Ten Minutes With Susanna Salk
A design guru
photo by John Gruen
Susanna Salk possesses many talents: she decorates, writes books, has a design blog, produces videos, and stages houses. From her first book, A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style, to her most recent, Decorate Fearlessly: Using Whimsy, Confidence, and a Dash of Surprise to Create Deeply Personal Spaces, she has shared her expertise and her thoughts about learning to love one’s home.
Were you always interested in design? As a child, I was obsessed with glossy magazine ads. I decided I wanted to be the creative force doing big-time ad campaigns for companies like Chanel.
How did you break into the world of shelter magazines? My first job was at Conde Nast International. I worked in a satellite office that supplied assistants for all the foreign magazines—doing research and finding resources before the age of computers. I then went to Elle Décor, which was just starting up and worked in the marketing department. Then I worked on special projects at House & Garden.
How did you set upon the subject of your first book, the American WASP? I realized that, other than The Preppy Handbook, no one had done a serious book on the subject. I wanted to do a photographic celebration of WASP style and its impact on our culture.
You’ve just completed your eighth book. How do you come up with new concepts? Usually when I am in the middle of one book I come up with another idea. Decorate Fearlessly was inspired by my previous book Be Your Own Decorator. I had a chapter on whimsy—how to inject an unexpected element of surprise into a room. I wanted a book that celebrated details that give rooms that extra soul.
You are working with Stacey Bewkes and her design blog Quintessence. How did you two meet? I met Stacey at a book signing and told her how much I liked what she was doing. I proposed that we do a series of videos celebrating interior designers—the voices behind all the great rooms we see. It’s been a great success—we just hit over 200,000 views.
In your work, you come across new ideas all the time. Are you constantly changing your own home décor? I don’t believe a room should stay the same for more than five years. You don’t have to do the whole room over, but you should move things around—buy new pillows, put down a new rug. Look at a room with a fresh eye.
Best piece of design advice? Edit! From mudroom to basement, everything in my house is pared down. I only surround myself with things I really love and use. I have no storage bins or offsite warehouses full of things. I encourage people to get rid of stuff.
What pleases you most about living in Litchfield? I love that shared sense of community. It’s small but it’s not claustrophobic, and there are always new people to meet. We used to live in Roxbury and now live in New Preston. We bought a lake house with the intention of flipping it, but we loved it so much we moved in full time.