Madeline Stuart


Our third vignette designer for the 2018 show is Madeline Stuart, a leading member of the Los Angeles design community whose projects reflect a collaborative relationship between architecture and furniture, function and form, client and designer. Over the past 25 years, the work of Madeline Stuart & Associates has been featured in numerous publications including Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, Veranda, Town & Country, House & Garden and House Beautiful. The firm has been distinguished by its inclusion on the AD100, Architectural Digest‘s prestigious list of the top 100 design & architecture firms. Since 2010 Elle Décor has included Madeline on their A-List as one of the top designers in the country as well. 

Madeline lives in the Hollywood Hills and Santa Barbara with her husband, writer Steve Oney, and Beatrice & Mr. Peabody, professional Jack Russell terriers. Here are her thoughts on decorating with art and antiques – and why the lamb chops at the opening night gala of the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show are not to be missed: 

How did you first become interested in antiques?
I’ve been interested in antiques for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a house filled with beautiful antique furniture and objects and every piece told a story of a period and a place. Contemporary furniture represents a snapshot of the moment—antiques represent history. They possess a patina that can only be achieved through time. My mother would go to London when you could still find exceptional things for a pittance. I remember being fascinated by an antique brass scale with all the little brass weights. 

Are there any specific historic periods that you are drawn to?
I’d prefer to answer a slightly different question. Namely, please identify what specific historic periods you’re NOT drawn to! That would have to be the Victorian period, specifically in this country. I have a love—or at least an appreciation—for so many different periods and so many different countries. I wouldn’t know how to narrow it down.

In your interior design work, what is your approach to incorporating art and antiques?
It’s the difference between couture and prêt-à-porter. I’d much rather find something unique than something that’s been mass produced. How thrilling it is to locate the perfect antique chandelier or an exceptional piece of artwork! I love the idea that you can suss out a piece that’s capable of transforming an interior from one that’s merely good to one that’s truly extraordinary. Antiques are one-of-a-kind and their uniqueness is what brings life and soul to a room.

What was your most favorite/memorable art/antique find? Or alternatively, can you tell us about “the one that got away”?
I have a friend who was in a junk shop and discovered a painting by Charles Sheeler, an artist whose paintings I adore. Sadly I don’t have such a dramatic tale to tell... I recently found a stunning little Jean Dunand vase for a terrific price. I felt like I’d stumbled upon a rare gem in a field of rocks—there’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt. At last year’s antique show I was so determined not to “let one get away” that I bought a Portuguese cabinet just because I didn’t want anyone else to have it! It’s sitting in storage because it doesn’t fit in either my LA or Santa Barbara house, but I fell so deeply in love with it, I bought it anyway!

What most excites you about coming to the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show?
The lamb chops! (seriously—my record is 13!) And the people watching!
I have such respect for the dealers and am fascinated by their unbridled passion for whatever it is they believe in, whether that be Asian antiquities or American folk art. I’m awestruck by the incredible range of beautiful things. And I love the enthusiasm of the people who attend—these are folks who truly enjoy a good party. And of course I’m compelled to torture myself by looking at all the exquisite jewelry that I can’t possibly afford to buy. I’m also excited to wear what I bought just for the show—so fabulous!

How do you walk the show? What are you looking for? Any tips for shopping the show?
I realize that everyone has a different technique when attending an antique show and I’m not sure my method has any merit. I have to go "round and round" - there’s no way I can see everything on the first pass. I find myself discovering objects toward the end of an evening, even though I may have spent time in a particular booth early on... Let’s face it, there’s a lot to see and a lot of lamb chops to eat in a very short period of time!

(Room photos, from top, by Victoria Pearson, Simon Upton, Dominique Vorillion, Trevor Tondro, Simon Upton)