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How ‘cozy, bohemian elegance’ became the design signature of Schuyler Samperton

“I’m a bit of a stranger in a strange land,” Schuyler Samperton says with a light laugh. “My vibe isn’t what I’d call ‘typical L.A.’ I like older houses, quirky nooks, layers and color, and objects that mean something.” Her enthusiasm is building, and she’s starting to sound like a teenage music lover rattling off the names of her favorite artists: “I love napkins and plates and a ton of paintings on the wall. I love everything so long as it means something!” 

On today’s Zoom call, the Los Angeles designer is the human embodiment of her philosophy, sitting cozy on the floor of her home office, bathed in a warm pool of light emanating from an antique lamp overhead. A portrait of her beloved and recently departed dog Tricky hangs in the background (Tricky’s likeness also appears on a hand-painted mother-of-pearl coin that she wears around her neck).

I like older houses, quirky nooks, layers and color, and objects that mean something.

Schuyler Samperton

Samperton has been a fixture of the California design world for decades. Yet it’s her East Coast roots that galvanize her traditional yet improvisational aesthetic. She grew up in the Wasp stronghold of Washington D.C., in a household where dinner parties were frequent, and rarely about the food. Her father was an architect who worked on embassy residences, her mother a glamorous and highly energetic hostess with an eye for the finest things. “My father taught me that people gravitate toward cozy, small spaces,” she says. “And my mother had this bohemian elegance that I always admired.” 

Both first-rate aesthetes, they instilled in their daughter an appreciation of fine living and the classically beautiful, and schooled her in identifying treasures—be they Moorish tiles or pet pendants painted by “some ancient German man” (she ordered her Tricky trinket from the Hollywood designer Irene Neuwirth).

Samperton launched her own textile company four years ago, starting with eight patterned fabrics and expanding into wallpaper and performance fabrics. “I’m fortunate enough to be working in one of the few industries that improved in the pandemic,” she says. Sales were up 76% in 2020, and her three-person team is busier than ever, rolling out more patterns and color waves than she can count. 

She now juggles her eponymous home goods line and the bevy of home-design project requests that keep rolling in (the Covid home do-over boom is very real, she says). Her most recent commission was the three-bedroom Santa Monica Canyon home of a friend, a single father who works in finance and moonlights as a writer. He had been renting a home nearby and fell in love with the canyon views and the neighborhood’s low-key spirit.

Schuyler Samperton’s Santa Monica Canyon interior design project (Photo credit: @lisaromerein)

So, he decided to buy a stucco house three doors down the road. “It didn’t have anything extraordinary,” she says of the property before its gut renovation and subsequent Samperton makeover. “When we first saw it, it was a collection of little warren-like rooms. The garden was neglected and there was no proper flow.” Now it’s been reimagined into an airy oasis, with a gorgeous front garden and Big Sur-inspired interior, brimming with wood and sunlight and greenery. Samperton’s job was to infuse the space with natural materials, and a relaxed, bohemian comfort. “But he loves color,” she says, “and he didn’t want it to be monochromatic.”

With Samperton at the helm, there was little cause for such concern. Her yen for pattern, texture, and color is legendary, and she brought in upholstery and rugs and bedding layers to inform the place’s color palette of blues and purples. One of the most stunning corners of the home is the powder room (below), which she wallpapered in a plum C.F.A. Voysey pattern, whose Art Deco vibe calls to mind William Morris. She also put plants to dramatic use, setting them up to spill out of wall crevices and border mirrors. “I love working with flowers, but that didn’t feel right for him,” she explains.

The powder room in Santa Monica Canyon, with plum C.F.A. Voysey-pattern wallpaper (Photo credit: @lisaromerein)

Ferns and fig trees took their place and imparted an extra layer of lushness and a slight ‘70s throwback edge.

The textiles are a mix of the designer’s own (her classic Cordoba paisley covers the dining chairs) and pieces that she sourced from purveyors around the world. What mattered was that nothing read as stonking new. “I like things to look like they’ve been around for a while,” she says. “Like they’ve aged, but in a good way.”

It’s a vantage point that explains her modus operandi, which hasn’t changed much since the days when she was a former music publicist who had started assisting her pal, Hollywood designer Michael S. Smith. She helped out on projects for everyone from Cindy Crawford to Rupert Murdoch, honing her skill at and fusing her East Coast pedigree with West Coast fabulousness. While many of her contemporaries prefer to go by the designation “interior designer,” she prefers “decorator,” and all its mid-century connotations. “I like the old-school vibe,” she says. “When you think of the doyennes of design, that’s what they called themselves. Sister Parish, Nancy Lancaster, Dorothy Draper, they were all part of that tribe. They had such an elegance about them.”

My father taught me that people gravitate toward cozy, small spaces. And my mother had this bohemian elegance that I always admired.

Schuyler Samperton

As did her mother, an honorary member of their tribe. “She was consistently on the Best Dressed List, with her head scarves tied low and just so,” Samperton recalls. “Style was a priority in our household. She was always wearing big giant dark sunglasses and a lot of really cool jewelry. She didn’t wear what other people wore.”

Samperton grew up revering individuality, and paying close attention to colors and details that her parents pointed out. “My mom could have been a decorator,” she says. “She taught me about flow, and about how rooms shouldn’t have all leggy furniture—in each space you had to have highs and lows.”

Highs and lows sounds about right. Earlier this year, Samperton traveled to Lakeville, Connecticut to visit a friend who tested positive for Covid-19. Samperton had to spend her 60th birthday in quarantine. “I went for a walk by myself and watched some bad TV and a friend dropped off an apple pie,” she recalls. Her global travels, too, have taken a backseat, and she is relying on her older brother Kyle to keep sending her his Instagram finds. “He is like one of my absolute best friends,” she says of her fraternal muse whose electronic gifts keep her mind whirring. “He sends me everything from pictures of Marisa Berenson and David Bowie to Native American jewelry or a photograph of 1920s women on the beach.”

Most recently, Samperton launched two new fabric patterns—and more are on the way, as well as a secret project that was inspired by a fragment of vintage French wallpaper. “My problem with this whole thing is that I can never narrow it down,” she says. “I have a really hard time figuring out what to come out with next, because I love everything.”

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