Bunny Williams Introduces Her Upholstery Collection

Bunny Williams upholstery collection for Ballard Designs

Each time one of our designers introduces a new collection, we can’t wait to share their inspiration and decorating tips with you. For the introduction of her new upholstery collection, we sat down with acclaimed designer Bunny Williams to talk about the importance of silhouette, why she prefer solid fabrics on upholstered piece, and her must-haves for the coffee table.

Ballard Designs: Bunny, we’re so excited to be finally launching your upholstery collection! It’s been in the works for a while, and seeing the pieces in person blew us away. What made you want to design a line a furniture with us?

Bunny Williams: Since the launch of my tabletop collection four years ago, we’ve slowly been expanding the collection, and the one thing I felt would tie everything together was upholstery. It’s been fun to think about which furniture pieces would complement my other designs, and now you’ve got all of the elements in a room!

BD: Each of the pieces in this collection have really unique silhouettes and remarkable details. What inspired these shapes and how do they work together in a room and with other pieces we may already have in our homes?

BW: There are so many beautifully designed furniture pieces on the market already, so if I’m going to design something, I want it to be a little bit different. The classics are out there, so I’m always looking for the chair that has what I call ‘character,’ that has a little bit of pizzazz to it. The Scroll Arm chair is in between a big comfortable armchair and something lighter – those are always really hard to find for me. You find big, upholstered chairs and then light, open armchairs, and this is the perfect in between. This one is comfortable enough for lounging, but yet it’s lighter in feeling and easier to move around. You can pull it around your room and doesn’t weigh the whole space down like a big upholstered armchair would.

BD: Upholstery pieces are big splurges and not something we’re replacing too often. What fabrics do you suggest for the pieces in your collection? Do you have any tips we can follow when choosing upholstery pieces?

BW: I feel strongly that you’ll like a piece of furniture for a longer period of time if it’s a solid fabric. You can always change the look by adding a pillow or throw over the back, but I like my bigger pieces in a solid material. That could be a beige or tan if you like neutral or a color like blue. I think upholstery is best if it’s not too dark, but you can always protect the furniture by putting a throw over the seat. What you don’t want to do is recover it, and if you do a big print you’re more likely to tire of it.

BD: I love the bench seat on the sofa, and I think that’s a detail most people wouldn’t pay attention too. Is there a reason you chose a bench seat and tight back instead of a classic three-over-three?

BW: I just thought the scalloped back was fun and something you don’t see often. It’s playful and fun, but the bench seat is a great way to balance the scallop top because it’s so clean. They’re also so functional because it makes it easier for more people to sit on, especially if you have a small space. I’d even use this sofa as a dining bench with a long table!

BD: This Paris Slipper chair has an elegant shape and a compact footprint, but I’m curious when you like to use a slipper chair and when a room calls for an armchair? Why should we choose one over the other?

BW: I love slipper chairs for a number of reasons. You often need a little chair to tuck into different places in a room when you need extra seating. Even in a small room, you still want enough places for people to sit down, but you can have big armchairs. A pair of small slipper chairs against the wall or tucked into a corner give guests a seat but won’t clutter up your floor plan.

I find myself using these petite chairs in nearly every room though. I have one next to my bed for books and where I throw my bathrobe. They’re also great in a bathroom for stacking towels. I have a hard time finding them for my clients so it was fun to dream up my own!

Three raffia wrapped nesting tables next to sofa designed by Bunny Williams for Ballard designs

BD: You’re obviously a big fan of raffia, and we love the way you’ve used this material on both the nesting tables and the large coffee table. Why did you want to use this material, and why should we be excited about bringing it into our homes?

BW: I love raffia as a texture, and so many people mistake it as a material only for tropical locales, but I find raffia can really go any way. It can be traditional or modern, depending on the silhouette and other pieces around it. The Raffia Coffee Table has a simplified Chinese shape with the leg and bracket. If you study Chinese furniture you can see those shapes a lot. Covered in the raffia, there’s texture and interest instead of it being a dark wood or painted. Raffia has that airy, light quality and freshness to it. I use it all the time in my design projects!

I prefer rooms to have different textures. If you have a room where everything is brown, you can’t tell one thing from another. I’ve always been about mixing wood with painted finishes, and raffia gives you a third texture to play with.

In this living room, every single piece stands out on its own. The wooden benches with the raffia table and the painted cabinet. They’re all different, and yet they work together so things have interest. Plus, they’re all different shapes. You’ve got the nesting raffia tables that are a very clean, u-shape. Then, you’ve got these benches that are carved to look like knotted rope. When you put all of these things together, each piece stands out on its own.

Bunny Williams' raffia wrapped coffee table styled with books and accessories

BD: Your coffee table is a really generous size, so we’re curious about your favorite ways to style a coffee table. What are you go-to accessories for a coffee table and how much is too much when you’re styling this piece?

BW: You’re right, there’s a balance to it. You definitely want magazines you’re reading and the books you like to look at. I like to put a beautiful hurricane so that at night I can light a candle for some atmosphere. I’ll always add a wonderful box to hide the TV remote controls. Finally, I’ll add a cachepot so I can do a flower arrangement or a potted plant. Those are my essentials, but my biggest suggestion is just to not clutter up the coffee table too much. You want space to put down crudités or for guests to place their glass. My biggest pet peeve is when there isn’t a space to put a glass, so I leave plenty of empty surface space so you can use the table for what’s its meant for!

BD: We have to talk about this huge media piece. It’s so versatile, and we can imagine using it in a bunch of different ways – a bookcase, media piece, or even a hutch for dishes in your dining room. Where did the inspiration for this piece come from?

BW: This came from a piece I have in my office. I made some tweaks to the one from Ballard, but I loved the painted finish and the detailing of the diamond pattern of the original. Here’s the thing, we all need televisions, but I like to combine the TV with books and storage. This cabinet has plenty of space for a large flatscreen TV, all of your media pieces, a drawer for the remote control.

Or you don’t have to use it for the television at all! You could certainly have it serve as a bar or hutch in the dining room. That’s what so great about this bookcase — it’s multi-functional. So much more than a standard old bookshelf.

BD: Speaking of media pieces, how do you treat TV’s in your own home and your client spaces? Do you like to hide the TV when possible? Or do you leave it in the open?

BW: I do every possible thing. If someone’s building a house, my main concern is that all cords and connections are hidden, whether that’s by mounting the TV on the wall or in a cabinet. If you’re renovating, I always prefer to have the TV set into the wall so the edges are flush with the wall. This way, you never see what’s behind the TV with the cords and brackets.

If you aren’t renovating, a piece of furniture like this is nice. Sometimes I’ll just put a television on a stand on top of a long cabinet. I deal with them in all sorts of ways!

BD: We have to imagine that this little stool was inspired by a piece you’ve collected. Where does the quirky shape come from and how do you imagine us using it in our own homes?

BW: I just like things in a room that have a lot of character and are amusing. They’re perfect to pull up to a coffee table when you’ve got guests, or you could place one under a table when it’s not in use. They’re just fun and whimsical!

BD: Do you have a favorite piece in the collection? Something you’re just dying to use in one of your own design projects?

BW: Now that’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I’m just very proud of how well Ballard has executed each of these pieces. To carve those rope benches isn’t easy, so I love all of these pieces because they’re each unique and special, but when they come together the room feels finished and interesting. It all comes together beautifully. The combination works well together.

Browse Bunny’s entire collection for Ballard Designs or see more tips from this renowned designer.

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.