Simplicity, Q & A with author and designer Nancy Braithwaite
“After 25 years of exposure to the best work out there, I’ve found that it’s simplicity that’s the hardest thing to do well. It is an art. And Nancy Braithwaite has perfected that art . . . I think she’s one of the great American designers of our day.”
—Dara Caponigro, from the Foreword
Nancy Braithwaite has established herself as one of the most distinctive American designers of our time. Long before spare, sophisticated spaces came into fashion, Braithwaite was renowned for her discerning eye and ability to pare down a room to its ideal essentials while simultaneously building a luxurious sensibility. It is appropriate, then, that her first book is titled SIMPLICITY. As she herself points out in the introduction, “There is nothing simple about simplicity. Simplicity is complexity.” For Braithwaite, simplicity does not mean minimalism. In her hands, less becomes more and minimal becomes powerfully sensuous. Simplicity, for her, is a discipline in design that balances function, comfort, and wonderment.
SIMPLICITY opens with Braithwaite’s conviction that a designer must not merely look—but actually “see”—in a critical way. That degree of discernment, she believes, leads to an understanding of design integrity that only results from an educated, principled, and disciplined eye. It is that way of seeing that she brings to the world of interiors. At the first evaluation of every project, she assesses its fundamental design elements: architecture, composition, proportion and scale, color, pattern, texture, and craftsmanship, and their interrelationships. Full-color photographs on nearly every page gloriously illustrate these essential design attributes as they appear in country, classic, and contemporary settings, her three broad categories for classifying the entire stylistic spectrum.
Throughout SIMPLICITY, Braithwaite invites readers to “see” the simplicity that is her goal in every undertaking. As a designer, she moves seamlessly across stylistic boundaries. SIMPLICITY features homes from around the country and from across the historical continuum, including her family’s own unforgettable country house in Atlanta and her stunning contemporary seaside retreat on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, as well as memorable classic residences in New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta. All these homes will stand the test of time, because in Braithwaite’s hands, and through her eyes, simplicity is, ultimately, timeless.
Nancy is the featured speaker at the upcoming Art With a Twist event on October 22 titled, “The Art of Simplicity.” She will join sweetgrass basket artist and 2008 MacArthur Fellow Mary Jackson, to talk about their craft. Nancy was kind enough to take a few moments to talk with us about her design style, inspiration, and creative process.
When did you realize you had a passion for design?
I’ve had a love of design since I was a little girl. When I was 7 or 8 years old I used to make everything with my hands. If you can believe it, it all started with homemade nail dolls!
Describe your design style.
Simplicity — bringing to a design elements that are essential and meaningful, nothing that’s distracting to the eye.
Tell me about your inspiration for writing the book, Simplicity.
After working around the country for over 30 years and having the chance to do some incredible projects, I was ready to tell my story and show readers how simplicity really works and why it’s so important.
You have long been a collector of Mary Jackson’s work. Tell me about your friendship.
We met years ago at a crafts show and I was immediately intrigued by her work and then even more intrigued after meeting her in person. It’s been a joy to get to know her and to become friends, sharing our passion for craftsmanship and creativity. Anything of excellence interests me and Mary is truly excellent.
Born and raised in Chicago, renowned interior designer Nancy Braithwaite launched her career as an industrial designer after receiving her design degree from Michigan State University. In the thirty years since she formed Nancy Braithwaite Interiors, her acclaimed Atlanta-based firm, Braithwaite’s work has graced the pages of numerous national shelter magazines, books, and newspapers, including Veranda, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Town & Country, and The New York Times. Veranda named Braithwaite a “Magic Maker” in 2013, and in its Silver Anniversary issue the previous year, featured one of her rooms among the 25 most beguiling interiors it had ever published. Braithwaite is a regular on House Beautiful’s list of America’s Top Interior Designers, and Barbara Barry has said she is “one of the best living interior designers.” Atlanta magazine calls Braithwaite “the Grande Dame of Atlanta Design” and credits her as being “essential to putting Atlanta on the interior design map.” Additionally, when Braithwaite was just starting her career, Town & Country identified her as a newcomer to watch. In addition to directing her design firm, Braithwaite and her daughter Chaffee own and operate Baby Braithwaite, a highly successful, fashion-forward baby boutique in Atlanta. Braithwaite lives with her husband Jim in Atlanta, where their children and grandchildren also reside. The family vacations together in a stunning contemporary dwelling designed by Braithwaite on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Don’t miss this special evening with Nancy and Mary!
Art with a Twist: The Art of Simplicity, An Evening with Designer Nancy Braithwaite and Artist Mary Jackson
Wednesday, October 22, 6pm
$20 Members, $30 Non Members
Location: Charleston Library Society, 164 King Street
To purchase tickets or for more information please visit gibbesmuseum.org/events or call 843.722.2706 x21.
Published October 10, 2014