resorts, lakes, and mountain retreats. I think it would be fun to create a book featuring some of these amazing homes from around the country. 

William T. Baker

William T. Baker


In Manhattan? Meet Mr. Baker this Wednesday (November 29, 2017) from 6 to 8 pm at Rizzoli Bookstore on Broadway where he'll be signing copies of Great American Homes Volume III and participating in a panel discussion with Suzanne Kasler and Alec Michaelides for further exploration of the spectacular residences in this book and the families who call them home.

Feeling Bookish: Kasler's Timeless Style...

As I continue to study my copy of Suzanne Kasler's Timeless Style - the newest book from this petite design powerhouse -  I am reminded of how much I love her work. She has a "light" touch when it comes to design, allowing the often delicate forms of the furniture to be the star. Her portfolio of projects never looks contrived or "overdecorated" in the least. Her aesthetic isn't eclectic, by any means... but neither is it forced. 

I share her love of French furniture mixed with modern art. It is playful and witty and somehow sublime. I love her subtle color palette with her occasional burst of "wow" color. Oranges, aqua and occasionally lavender. All so lovely. Regular readers will readily know that I share her passion for an abundance of gold accents. (Hey, if it was good enough for the Egyptians.... ;) 

In Timeless Style, Suzanne shares glossy page after glossy page of a private guided tour of her favorite projects. Notes are offered on why a specific table shape was selected or a passion for de Gournay wallpaper. We see not only glimpses of her own Atlanta home, but up close views of spectacular rooms she has designed for clients. 

There's a warmth to her work, I think. There is perfection to be found in the imperfection of heirloom pieces. There is personality to be celebrated in a quirky collection of unusual objects. I get the sense that she never fights a client if they are committed to keeping a particular piece of furniture - she might even relish the challenge. 

Stay tuned for the full review of her new book, as well as an interview with the divine Mrs. Kasler and many, many more photos of her lovely professional work. in the meantime I might encourage you to grab your copy of this lovely volume here.

If you have not read Inspired Interiors, toss a copy of that into your cart as well. All of her books are rich with information and key design insights. 

{all images via Pinterest}

Objects of Desire: Krushing on Kasler...

There are few designers that I bow to as much as Suzanne Kasler. From the moment I stepped foot in her jewel-box like room in Hickory Chair's High Point showroom I was smitten. Each piece of furniture was lovingly designed, thoughtfully executed and dreamily detailed. I share her love of French antiques and quiet color palettes. What I love most about her, however, is her ability to marry supreme glamour with a relaxed sensibility. In her designs, she dances the line between formal and approachable like no one else. A heady mix of soft linens, painted finishes and gilt opulence makes me swoon.

Designing award-winning spaces is just the tip of the iceberg for this multi-talented designer. In addition to her wildly successful line of furniture for Hickory Chair, she boasts a lighting collection for Visual Comfort, a line of retail goods for Ballard, art for Soicher Marin, rugs for Safavieh and fabrics for Lee Jofa. It's enough to make your head spin! 

Let's not forget she is also an author. Thankfully - for those like myself who adore her - she has a new book coming out this fall. Timeless Style will no doubt build upon the work shown in her previous tome, Inspired Interiors. I can hardly wait to receive my copy! Suzanne's ability to infuse her spaces with dressmaker details and fashion house details always inspire me to add more femininity to my own designs and my own home. And having her books on hand for reference and ideas has proved invaluable to me time and time again. 

Talent aside, she is also one of the warmest and most personable designers of her stature I've met. Seeing Suzanne is always like seeing a girlfriend. You want to squeeze her and go sit down and catch up on all the latest things that have been happening in your lives. It's easy to forget she's one of today's top interior designers. Like her designs, she is elegant yet approachable and has a rarified ease about her. Beauty, talent and warmth all wrapped in one sweet package. What's not to love? 

Stay tuned Venti Cup readers... I'll have the priviledge of interviewing Suzanne right her for you to read. Look for it in the next few weeks. In the meantime, pop over to Amazon to pre-order a copy of her latest book for Rizzoli. I can hardly wait until mine arrives! 

{featured: Suzanne's work featured in Veranda,Hannah Two-Light Sconce for Visual ComfortLillie Bench for Hickory ChairTuxedo Cabinet for Hickory Chair}

Dreamy Spaces: Effortless Amethyst...

It goes without saying that a space designed by Suzanne Kasler (one of my personal icons) & William T. Baker oozes relaxed sophistication. There are hints of John Saladino (yes, "THE icon himself) to be found in the look, including actual upholstery from his collection. Ample use of solid fabrics, touches of elegant damask, hints of black to "ground" the space yet an abundance of light offering an ethereal look.

