An Interview with Joseph Minton
For 40 years, Joseph Minton has been turning homes into reflections of timeless good taste. Based in Fort Worth, TX, his influence has spread throughout America and across the globe. Minton's unbounded creativity has been applied to an ever growing variety of dwellings, from beach houses on Mission Beach and Sea Island to penthouses on Nob Hill, apartments on Park Avenue, even log cabins in Aspen and on the Snake River.
Both a decorator and antique shop owner, Joe Minton understands design and what works where in the most practical terms. His work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Southern Accents, Veranda, Traditional Home and Town & Country. He is listed among America's top designers and in 1996 was awarded the ASID Designer of Distinction Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Recently, Julie VanDolen sat down with Joe in his sample room to share a lunch of pasta and salad and talk about the world of Classic Style. You may be surprised by what Joe Minton has to say.
J.VD. Joe, thank you for being the first designer profile at Latique.com. As you know, we bill ourselves as a site that blends classic style with contemporary living. What is your take on this?
J.M. What amazes me is how quickly most people catch on to antiques and develop their tastes. It just takes exposure and interest. Then they find out that antiques are so easy to mix in.
J.VD. How do you expose them?
J.M. I’ve been educating clients for 40 years. You do it gently. If there’s a genuine interest, I can show them the really good stuff and explain things so that they catch on really quickly. A lot of my clients have become extremely knowledgeable.
J.VD. When we talk about Classic Style, people tend to think English. How do you feel about this?
J.M. Having lived in England, I’m influenced by English Country. The look, which has so many interpretations, holds up in the long run, even when the houses are worn and the curtains are worn. But we deal with a variety of styles.
J.VD. Are you saying that the English invented Rough Luxe?
J.M. If you’re talking about the "hotel" look, where everything is so pristine and clean with no imperfections and so hard…the imperfections of an antique really make it look prettier¬, truer.
J.VD. Is explaining that a challenge you frequently face?
J.M. Convincing a client that things can look imperfect and worn is one of the biggest challenges. I like the look of worn leather. I like the look of worn silk velvet. Some clients don’t like that and think everything should look brand new. I hate that look. I just went to a house where everything is pristine, new, gilt, just over-the-top opulent and I hated it.
J.VD. Are you saying that "worn" best describes your style, the one you would choose?
J.M. That’s my favorite and I like living with it. We even have wool carpets made at a mill where they stop the process before it’s completed so the carpet looks worn to start with. And that’s what I put in my own house.
J.VD. Is that the Joe Minton signature look?
J.M. (Laughter.) I just want it to look good. It can be contemporary; it can be rustic. I haven’t wanted to have a “look” that was just me. I don’t want someone to be able to go into a room and say, “Oh, Joe Minton did it. I just want them to say, “The design was so beautiful, [Joe] just had to have done it.” (Coy laughter.)
J.VD. You’ve done so many different types of houses, from New York City apartments to Colorado log cabins, are there any rules you abide by?
J.M. There are a lot of rules we think about…and then we break them. The most important thing is that a room must look comfortable and be comfortable. It’s not really beautiful unless you want to go in there and sit down, put your feet up and talk to people. A room should be inviting-- and to be inviting it’s got to be comfortable.
J.VD. Do you have favorite items you use to flesh out a look?
J.M. I tend to put an oriental piece in every room. A complete mixture of styles so that the whole is better than the parts.
J.VD. Please explain how that works.
J.M. For a room to be complete, you should be able to move it all around and still have it mix well. The telltale sign of a room well done is that if you are rearranging for a party and move accessories or put a chair in a different room, it all still mixes, still flows. We don’t want anything to be stationary.
J.VD. Are you saying all the rooms in a house should have interchangeable components?
J.M. Yes, we don’t want what I call “a personality change” from room to room.
J.VD. What do you tell people who have children and dogs? How do you not worry about nice pieces and antiques?
J.M. We want dogs and kids. In the Southern Accents Show House we have dog beds, dog showers. I have two dogs. I think all houses should have dog doors.
J.VD. We are dog people too…
J.M. You can kind of figure out, “the dogs can get on this sofa, but not on that chair.” Mine get on a leather sofa and the bed, but they don’t get on the chairs. Except Sassy sometimes will!
J.VD. I get it. You could have a throw for the sofa everyday and put that away when guests come over. Changing the subject, what do you tell the 20-somethngs that want modern or retro?
J.M. We do modern and retro.
J.VD. How long do you think the trend towards mid-century modern will last?
J.M. I think mid-century modern will become like high Victorian or early 19th Century. They don’t really go away, they keep evolving. My advice for anyone is: if something is very much in style, avoid it. Because it is going to go out.
J.VD. How do you feel about bold colors?
J.M. I have a rule for you. There are no good colors and there are no bad colors. It’s how they are all used. Orange and purple are sort of oddball secondary colors that can be used in many ways.
J.VD. So, you eschew the use of bold colors, is that what you’re saying?
J.M. I avoid colors that become extremely stylish. When all the magazines are pushing a color, that is the one you don’t want to use because it will go out as fast as it came in. Some colors go through about a 20-yer cycle of looking horrible.
J.VD. How about wallpaper?
J.M. I don’t think wallpaper ever really went out. It’s how you use it. I think faux-finishing absolutely got over done.
J.VD. What about lighting?
J.M. Extremely important. A beautiful room can’t really be beautiful at night if there’s not good lighting. There are many ways to do it. The more accent lighting you have the less you worry about central fixtures. It is better to have more than less because you can always dim it. The best is the Lutron lighting you can dim with one button.
J.M. We have tricks, like using inexpensive fabrics in huge quantities and expensive fabrics in small quantities. You get the look of expensive.
J.VD. You mentioned in the Southern Accents article how painted furniture is really hot now.
J.M. People have been painting furniture forever. Back in the 20s Syrie Maugham and other decorators were painting 18th Century brown English furniture white. People are still doing that.
J.VD. So you think painting brown furniture white is a good thing?
J.M. I think it’s better to paint brown reproductions white and leave the 18th Century pieces alone!
J.VD. How do you feel about buying reproductions versus real antiques?
J.M. Many times, I’ll be looking at something with a client and she will say, “Do you think it’s real?” I’ll answer, “Oh yes, it’s real because it’s so cheap. If it were a reproduction, it would cost four times as much!”
J.VD. That’s funny. I never thought of antiques as bargains. I guess they are though...You’ve been featured in Architectural Digest how many times?
J.M. About 12 or 13.
J.VD. With so many houses in your portfolio is there a project left you’d really like to take on?
J.M. Buckingham Palace. (Laughter.)
J.VD. Thank you so much for time, Joe. Your insights have inspired me. I’m sure they’ll have the same effects on our readers.
J.M. Good luck with Latique, Julie. I hope it’s a big success.
Note: For a look at Joe Minton’s portfolio, please visit www.josephminton.com