For Guest Curator Lisa Hilderbrand, growing up in a creative environment was just the beginning of a life spent in pursuit of design meant to enhance the enjoyment of life.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa about her early influences in Dallas, the unique experience of a career at Christie’s and the ups and downs of restoring her historic New Canaan home.
As a young person growing up in Dallas, Texas, Lisa’s design education began right away with her parents. “My father was an extremely talented artist, and some of his talent made it to me. I took various art classes – drawing, painting, sculpture – for years growing up. He was also in advertising, so balance, scale, proportion, what’s the star/what’s supporting, were part of my thought process growing up. “
But her father was not the only one with a keen eye for style…“… my mother had a wonderful eye too. We had a large-scale blue and white toile wallpaper in our kitchen growing up and it was all her. She also had a great eye for adding modern things here and there — a glass tronchi chandelier in the entry hall, Pace coffee table, Chinese and Japanese bits here and there…”
But it wasn’t only her parents who had an early influence on her growing sense of design. Thanks to her delightfully eccentric and stylish neighbors, she had a second home to visit along with her sister. “We also had a neighbor across the street, who was kind of like an adopted grandmother, Mama Jean; she and her husband (Papa Tom) were both Texas. They had matching big Cadillacs and an amazing house full of beautiful things. My sister and I would go over for sleepovers and play with her dollhouse, which was really more of a closet, where each shelf could be the floor of a house. I loved dollhouses but never really cared about playing with dolls, but I constantly rearranged furniture — I would re-paper, make little doo-dads for the kitchen…”
These childhood experiences no doubt impacted her decision to study Art History and eventually to take a job at Chistie’s where her focus was European antiques and rare carpets. “I loved Art History because it’s so much more than just pictures — beyond the appreciation of a work of art is the context — politics, religion, society, technology, iconography, propaganda, history, idealism, disruption. I found all of that completely fascinating and often took parallel classes (ie: Buddhist Art and Eastern Religions). “
It was at this point that Lisa felt inspired to branch out on her own and open her own design firm, bringing with her a design sensibility that has been described as “a modern sense of classicism.” “I think that good design is always good — whether it’s a slick piece from the 70s or a classic French commode from the 1700s. “Good” things never get old, and a room can always feel updated with the addition of some clean lines. Modern art can punctuate a room full of antiques; the right antique can keep a modern room’s feet firmly planted. It all comes back to balance, scale and proportion — good underpinnings and an eye for the right mix of old/new, texture and gloss, glam and understated, authentic surfaces and overall “not trying too hard,” are always on my mind. Look back at Albert Hadley, Billy Baldwin, David Hicks and currently to Michael Smith, Gil Schafer, Thomas Pheasant, Stephen Gambrel, Brian McCarthy… never gets old.”
Never shying away from taking on a major project, in the midst of a career change and the birth of her children, she fell in love with a 18th Century historic home that had great bones but was in need of a huge amount of work to restore its beauty and functionality. “My house was an adventure, and I truly didn’t know what I didn’t know. We bought our rambling antique house in rough condition 15 years ago before we had children. We had a great architect/builder who didn’t run when I would greet him in the morning and say, “What if we did (fill in the blank)…??” My kitchen floor was something major I did myself. We have beautiful antique floors throughout the house, but not so in the kitchen. How to have new floors that don’t look *new*, so I decided to stain them with a big pattern. Over the years, it has worn to look old and authentic. Overall, I loved saving a great old house from the bulldozer and bringing it back to life, revealing 200+ year old beams. It’s quirky and not level, but it has so much personality and character — it will always be a work in progress for me!”
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Photos courtesy of Lisa Hilderbrand / Text by Liana Hayles Newton