Master Class: Jamie Drake

Full-on Courageous Color


I met Jamie Drake while visiting a friend in the Hampton’s nearly 25 years ago, and luckily we’ve remained friends ever since.  Over the course of that quarter century, I’ve watched his unique sense of style and fearless use of color chronicled in the pages of every important glossy – garnering him a spot at the top of the list of established interior designers.    A few weeks ago I asked Jamie if we might have a chat about his career.  I’d like to share the insights I gained into what makes him such an incredibly talented man.

Seemingly the obvious first question, I wondered when Jamie realized he had an interest in interior design.  He laughed and told me that his first design projects were in the backyard fort he’d erected at his childhood home around the age of 7.  Arranging and re-arranging the “antiques” (rusted basins, flint glass bottles and tools) into vignettes was as natural an activity for him as softball was for others.  His parents, Mom a painter and Dad in the printing business, both had a clear sense of color, which inspired his curiosity.  “I’m convinced that being around paint squeezed right out of the tube, and printers ink in vast tubs – so shiny and intense – had a big influence on me.”  “They supported my creativity by enrolling me in art classes as a child, where I loved collage, painting and drawing.”  The foundation of his career was established.  Seeking to further his innate interests, Jamie enrolled in a work-study program while in high school, at [the then] largest contract interior design firm in Connecticut – marking the start of his formal career.  Logically progressing to the undergrad program in design at Parsons, he had the good fortune to secure a summer internship at Donghia Associates with the legendary Angelo Donghia, whose work he greatly admired.  I asked what other design professionals he would credit with having influenced him.  He shared that Yale Burge (coincidentally his father’s first cousin, and Angelo Donghia’s mentor), Albert Hadley, Stephane Boudin, Valerian Rybar, Warren Platner, Mark Hampton, and David Hicks all shaped his ideals. “I clearly like things bold and polished”.

I’ve observed that “Jamie Drake” seems to be synonymous with strong color, most notably purple.  I asked if it was his favorite, and if he found any color challenging to work with.  “I do love purple, I’m an Aquarian, so amethyst is my birthstone… but I don’t have a favorite color.  People see a room I’ve designed with bright green, vibrant yellow or shocking pink and say “Ah, it’s your color”!”  “The truth is I tend to move toward general tones versus a specific color., and there isn’t a color that I dislike working with.  Right now, I’m feeling a lot of grey and feel drawn to cooler backgrounds with coral, peridot and plum mixed in.”

Always interested in learning how a designer establishes a direction for working with a new client – I asked Jamie how he cultivates a collaboration. “Channeling the client’s personality is what excites me, and is essential for a successful outcome.  I love figuring out what would be right for them, based on our conversations”.   While on the subject of collaborations, I asked how the experience of working with Mike Bloomberg on his private residence, as well as being tapped to oversee the refurbishment and decoration of Gracie Mansion was for him.  “Mayor Bloomberg is wonderful, and having the opportunity to oversee the restoration, refurbishment and decoration of Gracie Mansion was a high point of my career… and I’m thrilled with the end result”.  As for what’s next, he confided that Drake Design Associates is lucky to be very busy.  Current projects include interiors on Sutton Place, Long Island’s south shore, and in Seattle among others.  There are also new product lines with his name and signature style – including new lighting for Boyd, as well as upcoming collections of furniture for Lewis Mittman and bath accessories for Labrazel.

As we neared the end of our second cappuccino, I realized again that Jamie Drake is a gifted conversationalist.  I began thinking about a fantasy dinner party for 6… and the subjects that might come up.   I asked him to imagine being able to invite anyone from history he could.   Who would he invite and what would he serve?   With an impish ear to ear grin, and without a moment’s hesitation he chimed in.  “First, the food!  We’ll have prime rib with Yorkshire pudding from Minetta Tavern, with potato gratin and sautéed watercress.  As for guests, I’d invite Coco Chanel, Vladimir Putin, Edvard Munch (what kind of day was he having when he painted “The Scream”?!?), Marie Antoinette and Mary J. Blige”.

As we parted company, I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d mind setting the table for 7.

A celebrated living room from a residence in East Hampton by Drake Design Associates

Drake Design Associates    315 East 62nd Street  New York  10065   212-754-3099