“I love it when you can’t really tell what something is, when it’s a bit mysterious,” says designer William Cullum. Inspired by a Victorian-era book cover, he recently festooned the pale gold walls of a prewar Manhattan apartment with hand-painted metallic spiderwebs that seem to appear and vanish as one moves around the space.
It was the Columbia, South Carolina, native’s affinity for the enigmatic—and also tradition (he double-majored in art history and historic preservation)—that instantly impressed his boss, New York designer Thomas Jayne, who hired Cullum seven years ago. “He has a special design genius that combines intellect, intuition, and imagination,” says Jayne, himself a member of CQ’s inaugural 1998 Next Wave class.
For Cullum, now the firm’s lead decorator, the past remains an undying muse for his present work. “There’s magic in the layers and textures that can be acquired only by the passage of time,” he explains.
It's why he prefers antiques to shiny new things. “They immediately give a room patina and personality,” he explains. Cullum urges clients to keep an open mind and not feel overwhelmed by the homework that goes with purchasing aged pieces. “It takes some patience and an eye to spot something really special, and it is always important to ask for condition reports to make sure you know what you are buying,” the designer says. “I use online auction sites such as Invaluable all the time, and since you are buying at auction you almost always get the best price (however, it only takes one other person to want it more than you to drive the price up).”
His mantra is to decorate fearlessly. “Don’t be scared of color or pattern,” Cullum says. “I don’t believe in the neutral room with a pop of color, or the rule that if it’s neutral you won’t get tired of it as quickly. I would definitely get tired of a room full of white furniture faster than a room full of color and pattern.”
This story originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of CQ.
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