"I've always been interested in history and different periods of furniture," says James Huniford, the New York City-based designer long known for his use of antiques. The designer, called "Ford" by those he knows best, has a curator's eye for 18th- and 19th-century pieces and a fascination for everything from "grotto" furniture to painted Swedish décor. Yet while he's sourced antiques since the mid-1980s (he was partner in the renowned firm Sills Huniford), he admits that there's nothing so lovely as shopping from home, be it his Manhattan loft or his Hamptons beach house. "The internet has made it so much easier. It's genius! Park yourself in front of the computer and go all over the world," he says.
Whether it's shopping for clients or for himself (his private collection includes pieces by Bugatti and Roentgen), Huniford believes that timeless furnishings prove sound investments. Items like klismos chairs and natural stone tables can easily evolve with an owner's changing tastes. He's also quick to note that there are ways to tailor classic items to better suit your needs: he didn't hesitate to sew several Turkish kilims together to fill one 28-foot-long space.
Aside from his use of antiques, Huniford is known for creating interiors that exude serenity. Counting nature as a major influence on his aesthetic, the designer advises seeking inspiration from the outside world. "Look at the bark on trees, the leaves. Look at the sunset and see the way the sky illuminates colors." It's a subtlety that many of us miss as we hurry through the day but it's that pause which reflects in Hunifor's work. It's the reason his go-to palette of rich grays and creams is anything but boring, and it's why he's garnered a clientele that includes Tina Turner and Vera Wang.
Since founding his own firm, Huniford Design Studio, in 2008, the designer has continued to explore contemporary design through custom pieces for clients. Those designs lead to the creation of the Huniford Collection in 2013, which next month expands by 27 additional pieces. "My clients are self-made," he explains. "They're open minded in terms of having no restrictions and they want a combination of stylistic periods. They want bold gestures, not heavy handed décor." The new collection offers practical but luxury-driven pieces, including case goods, lighting and upholstered seating, and will be available at his Chelsea showroom, a space he describes as the ultimate expression of his design sensibility. "It's edited but playful, and filled with interesting objects."
Recently completing projects in New York City while beginning homes in Nashville and Indiana, as well as a ground-up project on a 50-acre compound on Martha's Vineyard, Huniford has simultaneously been designing a second collection for Lee Jofa. "The first one was such a success, we're doing another one," he states happily, adding that it's a complete departure. "We're going bolder and brighter — it's all about change."
What remains unchanged is Huniford's commitment to charitable causes, chiefly his role as founding chair of the Housing Works' annual fundraiser, Design on a Dime, which has raised $10 million for AIDS and homelessness efforts. From October 6-9, the organization will host a fundraiser in Brooklyn celebrating design, art and culture with 20 top interior designers. Spring will see events in Miami and Manhattan.
So with a career that's taken him around the world, is there anything the designer hasn't done? "I'd love to work on a yacht!" he exclaims. "I'd also love to design an artist's home." As he's currently in talks with a well-known artist on a possible project, the latter may just be a wish come true.