Checking in with Thomas Pheasant

October 31, 2012

Interior designer Thomas Pheasant spends a lot of time visiting clients from Singapore to San Francisco, and he has an apartment in Paris. But Pheasant, a fourth-generation Washingtonian, also has a lot going on right here. Last month, Pheasant, 57, introduced his latest furniture collection (75 pieces) at the Baker store, just a block from his Georgetown office. He’s working on houses in Kalorama, McLean and St. Michaels. And he recently began a long-term project to refresh the rooms at Blair House, the president’s guest house.

Pheasant is known for his look of luxurious understatement, with interiors that are at the same time modern and traditional, with mainly neutral colors. His client list includes the Hay-Adams Hotel and BET co-founder Sheila Johnson, for whom he designed a 100-year-old stone house in Virginia’s hunt country. Pheasant is one of the most published designers in Washington, although many of his well-heeled clients prefer to keep their names, if not their living rooms, out of the limelight. He is a fixture on the AD100, the annual list of top architects and designers compiled by Architectural Digest. In the 2012 list, the magazine describes Pheasant’s work as having “restraint, clarity and timelessness.”

Pheasant grew up in a split level in Adelphi and studied architecture and interior design at University of Maryland. “When I got out of school, all my friends went to New York, but I decided to stay here,” Pheasant says. He worked briefly at a fabric showroom and after graduation was hired by designer Victor Shargai as an assistant. At age 24, Pheasant opened his own firm.

I caught up with Pheasant a few weeks ago at the Baker store in Georgetown, where we tested out his new furniture and discussed current projects. Here is an edited transcript.

When did you first know you wanted to be a designer?

Thomas Pheasant (From Thomas Pheasant)

On my third-grade field trip, we took a big yellow bus to the National Gallery. As I waited in line, I looked up at the Rotunda. It just overwhelmed me. It’s the first emotional connection to a space that I recall, and I was thinking I would love to live there.

In the past decade, how has your design changed?

Both my furniture designs and interiors are moving in the same direction. I am putting a lot of effort into streamlining both. I take classical ideals and strip them down to the essential, whether a sofa or an interior.

I hear you have a new role at Blair House, the president’s guest house.

Yes, I am very honored. I started planning things in March. We are in the process of assessing some earthquake damage and creating a comprehensive plan. Some of the guest rooms need some freshening up, of course, still in a traditional way but with a modern feel. There need to be places to plug in your iPad. You want the rooms to be fresh and bright but connected to the history of the house. I think what Mario Buatta and Mark Hampton did with the rooms is fantastic. And I hope I can keep that spirit going.

You design all over the world and have a place in Paris. What do you like about D.C.?

I like the human scale of this city. Of all the cities that I visit, I seem to like it the best. I like all the green spaces and the fact that I can walk for blocks and blocks from my Georgetown office to the Capitol, and there is always something to look at. I love all the museums, of course. And I love to take guests to Dumbarton Oaks.

Pheasant’s Constellation Mirror was inspired by a brooch he saw in the window of a Paris antique shop. (BAKER)

Where do you like to eat in D.C.?

I am always loyal to Nora’s. I also love Blue Duck Tavern.

Are you working on any new collections?

I am working on a rug collection. I also have china, crystal and silver coming in the fall of 2013.

I understand you have a book in the works?

Yes, with Rizzoli. It’s scheduled for fall 2013. It’s all about my point of view and the way I look at creating. It’s not a how-to book. My goal is to share my process and help people find their own process. The title is “Simply Serene: The New Luxury for Modern Interiors.” “Serene” is a word many clients use to describe my look.

Would you share a favorite white paint?

Benjamin Moore 925 [Ivory White] is great for basic white walls. It’s a chameleon color, and it accentuates everything in a room.

Name an iconic piece in your Baker line.

The Constellation Mirror [$5,492] that I designed in 2002 is still one of the best-selling pieces. I was in Paris and saw a diamond brooch in the window of an antiques shop. It had radiant little diamonds coming off a center stone. I took a photograph of it, and later when I was designing my collection, it inspired this mirror.

Is your last name really Pheasant?

Yes. My ancestors were gamekeepers in England.

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m.Sherry and John Petersik, who write for the popular blog Young House Love and have a new book called “Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love,” join staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice. Submit youir questions.

The home and design coverage of Jura Koncius has taken her inside hundreds of homes, from tiny studios in Penn Quarter to country castles in Warrenton. Jura also hosts the Home Front live chat, Thursdays at 11 a.m. ET.
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