Each week, design doyenne Daniella Ohad talks with an industry-defining legend of interior design
This fall, Daniella Ohad hosts Interior Design: The Legends, a weekly virtual program presented in partnership with AIA New York and ASID New York, comprising one-on-one interviews with the world’s most admired interior designers. For the Design Miami/ Forum, Ohad recaps the highlights from each conversation.
“Let's face it, there is a lot to admire in Veere. But if we are talking about his work, then what I enjoy most is his uncompromising editorial eye. Each decision within a Veere Grenney interior is distilled down to its essence and, like a great scent, harmonizes with all the other elements to make the perfect whole. He not only achieves this but also manages to make all his rooms supremely comfortable and friendly to boot. To be able to balance the aesthetic and the practical so seamlessly in the way that he does is no mean feat, and I take my hat off to him.” —Jasper Conran, designer
To Veere Grenney, the guest speaker in last week’s Interior Design: The Legends program, interiors are a matter of the moment, and the role of the designer is to allow the dwellers to live in the spirit of the zeitgeist. Taste, for him, is dynamic, in perpetual transformation. It is not a fixed perception, but the product of the journey of life and a marker of a particular time in history. What is considered correct today will not be the same in the decades to come. Grenney knows this well, because he personally experienced revolutionary transformations in taste over the course of his 40-year-long career in interior design.
Known as the master of scale, color, and balance, Grenney is one of the world’s most admired and influential interior designers—his opinions are taken seriously. Since interiors are not meant to be timeless, he has no problem selling what he has and starting over and over again. Knowledge in history and architectural heritage, he says, is the key to formulating the intellectual aspects of interiors, merging various eras into one harmonious whole and allowing historical architecture to shine.
Grenney grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand, to British parents and later made London his home; Englishness stands at the core of his oeuvre. His interpretation, however, connects key elements of the traditional English style to contemporary lifestyle. Grenney admires late decorator David Hicks for this exact reason, for redefining Englishness, brilliantly fitting it to the zeitgeist, mixing iconic bold colors with antiques and modern designs.
Grenney has enjoyed very privileged training experiences, working with some of the most powerful and legendary talents in the history of British interiors. When he opened his own firm at 50, he was ready. The lessons he learned after years of observations allowed him to reimagine English décor and forge new horizons.
He started in the early 1980s as an antiques dealer at the showroom of influential British decorator Mary Fox Linton; from her, he inherited the art of the color. In the early 1990s, after briefly practicing independently, he went to Colefax and Fowler. It was the high moment of the country house style, and the firm had become associated with its ultimate expression. There he decorated state houses, large London Georgian houses, and closely studied the DNA of the English country house. This is where he learned the art of upholstery, the foundations of superb tailoring techniques, working with clients with great art collections, and mastering décor of comfort.
Grenney set out on his own when he knew that his taste had moved away from the traditional décor practiced by Colefax Fowler, and he felt the urge to begin branding his own voice. Interior design has since moved from grandeur to simplicity, from chintz to linen, from antique furniture to 20th-century modern, from unity to eclecticism, from generic to personal, from formal to relaxed, from splendor to paired-down aesthetics. In Grenney's interiors, don’t expect to see damasks, vibrant fabrics, and cotton chintzes, nor the refined 18th-century sensibilities associated with the design ethos of Nancy Lancaster, former owner of Colefax Fowler.
Grenney dressed up what he calls the Englishness mode with new traits. The unexpected has become his signature. He would not furnish an Arts and Crafts house with furniture of that period, but would rather use that furniture in homes built in other eras. He combines modernist, mid-century furniture with classical tailored curtains, and his interiors are always filled with surprises.
Grenney splits his time between his flat in London, a pavilion in the English countryside, and his house in Tangier. His home in Stoke-by-Nayland in Dedham Vale, a Georgian pavilion built as a hunting lodge, has an exquisite garden seen through large Venetian windows. He spends as much time as he can in his beloved Tangier, where he bought a house in the outskirts of the town overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. He loves everything about this ancient town on the Maghreb coast, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean—the climate, the layers of culture, the social life filled with aesthetes, artists, writers, and designers.
Veere Grenney is the ultimate English gentleman defined by his wit and acts of chivalry, admired by his clients and by the entire interior design community. “Veere is the consummate gentlemen of decorators,” American decorator Michael S. Smith once told me. “He is such a generous and gracious supporter of everybody’s work… and no one has a more refined and subtle hand with color than Veere. He is a wonderful person!” ◆
Open to the public, Interior Design: The Legends runs once a week between October and December. Register here. The series offers 14 units of continuing education credits with the International Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC).