This evening, the Decoration and Design Building in New York City will host its annual black-tie event honoring the “Stars of Design” and “Stars on the Rise” in multiple categories from interior design and architecture to photography and graphic design.
Among the honorees is industry veteran Bunny Williams, who will receive the lifetime achievement award for her more than 25 years of decorating and countless contributions to the industry. She joins a prestigious roster of past recipients including Albert Hadley, Paige Rense, Richard Meier, Mica Etegun and Thomas Britt.
This reporter spoke with Williams as she discussed the evolving industry, how she’s left her mark, and what’s next.
How did you feel when you were told you would receive the Lifetime achievement award?
I was both thrilled and honored when I heard that I was the recipient of the Stars of Design Lifetime Achievement award. To be included with such a stellar list of past honorees is truly something I will always treasure. The only problem is that I think in some ways I am just beginning so maybe this could just be called my first life achievement award. I cannot thank Charles Cohen and the Decoration and Design Building enough for this honor.
What was your goal when you first began working in the industry years ago?
When I first started decorating, my goal was to soak up as much experience and insight from experts that shared my sensibilities. I also wanted to study the decorative arts and then at some point translate my experience into my own point of view and share this with others.
Have you met that goal?
Yes, I have met that goal. After many years at Parish Hadley I began my own interior design firm. I then went on to open a shop Treillage with my husband John Rosselli. I have also started a furniture and home accessories company, Bunny Williams Home, and have entered into some very exciting licensing agreements with other companies.
What is something that you are always trying to improve?
I am always trying to improve all of my businesses by incorporating all the new mediums available and finding people who can help me on both the technical side and embracing social media to reach new people.
What are you inspired by and how has that changed over the years?
I am most inspired by travel. I love immersing myself in another culture and soaking up everything I can possibly absorb. Museums, architecture, shopping, food, fashion, everything excites me and I find I learn something new with every venture. Most recently I’ve been lucky enough to experience exquisite gardens in France, treasure filled markets in Beirut and design trends in Thailand. Each experience impacts my point of view and opens my mind up to more possibilities.
How has your perspective of the industry changed over the years?
Technology has changed everything. Younger clients are very media oriented. Media changes the way people shop and also how they live in their homes. I guess it has also changed my perspective because it’s been a complete paradigm shift that we’ve all adapted to.
What are you most proud of?
I am really proud of my team and the work that we create. It could not be done without every single person who touches the project. The most important moment is seeing the thrill of a client who is pleased with a completed project.
What has been the biggest challenge for you?
The part of the business that I find the most frustrating is the amount of time that is required for self-promotion, not that it is so challenging, but that it takes me away from what I love most which is designing and working on my projects.
What has been the biggest triumph?
The things I am very proud of are my book, An Affair With a House, my furniture collection and the evolution of the Bunny Williams Home brand. We design, perfect and produce everything ourselves. Quality and specifically finishes are of the utmost importance to me and they are the most challenging to get right.
Is there anything you regret doing, or not doing?
I regret that before I started work I did not live in Europe for a year or two. I would have learned to speak French—which I really regret and would have had the time to absorb as much as possible.
If you could change anything about the path of your career, would you?
My path has really gone from one thing to another in a natural way. I think I should have started some of my licensing contacts earlier but I am thrilled to be doing them now.
If you hadn't gone into interior design, what do you think you'd be doing?
If I were not an interior designer I would build a space somewhere in my house where I could take in abandoned dogs and try to find homes for them. I am not embarrassed to say that Petfinder.com takes up a lot of my evenings. I recently found my terrier-mix puppy, Annabelle, on there. She came all the way to me from the Bulverde Humane Society in Texas. Dogs give so much unconditional love, I support animal shelters every chance I can and encourage others to do the same.
You are known in the industry for your continuous support of charities. Why is this important to you and for the design community?
The design community often gets a bad rap for selling custom furniture at what may seem to some as exorbitant prices. I never force anything on a client, and always think about the artisans and local craftsmen whose livelihood is dependent on the highly skilled work that went into the piece. For this reason, as well as my good-old-fashioned southern upbringing, I always feel it is important to do what we can to give back. I am honored to have been so involved with the wonderful Kips Bay organization and to have chaired the Designer Show House (a wonderful example of the design community giving back) for the last two years.
What would be some words of advice for newbies to the design industry?
My advice to designers who are just starting out is to hire people who can fill your voids. If you aren’t good with the business side, hire a great accountant. I also think that while media is an incredible tool, it’s imperative to get away from the screen and see things in person. Nothing replaces getting out of the office and shopping or traveling to train your eye.
Many would say you've already done it all. So what's next?
Embracing ecommerce is a big part of the future of both Bunny Williams Home and Treillage and learning all I can about it is very important. I am also excited about new collaborations for 2014. I also am constantly expanding and trying to improve my garden, I want to start painting again and I have two more books I want to do.
Headshot photo credit: Tria Giovan