Thomas Pheasant’s smile is warm, immediately engaging, with a twinkle that says this is a man who enjoys life. A world-traveller who’s worked with presidents and royalty, he’s just as comfortably stylish in an Armani suit as in jeans with a blazer. And when it comes to design, his passion and knowledge are matched only by his creativity.
Thomas’ design philosophy interweaves classic minimalism, tradition, and vision to fashion interiors with a balanced tranquility that’s become his signature. Surprisingly, his career began accidentally when he purchased a derelict house in Washington, DC, during the early 1970s.
Despite suffering from the severe lack of funds experienced by most new college graduates, Thomas secured a mortgage and began rebuilding the house. “I ended up creating a modern and really quite simple interior whose architectural energy was derived from one very special feature: a centrally located spiral staircase gorgeously illuminated by an enormous skylight,” he says in his book Thomas Pheasant: Simply Serene.
By the time the renovation was complete, however, he confesses to being “somewhat discouraged” to discover there was no money for furniture. The solution? “I threw some grey leather pillows around, and that was that.” But when the local paper caught wind of it, Thomas was hailed as Washington’s new, young, “radically spare” designer.
Today, Thomas continues to refine and redefine layering neutral colour palettes with texture and form to create interiors with a timeless serenity. His furniture collections are recognized worldwide and he counts being the first American designer to exhibit at the Pavillon des Antiquaires et des Beaux Arts in Paris, France among his many achievements.
Thomas believes the past should inspire, but stresses good design is more than simply reproducing historical excellence. “I tell students, get out of your cave — see what’s beautiful, what monuments have lasted for centuries, what proportions resonate with the human psyche. Even when a house needs to be totally renovated, to decide what elements should be celebrated and what should be taken away, you must really look around you.”
As part of the process, Thomas says he often takes clients on tours of local galleries, artisan studios, and other cultural venues. “We’re not shopping, only looking. It’s wonderful for inspiration and a great way to get to know people.”
Savour the experience
“Be willing to experiment,” Thomas says when asked for hints about personalizing a space. “No one is going to die if you pick the wrong colour for your walls. But so often people just go the safe route. They buy the beige sofa or off-white paint without thinking how it will actually work in their home.”
His second suggestion concerns passion — choose objects and designs that speak to your heart, not the art school textbook. “Don’t pick a dining room table just because you need one and it’s from a good furniture maker — buy it because you love it. Likewise, if you have 20 pieces of art and you love every one of them, then yes, display them all. But if really you’re only passionate about one, then just hang that piece. When a room, or an entire house, is put together because every item is special to you, there will be a common thread to the look and feel. It could be funky or elegant, but it will say something important about who you are and the space will feel right.”
On the home front
Thomas’ newest project is one he’s particularly excited about — the US presidential guesthouse. “Blair House hasn’t been completely redone since the late 1970s,” he says. “When foreign dignitaries visit, the last thing they want is a ‘vanilla room.’ It’s going to be thrilling to create an environment that keeps the romance and elegance alive.”
When will the new Blair House be complete? “Never,” he says with what looks remarkably like a wink. “But we do expect the first four or five rooms will be done sometime in the spring.”
Thomas Pheasant’s newest furniture collection is found in Vancouver at Brougham Interiors, 1625 West 3rd Avenue in Kitsilano.