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Relaxed elegance
World-renowned designer Timothy Corrigan has roots in Milwaukee

Photos by Cheyenne Ellis/

October 2014

The grand salon at Ch‚teau du Grand-Lucť designed by Timothy Corrigan features beautifully carved original 18th century boiserie. Comfortable upholstered seating replaces the expected spindly French period furniture one would typically find in a room like this.

You wouldnít think the words "refined" and "laid-back" could be used together in the same sentence. Yet, they perfectly describe Timothy Corrigan. One of the most sought-after designers in the world, he has made a career out of bringing easy elegance to home decor. Recently, Corrigan weighed in on his design approach and how his Midwestern roots helped shape his signature style.

M: You started out in advertising. How did you become a designer?

TC: In the late 1980s, the advertising agency I worked for transferred me to Paris to run its European operations. Living in a city like Paris, where design, art and history are such an integral part of day-to-day life, I developed an interest in interior design. I started with my own apartment, which was published in House & Garden magazine, and then began doing friendsí homes on the side.

Then my father died unexpectedly at age 65. It proved to be a life-altering moment and made me realize that despite the success I had achieved in advertising, my true passion was architecture and interior design.

In 1997, I opened my first office in Los Angeles. I have had a dream roster of clients, including Hollywood celebrities, royalty and corporate leaders from around the world. Over the years, my career has been validated with industry honors like being named to Architectural Digestís AD100: Top Talents in Architecture and Interior Design for the past nine years and receiving the Star of Design award from the Pacific Design Center this year.

Timothy Corrigan

M: What are your ties to Milwaukee?

TC: My father (Robert Corrigan) was born in Oconomowoc, but left Wisconsin to attend boarding school on the East Coast. He moved to Milwaukee in 1974 to serve as dean of fine arts at UW-Milwaukee. That was just before my freshman year in college and we lived in a charming 1920s house on the East Side.

Between my junior and senior years at Vassar, I interned at Zigman Joseph PR in Milwaukee. The experience gave me a terrific background in how businesses are run and the importance of building a strong brand presence, no matter what field youíre in.

I still have many friends in the Milwaukee area. I love the city and visit several times a year for both work and pleasure.

Welcoming shades of blue and white, an ever-popular color combination, was used in this guest bedroom at Corriganís ch‚teau in France. French antiques are mixed with a comfortable upholstered sofa.

Photography by Eric Piasecki

M: How did your time spent in the Midwest influence your work?

TC: Despite the fact that I have worked with royalty and movie stars, I believe one of my guiding principles of design is based on practicality. And that sense of practicality is, I believe, something I attained from my time in the Midwest.

Who wants to live in a room that screams, "Look, but donít touch?" Rooms are meant to be lived in, so itís important to use materials and surfaces that allow you to spill something without worrying that youíve ruined it. I use outdoor fabrics in indoor spaces like family rooms and kitchens most of the time. I also put a coat of marine varnish on even the finest antiques as an extra level of protection so people can live in their homes without so much worry.

M: When did you become interested in architecture and design?

TC: As a boy, I was fascinated by architecture. I made houses out of balsa wood. I was 10 or 11 when I saw a photo of Frank Lloyd Wrightís Fallingwater and I was awestruck. I was so impressed with how he integrated exterior elements into the house. My mother also took us to museums often, and that early exposure established my connection with art and culture.

An unfinished painting by Carolus-Duran hangs above an intimate seating area inspired by fashion editor Diana Vreelandís famous crimson living room. The custom sofa is upholstered in silk velvet with a hand-embroidered border of silver and pewter threads; the pattern is repeated on three small stools opposite, an example of Corriganís attention to detail and comfort.

M: Describe your design style.

TC: A magazine once described my aesthetic as "European elegance infused with California casual," and I think thatís a good summation of what I try to achieve. Iíve spent much of my life in Europe and appreciate so much of what it has to offer in terms of style and history. And while I love the European design aesthetic, thereís something very special about the ease of life in America.

M: What do you like about being a designer?

TC: Every designer has particular areas of strength, and for me the most enjoyable part is figuring out how a space can be designed for maximum livability and use. Weíve all seen rooms that look like no one ever goes in them. If thereís a room in your house that isnít being used, figure out what will make you use it. There are a lot of things to consider in making a room work ó the flow of how you move around the space, the silhouette, the scale and shape of the furniture, good lighting, colors that evoke the mood you want to create. All of these elements combine to create a space where people want to spend time.

M: What inspires you?

TC: I always look to historical sources for design ideas because there truly are very few new ideas. All design springs from some historical antecedent. For example, people often think that bold use of color is a very recent thing, but in reality itís totally Technicolor. If anything, the beige and graying down of the home is a recent thing. Thank goodness the period of "greige" is coming to an end and weíre seeing a return of more color.

M: What was your first success as a designer?

TC: One of my earliest design projects was working for Madonna on a wonderful 1920s Mediterranean-style house in Beverly Hills. The experience turned out to be somewhat of a challenge, but I proved to myself that I could make it as a design professional.

M: What is one of your favorite projects?

TC: I recently had the privilege of designing the first integrated line of fabrics, furniture and floor coverings for Schumacher and Patterson, Flynn & Martin. I loved the entire process because it pushed me to really evaluate what Iím drawn to and what I value in terms of design. I had to figure out how to take the shapes and colors I love and turn them into a cohesive collection that will work in peopleís homes.

M: What are you currently working on?

TC: In addition to some wonderful design projects around the world and the debut of my first of two china collections for Royal Limoges, Iím currently designing several collections for THG, a French manufacturer of luxury fittings and accessories. Iím taking details found in fine jewelry and silverware and applying them to plumbing fixtures. m



This story ran in the October 2014 issue of: