Old-world traditions may guide Michael S. Smith, but the nimble designer draws inspiration from a multitude of arenas. “I’m always obsessed with something new,” says the California native, who divides his time between Los Angeles, Palm Springs, New York, and Madrid.
The tastemaker for the private quarters of the Obama White House, L.A.–based Smith counts Cindy Crawford and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild among the admirers of his posh-trad vocabulary of contemporary art, deluxe antiques, cozy upholstery, and romantic fabrics inspired by English chintzes and Indian cottons. His style is knockout but never over-the-top.
He studied at Los Angeles’s Otis School of Design, spent a year in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he honed his sense of history and proportion, and returned to the States where he apprenticed for Jep Durenberger and John Saladino. At 23 he struck out on his own, not with the brash over-confidence of youth, but rather with a mature beyond his years knowledge.
“I’m interested in creating a specific culture for a space, whether it’s a child’s room or the Oval Office,” says Smith, referencing his highest-profile commission, the Obama White House. “It’s my job to make interiors that reflect the people who use them.” The designer also channels ideas into his Jasper furnishings collection as well as product lines for companies such as Ann Sacks and Baker.
His books are must-haves.“It’s important to be a perpetual student.” Smith is a master of graceful historically informed residences like the Malibu villa in his latest book, Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design (Rizzoli, 2013).