This month we invited Phillip Thomas, founder and principal designer of New York based firm Phillip Thomas Inc., to select a handful of his favourite items from the Guinevere collection and take a light grilling at the same time, finding out about his design style, career highlights, best kept secret—and more… Phillip brings influence of his international travels, beautiful materials and unparalleled attention to detail to his residential interior designs, enjoyed by clients living in some of the top buildings of New York and internationally.
What inspired you to pursue a career in interior design?
I honestly feel that interior design has always been part of my life. From a very young age, I remember working with my parents to design and decorate their homes. My parents are both very accomplished lawyers but always had a strong hand in the design of their homes.
During my time at university, I studied diplomacy at the School of Foreign at Georgetown University. While I enjoyed every moment of my studies, it became apparent to me in my third year that I could not fight my passion for interior design!
Soon after graduating from Georgetown, I enrolled in the New York School of Interior Design where I received a formal education in interior design after having practiced it informally my entire life. I have realised that, in life, one has to do what one loves. It is only then that one truly feels complete.
Biggest career high so far?
I am so grateful for every opportunity to share my work with the world. With every opportunity, I push myself to be more daring and to inspire those around me. I think my room at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse is one of my most memorable career highs to date. While I had established my own firm several years earlier, the showhouse was in many ways the moment that I introduced myself as a designer to the design editors and design enthusiasts alike.
Bold and brash, or subtle and subdued?
There is a time and a place for bold and brash and there is a time to be subtle and subdued. I appreciate both approaches to interiors. As with all of my interiors, I like a space to tell the story of my client and I like a space to be dynamic. While one automatically assumes that a bold and brash interior is more creative, I think that there is creativity in both types of interiors. I often think the more challenging interior is the subtle and subdued interior. To be able to subtly deliver a message and inspire is very often a challenge.
Favourite project to date?
This question is always torture to me! How can I choose? I feel like I leave a part of me in every project and that I grow with each of my projects. I am constantly challenging myself to make each project a reflection not of my taste, but a reflection of my client’s tastes—the best reflection. To that end, I listen, interpret and push myself and my client to greater heights. For that reason there is so much variety in the styles of my projects.
Nevertheless, if I HAD to choose one project, I would have to say that it was one of the first projects that I was offered soon after going out on my own. It is a penthouse located in an iconic building situated along the Hudson River in New York’s West Village. I was handed a completely raw space and asked to create an interior that was all about my client. It was an incredible journey to embark upon with my client and one that I carry on to every new project that I embark upon.
Piece you most wanted to keep for yourself?
That is such a tough question! I always try to source new and different pieces for each project from all corners of the globe. By doing that, I am constantly challenging myself and growing as a designer and I am also finding pieces that not only speak to me but also to my client. As anyone on my team will tell or my clients will tell you, I like options. You can never have too many!! Options allow my clients to choose pieces that really speak to them and allow my clients to connect to their interiors. They feel invested in what they have created and are proud to show it to their family and friends.
I once found a sideboard at a flea market in Europe. It was in a complete state of disrepair but I could see that the bones were there and with restoration, it could be an amazing piece. It turned out to be a piece by Jules LeLeu!!! Can you imagine?! I restored it and installed it in my brother’s apartment. While I am sad that I didn’t keep it for myself, I am happy that I can go and visit it every so often.
That is what I love so much about sourcing vintage pieces. There are so many “diamonds in the rough.”
Best kept secret?
I am an avid paddle boarder. I cannot wait for the summer to come so that I can head out on my board and disconnect from the world. As wonderful as technology is, it also makes it impossible to disconnect from the world. Out on the water on my board, I feel disconnected from technology and connected with nature. It’s an amazing thing!
Favourite room in your house?
I am still in the midst of finishing my own apartment. I find that interior designers are always so focused on their projects that they often put their own homes on the back burner.
My favorite room growing up was the library in my parents’ house here in New York. I love libraries! If I could only live in one space, it would be a library! Each book in a library is like an old friend—it carries a memory with it.
This is very much the case of my childhood library. It is filled with books and objects collected over decades of travel. It is a space that inspires!
Top three instagram accounts you religiously check?
How can I choose only 3? What I love about Instagram is that you are seeing the world through the eyes of so many people! Each person sees the world differently and interprets the same subject matter in a different way than the other. It is fascinating to see those perspectives.
Similarly, that is why I scour the globe looking for items for my projects. Each vendor collects and displays items in their shop that appeal to them. If everyone had the same eye and the same passion, the world would be a boring place.
You are always traveling, what’s the place that feels like a second home?
London! How I miss London these days! Ever since I was very young, I have traveled to London for inspiration and to find things with and for my family and later for my projects.
Your house is on fire, what do you save?
One of my favorite books is “The Apartment Houses of Rosario Candela and James Carpenter” by Andrew Alpern. These architects created some of the best buildings and the best apartment floor plans in New York City in the first half of the twentieth century. The floorplans continue to stand the test of time as being the best. I look to these books for inspiration when I am planning my projects.
Phillip’s selection from the Guinevere Collection;
Follow Phillip on Instagram for more design updates and inspiration @phillipthomasinteriors
Photo credits Antoine Bootz, Eric Piasecki, Aydin Arjomand