To me, the winning looks can be found in the master bedroom and bath. This is wehre the gilt touches, white linen settee and amethyst silk draperies push me over the edge into major a design crush. This, you see, is design with a soft hand Nothing looks overly decorated or staged - and yet, one must assume that this look is a bit too pulled together to have just occurred haphazardly. Masterful.

ArchDigest describes the look as "elegant meets eclectic" and I'd say it is an apt summary of the style. Flourishes of gilt and soaring ceilings elevate what could otherwise be a rather understated design. When studied closely, I would say that this project is much like the "no makeup" look which takes a deft hand and a considerable amount of makeup to achieve. The process requires skill and an experienced artist to pull off, but the resulting look seems effortless. Perfection.

Now if you'll pardon me I'm off to see about getting some floor to ceiling amethyst drapes for my master suite...

Musings: On Inspired Living...

I could recap my evening at the Hickory Chair showroom in Dallas... but suffice it to say I am more enamored with Suzanne and her marvelous (new!) collection for the brand than ever. She is gracious, warm and exudes an effortless glamour we can all only hope to achieve. Her furnishings, like the talented designer herself, exude a feminine grace and attention to detail so fine as to go almost unnoticed. But to those with an eye for details (raising hand) there is much to see. I left inspired, enriched and happy. While my list of Kasler items continues to grow, so does my appreciation of how very hard she's worked to arrive at her station.

The recent pandemic of our generation - and entire species -is that we're all looking for the easy score, the quick fix, the fast rise to the top. But without merit and a foundation of excellence it will never have legs. I see a business like Suzanne's - a brand, a business, an empire, really - and I have to pause and appreciate the years of effort she invested in herself and her craft.

My recent move to Dallas has given me time to reflect on my business and my talents. As Suzanne shared details on how she got her start, it became clear I should continue to follow my heart and my true passion. There will always be others looking into your life and telling you what you "should do" or "need to do" - but anytime I've chased someone else's dream and mistaken it for my own I've been unhappy. It's time to distill the idea down to it's purest form and pursue it with fearless fervor.

The great truth of life is that you'll never compromise your way to happiness. The relentless pursuit of your dreams - and really, only YOU know what dreams your heart contains - is what you must focus on. It will drive you to work harder, laugh harder and enjoy the process. 

It's a lot to take from a book signing at a designer showroom, but life is funny that way. You never know where or when your truth will rise to the surface.

If you haven't yet purchased a copy, do yourself a favor and snap up Inspired Interiors. And if Suzanne comes to your area for a signing event, RSVP. Especially if it's at a Hickory Chair showroom. Otherwise, you can purchase a signed copy online.

{Fantastic images above of Suzanne's Atlanta office, featured in May 2010's Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine.}

Tastemakers: Suzanne Kasler's Effortless Glamour...

I've been giving it more thought and come up with a great way to describe the three designers from the Hickory Chair event. Here goes: Thomas O'Brien is the designer you want on your team for Trivial Pursuit. Although I did not quiz him, I'm certain he could regale you with detailed stories of historical events just as easily as he could recite Yeats without a moment's hesitation.

Alexa Hampton is the girl you want on your Pictionary team. She's bold, vivacious and wouldn't think twice about performing in front of a crowd. I adored her energy and her contagious laughter. Alexa is a girl who knows how to enjoy herself, and it shows. Having said that, she, Suzanne and Thomas could go head to head on their exhaustive and comprehensive knowledge of the origins of design and the history of furnishings. Each of them shared such a rich passion for design and the classical references of each piece in their collections at Hickory Chair. It was beyond impressive. (more on Alexa in an upcoming post!)But let's talk about my favorite girl's girl of the bunch: Suzanne Kasler. Where do I begin? Suzanne is a woman blessed with radiant warmth. She's gracious, feminine and absolutely charming. Standing in the midst of her gorgeous collection in the showroom, it was clear that the sheer beauty of the pieces themselves was a direct expression of her inner glamour and her ability to translate that sophistication into three dimensional forms.

So if I'm continuing my theme of games I'd play with each designer, Suzanne would certainly be my partner for a game of dress up - as silly as that sounds. She's so warm and inviting that you immediately feel you could spend a full day weaving through the cobblestone streets of Rome in search of the perfect dress. You'd laugh at yourselves as you tripped on the cobblestone along the Via Condotti. Inevitably, you'd find yourselves losing track of time as the afternoon passed. You've chatted so much and admired cultural surroundings so much you'd nearly forgotten to shop. The two of you would share stories as you sipped your afternoon espressos at Sant'Eustachio (the best espresso in Rome, in my opinion!). And you'd continue the fun through dinner and well after dessert at the most quaint local restaurant, barely noticing the waiters who would no doubt be trying to catch her attention. Yes, she's that approachable and that remarkably beautiful. You meet her.. you feel you've known her for ages. She has a sort of quiet charisma that pulls you in and akes you take notice.If you haven't familiarized yourself with her work, I recommend you take a peek at my post from the springperuse her recent collection for Hickory Chair and most certainly pick up a copy of her latest book, Inspired Interiors. I've still clinging to my signed copy (woohoo!), thinking it might be nice to read over coffee on a quiet afternoon. (Rome, anyone?)

