McMillen Inc. 2013

Master Class with Ann Pyne, the firm's current President

House BeautifulHouse Beautiful February 2013    Decoration by Ann Pyne of McMillen, for her mother, Betty Sherill

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McMillen, Inc. was founded in 1924 by Mrs. Drury McMillen, a young married woman from St. Louis who’d moved to New York City.   She operated out of her townhouse at 148 East 55th Street, selling 18th century furniture sent to her from Europe by William Odom, who was then the head of the Paris Atelier of the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts.

In 1972, Betty Sherrill assumed the President’s chair for the firm from Mrs. McMillen, and held that position until 2000.   In that year, Luis A. Rey (who had joined the firm in 1972) took the helm.  Ann Pyne (Mrs. Sherrill’s daughter) succeeded Mr. Rey in assuming the role.

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to chat with Ms. Pyne.  We discussed the home she recently decorated for her mother (featured in this months House Beautiful), interior decoration in the age of the internet, and her fondness for Clarence House fabrics.  She also shared a few of her favorite resources. (That’s a cue to open Evernote!)

House Beautiful Feb13 cover…………………………

By all accounts, it’s an astonishing achievement for a firm to be in business for 89 years, let alone in the interior design business of New York City.  Arriving at such a milestone requires vision, commitment, integrity, and above all else, style.  I think it safe to say that McMillen has all those attributes in spades.  During our conversation, here’s what Ms. Pyne had to say about McMillen in 2013.

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House BeautifulThe Tailored Dining Area

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Ann, you’ve got an enormously famous interior designer for a mother.   How influential has she been in forming your personal aesthetic?  

I’m not sure I learned this lesson very well, but she tried to teach me the importance of being unpretentious in decor.  She could not have been more correct, even when ‘designing’ (a pretentious word) a luxurious and formal room.  Whichever room I am looking at or into, I always judge it first in this context.  At my wedding, for instance, which was quite a big to-do, my mother had simple pots of geraniums on the tables.  Granted, it was an afternoon wedding in 1978, so expectations were different.  I also had a wedding dress made by Bill Blass.  However, the dress had no train to speak of, with just a shoulder length veil made of organza, and had little green flowers sewn about here and there.  Very simple.

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Interior design has changed radically in recent years as the internet has morphed nearly every part of our industry.  What do you see as the upsides, and downsides of working in the digital age? 

I use the internet for research and communication on an almost hourly basis.  But overall, I think the internet has made our profession quite a bit more chaotic.  Many clients use the internet  (mostly 1st Dibs) with the best of motives – intellectual curiosity and excitement about their homes.  They have every intention to pay you as they would if you had found the object and brought it to them.  But even so, the time spent in vetting their ideas is almost unmanageable, because the internet provides such a wealth of opportunities.   And some of the ‘ideas’ are impractical – bureaus in Phoenix when you live in New York?   And, of course, some clients use the internet with the worst of intentions, to cut you out of your due profit.  I feel like telling them, “Wow, good for you!  You found my secret source.  NOW WHAT!”  Unfortunately, the internet creates a huge and unjustified sense of entitlement in many cases.  Or perhaps empowerment is a better word.

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The house you’ve decorated for your mother is divine.  You affinity for mixing pattern and color is inspired.  Is that part of your signature? 

Thank you for the compliment.  But no, the mix of color and pattern is probably more part of my mother’s signature, which I tried to imitate.

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House BeautifulBetty Sherrill’s Bedroom

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Whose idea was the overarching yellow scheme? and the shades of lavender and pink?  

Yellow was the McMillen ‘color’ of choice for my mother’s boss, Mrs. Brown, and also for my mother.  They both had yellow drawing rooms in New York, and my mother had another in Southampton.  Mrs. Brown’s yellow dining room was on the cover of our 1980 book, Sixty Years of Decoration; The World of McMillen Inc.  

Yellow was my choice for my mother’s house, in the literal sense, but it was a foregone conclusion in that it was an homage to what my mother believes in.  With regards to shades of lavender and pink, my mother likes pastels.  Apple green is also a favorite color of my mother’s – her signature color as I was growing up – and it’s a secondary color in almost all the rooms.   Yellow is a hard choice – if it’s a little ‘off’, it can be disgusting.  However, it’s a sophisticated choice, which is probably why Mrs. Brown liked it, and I was challenged to use it.

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House BeautifulA Guest Bedroom

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You chose one of my favorite Clarence House prints for some curtains.  Was that a nod to the well established relationship McMillan had with the storied fabric house? 

Where else do you regularly find yourself hunting for chic fabrics?  I was happy that the fabric came from Clarence House, because Clarence House has always been very generous to us at McMillen, and the house represents one of the legends in design.  In that, I was also happy that another prominent fabric in my mother’s new house came from Brunschwig and Fils, not only because Brunschwig has always helped us out too, but also because Zelina Comegys worked at McMilllen in the 1930’s, before she married Colonel Roger Brunschwig, and became the director of today’s famous fabric house.  But back to the fabric: actually, it wasn’t a nod, it was just that the fabric caught my eye.  Maybe I always wanted to use the jungle print from Clarence House, and never could find quite the occasion, and this fabric was in the same spirit.

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Who are the 5 ‘go-to’ vendors and products that are essentials in an Ann Pyne interior?

Well, R. E. Steele Antiques in Easthampton has to be number one.  Then Rago Auctions in New Jersey, and Galere on the South Dixie Highway.  Those three alone comprised 80% of my mother’s new house.  I also love New Orleans Auction, but not much is in my mother’s house from there, despite the fact that New Orleans is my mother’s home town.  As for the fifth – well, all the vendors I love can read themselves in!

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House Beautiful…………………………

What’s next for you?  Any new and exciting projects on the horizon?

Making sure McMillen makes it to 100 years!  How old will I be then?   Well, let’s see… 2024…

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I’d like to say a special thanks to Ann Pyne for being so generous with her time, for sharing some of the back story about her Mother and her newly decorated house, and for sharing some of her favorite vendors.  Also a special thanks to House Beautiful for sharing some of the stunning images from this months magazine.  To see the rest of the home, and the many other exciting interiors chronicled in the February issue, stop by HouseBeautiful.com, or pick up your copy at the newstand!

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anne-pyne-1Ann Pyne

logo_insidehttp://www.mcmilleninc.com/

155 East 56th Street  New York City  10022     212-753-5600

5 thoughts on “McMillen Inc. 2013”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your interview with Ann Pyne. It’s encouraging to see such a venerable design firm still going strong and staying true to it’s founder’s and vision. Here’s to making it to 100!

    1. Thanks for the kind compliment Carl. I’ve always been a fan of McMillen, and think Ms. Pyne is doing an incredible job at the helm.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your interview with Anne Pyne. It’s encouraging to see such a venerable design firm still going strong and staying true to it’s founder’s vision.

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