Podcast, Episode 71: designer Brian McCarthy

Designer Brian McCarthy in his Manhattan office

Photo: Francesco Lagnese

Brian McCarthy is an A-List designer with experience on projects all over the globe. His designs are clean yet bold, traditional and contemporary with a fantastic eye for picking incredibly gorgeous art. Today, he shares how to create compositions that embrace the bespoke nature of the project, how we can shop for art on a budget, and what to consider when designing a boat. Brian is also the author of Luminous Interiors and Parish-Hadley Tree of Life, which he co-authored with Bunny Williams.

What You’ll Hear on This Episode:

  • Taryn’s trial which includes Atlanta’s shocking ratistic (rat statistic) and how she and her husband are working to solve it
  • Caroline’s trial when breaking down her beautiful Christmas tree, leading to possibly the biggest LED light knot, mess and spilled paste mixture in history
  • Karen’s trial (but she owns being a 60%’er at least) of upholstering the doors in her guest bedroom. However, she made up for it with the best Christmas gift ever to her husband thanks to artist Lacy Freeman
  • How the idea for Parish-Hadley: Tree of Life came about, which lead to him first writing Luminous Interiors
  • How he handles clients that “ghost” him, and the reasons why he would possibly turn potential clients down
  • How Brian’s design creates a joyful scrapbook in people’s lives, to cover the beauty and art that makes up their personal lives
  • How working with Parish-Hadley informed the unique way he lays out a room
  • Brian’s tips for creating a composition that works, including why you should never leave home without a folding ruler
  • The glamorous makeover Brian gave to a storied New York apartment, and his tips to deviating from the expected path of design
  • How we can shop for art on a budget, and where Brian finds art for his clients
  • How designing for a yacht differs from designing for a home
  • The importance of finding a mentor when developing an understanding of cost, and honing in on what art and pieces speak to you
  • Simple easy ways to refresh your space and continue with maintenance that won’t break the bank

Decorating Dilemmas

Hi Ladies,

Love, love, love…the podcast.  Wish it were weekly.  So many great talents out there to hear from.  

I am considering a full refresh of my kitchen with new paint on my cabinets, new backsplash, and new countertops.  I love white marble countertops, but I am afraid.  I am open to quartz and Quartzite, but do not know which finishes would look fresh and more modern.  I would like to change lighting, window treatments, and hardware.  I may even paint my kitchen furniture.   I’ve even considered removing a cabinet or two and trying some kind of open shelving.  I’m not sure where to begin.  Before I dive in, I’d love to hear some expert advise. 

Thanks a bunch, Ginger

Brian would say to be open to quartzite, as it is practical and doesn’t easily dent. He thinks painting the kitchen would make a difference, and think about painting the lower cabinets a different shade than the upper cabinets. Don’t underestimate the power of a fresh and bright ceiling. Barstools could give it a more modern feel, and just be careful of white marble if you love a great red wine now and then. If you paint your floor, it could create a nice contrast. Make sure to send us photos of the after project!



Thanks for the podcast. I got married in 1994. We saved up and bought wood furniture from Ethan Allen. We still like these pieces. However, I noticed you talk about “brown furniture” as being a dreaded situation. What do you say to someone like me who tried to buy timeless pieces not knowing the actual stained wood is what is not timeless. 

Thank you! 

If it’s all very similar, there is a way to break it by removing some things from the group and introducing some new pieces. You can also refinish or paint something, and figure out a way to rework it so that it all doesn’t look as part of the set. There is nothing inherently wrong with brown furniture, and you can just keep an eye out for other things that work proportionately in your space. If you love what you have, live with it and enjoy it.

Show Notes

Please send in your questions so we can answer them on our next episode! And of course, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes so you never miss an episode. You can always check back here to see new episodes, but if you subscribe, it’ll automatically download to your phone.

Happy Decorating!

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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.