In spring I was overcome by the sheer beauty of her icy blue color palette with gold accents. A chinoiserie inspired look. This season's palette featured an invigorating orange, perfect for fall, but timeless on it's own accord. I can hardly stop thinking about this stunningly simply orange leather chair. It strikes me as the ideal perch from which to write - espeically if paired with one of her sexy desks. Yowza!

As I look back on my experience with Suzanne, I can't help but feel that she has altered my view of the typical successful businesswoman. She embodies a certain quiet confidence and graciousness I haven't often encountered. As I observe all that she has achieved and the body of work she has produced, I realize that never for a moment was she anything less that generous with her time and sincere in her interest of the talents of others. It's that same grace that can be seen in her work. Her furnishings are lovingly designed and exude quiet elegance. They are feminine without being frilly. Warm and approachable without being casual. Elegant and wise without losing that fresh edge. Full of authority without the use of any visible force. Much like the woman herself, the pieces feel inviting, as if they're good friends you can't wait to spend more time around. If you have the opportunity, be sure to go to a Kasler book signing near you. I promise it will be an experience you won't soon forget. You'll meet a fascinating woman and acquire a fabulous book at the same time!

Thank you, Suzanne, for serving as such an inspiration!

Out & About: Crashing Kasler's Pad...

 One of the most drool worthy moments inside the High Point showroom tour was when we stepped into Suzanne Kasler's gorgeous chinoiserie room at Hickory Chair. It was like stepping into a jewel box. Your eyes could barely stop looking at the impressive center arrangement of quatrefoil chairs beneath a hulking yet appropriately delicate light fixture. The architectural detail of both the space and the furnishings was truly the centerpiece of the showroom for me. Of the many rooms we toured, this one begged to be lingered in more than any other. 
Suzanne, the famed interior designer from Atlanta, worked with the brand to create a refined collection of glamorous furnishings. The chair, which Cassandra has written about previously, will is perfectly proportioned. Nothing quite explains how well balanced the design is until you see it in person. It seems so often that when a chair back veers too far from the normal rectangular shape that you lose the comfort of the piece. Nothing could be further from the truth with this chair. It sits like a dream, and that gorgeous decorative back offers just the right *oomph* when seated. I need several of these in my home. Perfection.
And everywhere you looked, stacks and stacks of books every girl I know would love to have on her coffee table or bedside. Chanel, Vogue, Louboutin, Jacobs, Dior, Lanvin...a fashionista's dream dream. It was such an exercise in storytelling. That we'd stepped into someone's private dressing room. That somewhere nearby, the woman who lived here had a collection of designer gowns, fun frocks and (surely) an admirable collection of Chanels to accompany these glam pieces of furniture. 
And my new BFF Cassandra La Valle of Coco+Kelley and I just couldn't stop swooning over the feminine perfection of the room. At one point we were begging people to take our photo in the space, just so we could remember what it felt like to live - even for a moment - with such design perfection. Umm... yeah, I'd say we got a bit carried away with our personal pix. But can you blame us? Look at the stunning surroundings.

Suzanne Kasler nailed glam with this collection. Honestly, I think we were both overwhelmed by the magnificence of the brand as a whole. But when you entered this room you knew you were in the midst of something tremendous. The lighting, the placement, the slight shimmer on the walls. It was heaven. 
You'd just entered a new level of furnishings. The drawer pulls, the curved leg of an ottoman, the added flourish on a divan, the timeless design on a chair back. This was no ordinary designer and these were far from ordinary furnishings.  
The furnishings begged to be touched, sat upon, admired and - yes, blogged about. It all just felt so perfect. And just when you thought the room couldn't possibly get more gorgeous, you walked a bit further and found something else that made you stop in your tracks. Honestly, I think we both felt that this room was pitch perfect. Feminine without being frilly. Elegant without a hint of stuffiness. Rich and relaxed. There was just a confident ease to the space you could not possibly ignore. And isn't that what style really is at the end of the day? Ease?
So I leave you with these lovely, dreamy photos of the furnishings (and a few silly ones of us living the luxe life for a few moments, imagining this was our home).

Be sure to check out Cassandra's coverage of the tour as well!