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Q&A with designer Mary McDonald

Olivia Fortson

Mary McDonald is the internationally acclaimed Los Angeles-based interior designer who’s the breakout star of Bravo TV’s hit show "Million Dollar Decorators,” which gives a behind-the-scenes look at some of L.A.’s top interior decorators. She is also an author (“Mary McDonald Interiors: The Allure of Style”) and creator of several product lines including lamps and rugs, plus a new fabrics and trimmings line for Schumacher. She was in Charlotte April 17 speaking at the Mint Museum Auxiliary’s annual fundraiser, the Room to Bloom Symposium, and was guest of honor that evening at a cocktail party fundraiser for the auxiliary at the stylish home of artist Windy O’Connor and her husband, Blake.

During an interview the next day at the Mint Museum Uptown, which McDonald deemed “world-class,” she spoke about her design inspiration, how she likes to entertain and easy ways to update your home.

What’s your impression of Charlotte? “Nothing is as pretty as the South. It will be depressing to go back to L.A. I found that people here really appreciate my aesthetic and my designs. There are some really stylish homes here. And everyone is so friendly and nice.”

What’s your advice for updating a home on a budget? “Paint is your best friend. If you have a dark room, make it a little darker and paint the ceiling a pastel color. Or you could have a painter do a pattern on your floor. Keep it simple. Maybe wide, diagonal stripes using two colors based on colors in the room’s fabric. The absolute easiest way is pillows. If your room is mainly beige, add pillows in a couple of colors. It can shift the whole look of the room.”

Where do you find inspiration for your designs? “I’m constantly inspired because there are so many things to see in the world. I’m really liking the chandeliers (in the museum’s restaurant, Halcyon) made of twigs and branches. They look like each is one of a kind and handmade. I also love (photos I’ve seen) of the patterns created by the Japanese artist (the Mint Museum’s recent exhibit “Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto,” a temporary art installation created from grains of salt). I really like that it doesn’t look as if the pattern is repeated. I might use that as inspiration for a rug, but I’ve found that even though I don’t always like repeated patterns, customers do.”

Did you hesitate before signing on to do a reality TV show? “Yes! When they offered it to me, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Then an agent told me that there were clients in L.A. calling all the time to try to get on a reality show and that if I turned it down, I would regret it in a year. It’s real and it’s scary – if you let something happen on camera they will use it – but I’m so glad I said yes. I will say I think I come across as more intimidating on camera than I am in real life. There will be more TV in my future. I can’t say anything more than that right now.”

How do you prefer to entertain? “I think casual is best. I have more than a hundred glasses made of inexpensive pressed glass in different shapes, styles and colors and when guests come over they each get a different one. It looks bohemian and adds a lot of fun. In the spring and summer I love to entertain outdoors using indoor furniture. I set up groupings underneath my trees that look like little living rooms. Using indoor furniture makes it look really pretty and soft. I leave the furniture out – I cover it in case of rain – and when the weather turns cooler, I move everything back inside.”

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