Designer Friday: Mary Tobias Miller

For over thirty years, Mary Tobias Miller’s first-rate services have adorned the homes of celebrities, socialites, and the creme de la creme. Educated at Hollins College and Parsons, Miller is the owner of Abode in North Carolina, a welcoming transitional and vintage decor boutique. Aside from scouring and sourcing for new finds, she is the principal of Mary Tobias Miller Interior Design, a full-service studio that combines her vintage vision with years of understanding. This week, she shared a bit of her knowledge, predictions, and inspirations. Vintage and vibrancy are Miller trademarks. Here, she composes a symmetrical, clean kitchen.

Andrew Joseph – What’s the one thing no one knows about you?
Mary Tobias Miller – That I have flown an airplane by myself – they call it a “Solo”.

Andrew – What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had?
Mary – At an age when most of my friends are retiring or at least starting to wind down, I’m just getting my second wind. Our interior design business is booming and I’ve just opened my second retail store in a resort area of the North Carolina mountains.

Andrew – Vintage or new?
Mary – It depends… We put vintage in “new structures” and new in “vintage structures”- The answer is in the balance and the mix

Andrew – Style (or design) icon?
Mary – So many – it changes – Vincente wolf, Piet Boon, Katie Ridder, Sister Parish, Phillipe Starck; Edwin Lutyens; Bobby McAlpine.

Andrew – What are three things you can’t live without?
Mary – Lipstick, wine, and family

Andrew – What’s one ingredient you put in everything?
Mary – Jalapenos

Andrew – Favorite app?
Mary – Venmo – ANYTHING THAT SAVES ME TIME! I somehow keep a lot on my plate so consequently, I’m OBSESSED with anything that saves me time – ie a shortcut across town; multi-tasking everything and VENMO (no checkbook, envelope, stamp, what is their address etc – HUGE!)

Andrew – Favorite bad movie?
Mary – Mr. Bean: He was about to be fired from The Royal National Gallery in London, but The Brits decide to send him to America (with false credentials) as an Art Expert from England. Painfully hilarious!

The period railing on this staircase is a step up from the usual. Modern lamps and pillows balance out the years for a sense of timeless comfort. 

Andrew – How would you define your work in three words?
Mary – Fresh, Balanced, Unexpected.

Andrew – What might the design world look like in 10 years?
Mary – It’s cyclical – and I’ve been doing this long enough to see for myself – so we’ll probably be back to the industrial gray look … much to my chagrin!

Andrew – What’s inspiring you in life (in the industry) right now?
Mary – Luxe is back – all things Traditional: florals, opulence, crystal chandeliers, vintage and antique furniture and (mostly) accessories. The ability to dignify every clients’ home with distinctive individuality. We were all looking very much the same, industrial, gray and again very much the same…

Andrew – Best advice you’d give your teenage self?
Mary – The advice my mother gave to me after every accomplishment -small or large: That’s wonderful honey, Now what are your going to do? I’m not sure it’s a healthy habit but It keeps you from resting on your laurels … consequently is probably why I’m never able to sit still and relax.

Andrew – A book that everyone should read?
Mary – I thought about this a lot and the truth is I don’t sit still long enough to read. We did a showhouse in the Hamptons last summer and we dubbed our room “The Reading Lounge” because it’s kind of a dream to imagine having enough time and being relaxed enough to sit down and just read…

Andrew – Best way to take a rest/decompress?
Mary – Taking suggestions

Andrew – Favorite city to recharge?
Mary – Paris, no contest

Andrew – A skill you’re working on mastering?
Mary – I can’t list just one – In this profession, I have to wear many, many hats with clients: so the skills range from a marriage counselor, therapist, physician, banker, mediator, good-cop-bad-cop, creative director, a close friend, and confidence.

Andrew – Song you can listen to on repeat?
Mary – If I hadn’t been an interior designer, I would have pursued a career somewhere in the music industry – Its a true passion of mine: my favorite songs change depending on mood; the season, and activity: maybe Ain’t No Mountain High Enough but favorites artists are Marvin Gaye; Prince (a genius), Chopin, The Chainsmokers, George Winston, Seal; Phil Collins, Sting and on and on.

Andrew – If you could switch lives with someone for a day who would it be?
Mary – Savannah Guthrie or Hoda Kotb. I get up every day at 6:30 to fix my first cup of coffee and settle in with Lilly (my 3-year-old Jack Reagle) to see the opening news at 7 am of the Today show. It’s a fight or flight thing to start my day…If there’s a crisis – I’ll need to implement my emergency plan

Andrew – What are you most excited about at this time in your life?
Mary – Searching for and finding that uniquely wonderful and beautiful object or light fixture or piece of furniture. Unique one of a kind finds is what make interiors interesting.Take a seat. This pink-accented sitting room has plenty to choose from!

About Mary Tobias Miller | Mary Tobias Miller has been an interior designer since 1983. She moved to New York City after earning a BA degree in Art History and Design from Hollins College and later went on to get her AAS degree from Parsons School of Design and The New School. Initially, Mary worked for Suzie Frankfurt interiors in New York. They designed a wide range of homes for prominent New Yorkers as well as many celebrities.

Before starting her own firm in 1986, Mrs. Miller took a design position with Dean Patterson Bauer of New York. In 1986, Mary Tobias Interiors (later Mary Tobias Miller Interior Design) was established.

More recently, she opened Abode in Charlotte North Carolina. Abode houses a retail showroom of transitional and vintage home furnishings and accessories. In addition, Mary Tobias Miller’s full-service Interior Design Studio operates out of the showroom.

About Andrew Joseph | Andrew Joseph’s passion for design and rich journalistic history led to the launch of his boutique PR firm in 2012. Prior to enjoying the successes of Andrew Joseph PR, Andrew honed his editorial skills at Vanity Fair and Allure. This experience, as well as the strong network of contacts developed over the years in public relations, brings a valuable edge to his new role as contributing editor. Let the musing begin.

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