Miles Redd pads barefoot down the sisal staircase of the 1826 Noho townhouse he shares with his sister, her husband, and their 21⁄2-year-old son (also named Miles). “Has anyone offered you something to drink?” he asks in a light drawl. By “anyone,” Redd must be referring to his mother, up from Atlanta for the weekend and holding the fort until her youngest is ready to receive. “We weren’t even out that late last night,” she’d said as she answered his powder-blue front door in a piped pink pajama top, “but Mahls isn’t quite dressed yet.” When he does appear, in a wrinkled Abercrombie & Fitch button-down and slim khakis, he asks, “Water, orange juice, Coca-Cola?” No coffee, just cola.
Redd, 34, the rising-star decorator of choice for clients who want the trappings of tradition in a vivid modern frame, wanders back into the kitchen. The kitchen radiates much of his signature style. The countertops and backsplash are 11⁄4-inch sheets of mirrored glass, which triple his extensive collection of barware with a photorealist intensity. The bits of wall that peek through are celadon blue, the cabinets ebonized, the floor white. All is tailored, elegant, and just slightly over-the-top.
A Redd room starts with the surfaces, which tend to be hard, glossy, or both. He loves glass for its seamless, reflective qualities. “It comes in any color, and it is cheaper by the foot than tile once you factor in the installation costs,” he says. For client Ethan Early, a lawyer, he mirrored the walls and ceiling of a windowless bathroom in the blue apartment featured here. “Thank God I’m not overly body-conscious,” Early says. “If I was, I’d have trouble taking a shower. You can’t hide anything from anybody.”
After the glass comes the paint. “Too many people just choose white walls, and not the prettiest shade of brown floor. It doesn’t always make for electricity,” Redd says tactfully. “What about white walls and blue floors? I like the reflective quality that high gloss gives. It is also incredibly durable—you don’t get fingerprints.” He also likes painted floors; when they are worn, you just repaint. If you hire Miles Redd, you’ll repaint in stripes, checkerboard, or perhaps a Greek key pattern.
Finally come the objets: Pieces of coral cozy up to Jonathan Adler lamps. Huge porcelain vases take the place of sculpture. Miesian daybeds and Frenchy chairs coexist in neutral Ultrasuede.
Drinks in hand, Redd returns to the salon. Slim, pale, with a high forehead and thinning, close-cropped hair, he sits in a white Louis XVI side chair as elegant as he. During the interview he curls his bare feet against the legs and under the seat, as if practicing ballet positions.
Though he now appears a prince in a self-designed palace, twelve years ago Redd was a recent college graduate with an NYU film degree and no job. His first boss was East Side antiques dealer John Rosselli, whom Redd credits with developing his eye. “John loves everything from eighteenth-century portrait furniture to mid-century stuff,” he says. “I love a Deco screen, I love a huge modern painting. That’s where I got my education in furniture.” In those days, Redd was experimenting on his own apartment, painting the floors, haunting the flea markets, and, as he puts it, “styling it up.” After a year and a half, Rosselli recommended Redd to the venerable Upper East Side decorator Bunny Williams, with whom Rosselli owns the garden shop Treillage.
“John said, ‘Miles is a bright young man, and I think he’d be perfect working for you,’ ” Williams remembers. She started him out as a shopper, “because that’s the way you learn to see their taste.” Then he was allowed to redo an apartment at 79th and Park, and another, and another. The apprentice’s work was becoming known; he took on more and more projects for Williams and was running himself ragged. By 1998, “I was exhausted and terrified and not sure I wanted to continue,” he says. So he went to France and painted for six months—large, striking pictures of women both fashionable and slightly seedy, in the manner of his idol, Dior illustrator Rene Gruau. When Redd returned, a college friend hired him to decorate his apartment, then a friend of a friend asked him to do hers, and in 1999, Miles Redd, LLC, was launched. “I certainly think that he’s a star of his generation,” says Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s European editor-at-large. “There is a strong sense of personality. It’s a little whimsical, it’s very, very stylish, and there’s nothing remotely generic about it.”
Now his roster includes the Frelinghuysen family and socialite and restaurateur Allison Sarofim, and his work has been featured in New York and Elle Décor and is currently being shot for a story in Vogue. “What’s nice about being on your own,” says Redd, “is you’re in control. Every good decorator is a little bit of a control freak.” Sure enough, after I’ve looked at a book that he’s pulled out on the flowers at La Grenouille, he climbs up on the Louis XVI chair to put the book back in place immediately, pausing to straighten several pink volumes facing front. “When you’re in control,” he continues, “if you don’t click with someone, you don’t have to accept them as clients. Decorating is about personality. I love the people I work with.”
Asked for his influences, Redd cites the usual uptown and Francophile suspects: Jansen, Madeleine Castaing, and the De la Rentas—“everyone who is great”—with a few touches of personality, like William Haines, “for that 1930s Hollywood look I adore.” Most relevant to his own style, however, is couturier Charles James’s interiors for Dominique de Menil’s Philip Johnson–designed house in Houston. Inside the same sort of hard, high-gloss shell Redd creates, James added color, fabric, and romantic French curves. Redd’s colors are the lush-not-bright tones of James’s sumptuous, draped ball gowns: blush, azure, heliotrope. “I guess I have this reputation for color,” Redd says, “but it’s not Lichtenstein color.”
According to clients, Redd’s passion for color is always adapted to the particular personality. His work for the Frelinghuysen family provides a neat case study. Introduced to Bess Frelinghuysen by a mutual friend, he did her first apartment in suede and satin, plum and mauve. “He came over and painted a few old sticks of her furniture silver, he put silver paper on her bathroom walls, he painted something turquoise,” says Bess’s mother, Barrett Frelinghuysen, an environmental activist. “All of the things have endless charm.” So much so that he subsequently did over Barrett’s apartment in, she says, “1,000 colors of blue and green,” mounted Currier & Ives prints on grass-cloth walls at her father-in-law’s, and lacquered her sister-in-law’s walls red, silver gray, and moss green.
“We had an old, sagging house in the marsh filled with old, sagging furniture,” Barrett says. “He painted it, covered it, fixed it up, and put it in new rooms. We had rattan furniture from the 1920s that had been my husband’s grandmother’s. He painted it black and put on light-blue striped covers. It’s never a little change—it’s just boom!”
For the client in the pink apartment, a network-television correspondent whose employer insists that she not be named, the Redd boom! happened over lunch. “When I called him about doing my living room, he said, ‘Listen, give me three weeks, and three hours with your apartment and the service elevator.’ Three weeks later, he came over and told me to leave, so I went to lunch with a friend, and when I came back it was unbelievable. My apartment had been completely transformed.” She had been thinking of tearing down walls, but Redd changed the space with paint, art, and furniture. “At the time, I said, ‘This is really great, but I don’t know if I can keep all this.’ ” She sighs. "Of course, I bought everything.”