Michael Taylor Interior Design

Patricia Gray Michael Taylor Interior Design

I recently received Michael Taylor's new book, Michael Taylor Interior Design. As most of you who read my Blog know, I was greatly influenced my Michael in my formative years in Design School. Not much has been published on his work outside of a few articles in Architectural Digest, so this has been a highly awaited book for me. Michael Taylor was dubbed the "James Dean of Interior Design" by Diana Vreeland and "the best decorator in the United States " by society and fashion photographer Cecil Beaton. Michael Taylor revolutionized interior design in the 1970's and 1980's with the "California Look". Taylor brought the outdoors inside with neutral palettes, natural light, large-scale furniture, and organic elements, especially stone, slate, wicker, and plants. His interiors expressed his love and appreciation of California and the outdoors. They were casual, comfortable, uncomplicated, and free of clutter. So much of what he created, we now take for granted, but he started it all.

Michael Taylor Interior Design

Taylor believed that nature was man's best friend. His first shop was located in San Francisco and a notable neighbour on the same 500 block of Sutter Street was Williams-Sonoma (circa 1956). Taylor was particularly taken with the imported oyster baskets that were originally used to transport oysters from the coast of France to Paris. Their heavy natural weave appealed to Taylor. They had a profound effect on him. He began to use them as vessels for towering plants and trees - fishtail palms, ficus, and Zimmer linden - creating a look that became fundamental to his interiors. He believed that plants prevent "a room from feeling over-decorated", "soften the light" and "help a room breathe and feel alive" and thus initiated "the plant in a basket craze" with these baskets that he purchased from his neighbour - Williams-Sonoma back in 1956.

Michael Taylor Interior Design

Above: The San Francisco penthouse Taylor designed for Al Wilsey and Pat Montondon, circa early 1980s. Michael Taylor Designs archives

Taylor was a proponent of white walls and ceilings. His interiors glowed with a specially formulated "Michael Taylor White". (Never pure white "Michael Taylor White" was a mixture of warm colors with a beige tone.) Although Taylor's rooms were known for their neutral palette, he always "advocated a strong secondary color and repetitive use of printed fabrics for a 'certain purity' and bold unified effect." He also clarified that "There is a tremendous amount of color in my rooms, but there are not many colors." In his formative years of his career he came to idolize the renowned decorator Francis Elkins (1888-1953), who has been quoted as being "one of the guiding forces in the whole development of what is the American style today". Taylor saw himself as Elkin's greatest disciple, and he believed completely in her genius. Michael Taylor died at the young age of 59 at the prime of his career. His work and the "California Look" that he invented continue to influence interior design today. The forward in this book is written by his good friend Rose Tarlow, herself a Design Icon in her own lifetime.

Francis Elkins Michael Taylors MentorRose Tarlow The Private House

Michael Taylor was known for his extravagant shopping marathons which are legendary. When Taylor entered a shop, he always paused at its threshold and scanned the entire showroom. He had the reputation of being able to home in quickly and precisely on the finest pieces of inventory. He "never forgot beautiful things. He constantly absorbed everything he saw and banked it as a source of reference." He imparted his depth of sensitivity to his clients, and made them aware that "it's got to sing and talk back to you, and be A plus, plus if it crosses the threshold" of your house. At Taylor's death in 1987 he had amassed an enormous trove of beautiful objects. Their was an auction of 1355 lots, including his clothes, books and orchids. The following is the official auction catalogue with several color photographs of the furniture and objects in their rooms and in place in the garden with a nice foreword by Paige Rense, Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Digest. I got my copy from the Bill Hall at High Valley Books.

The Estate of Michael Taylor

Interesting Statistic: House and Garden magazine devoted a record eighteen covers and more than one hundred articles to his work over a period of thirty years.

Previous posts on Michael Taylor: Michael Taylor - Good Design is Timeless David Ward Artist for Michael Taylor Top photo Patricia Gray

Patricia Gray writes about 'WHAT'S HOT 'in the world of Interior Design, new and emerging trends, modern design, architecture, and travel, as well as how your surroundings can influence the world around you. © 2007-2009 Patricia Gray Interior Design Blog


  1. he was a genius. great post!

  2. Thanks M21
    He was a true genius….I wish he hadn’t died so young. I can only imagine how he would be continuing to inspire us in today's world.
    Maybe he would be the Obama’s designer??

  3. He deserved the accolades...i've borrowed quite a lot of his design aesthetic...big trees indoors being one.

  4. I love his work, he was brilliant.
    So many inspirations come from his ideas. He loved orchids and nature and I feel connected...

  5. Wow! I guess I need to order Michael's book pronto. I have never heard about him, so I am totally curious to learn more about him.

    Love the plant shadows over the ceiling in the living room photography. I can tell that he was a master of playing with contrast even when he only used whites in his creative canvas.

    Great entry! Patricita

  6. Definitely a master designer. I like the hallmark of Taylor's look that you inserted. The first picture...is surely Patricita's great style(love the name Ivàn gave you) and while we are at it "Patrizia" is the Italian version. (which come from "patrizi" the èlite class of ancient Rome).

  7. * I don't think he EVER created ANYthing I didn't TOTALLY fall in love with ~~~ pure genius, of course~~~ I wonder what he would think now, of the direction things have gone in "today's" world of design... Hmmm... Many thanks, Linda in AZ *

  8. Wonderful post Patricia and I will be adding this book to my collection. I imagine the catalogue is the most fabulous though, xv.

  9. Patricia you always find the best of the best to share. love reading your post and truly feast for the eyes.

  10. Anyone who believes nature is their best friend...and uses neutrals to this success, is amazing in my book.

    Thanks for the formal introduction Patricia...I'll be looking for his book.


  11. Patricia,

    A wonderful post on a wonderful designer. I am adding his name to my list of books that I am collecting for myself & my daughter. The photos show how incredible neutrals can be and how important lighting is. Must go get more up-lights!

    All the best.

  12. Barbara21/4/09

    Dearest Patricia,

    I worked a few times at Mark and Jane Nathanson's home (page 200 in the book), in my old catering days. They collect a LOT of modern art and of course, Michael Taylor's modern design was a perfect "backdrop" for their art. (In fact, that is a Warhol of Jane in one of the photos). In addition, there were (justifiable) bragging rights in that "Michael Taylor did their home". But between you and me, because the home/outside shell was a bit older and more traditional, the rooms were not proportional for his large-scale designs. There was one room in which you had to step up into and that wasn't altered/remodeled-it was just left as it was but just "decorated over" and I always felt I was going to fall. It all was rather claustrophobic. They have since moved and again their new, modern home was featured in an Architectural Digest issue.

    I just went to Westweek in Los Angeles (March 26th) and the Michael Taylor Designs showroom (Space B542) had a booksigning with Stephen Salny for the new book. There was an outdoor loveseat piece with the signature spherical pillows, all covered in grass green terrycloth which was quite whimsical and clever.

    Take care-love your work and your love of beautiful things!


  13. Ahh yes - Michael was the best.
    It's fascinating to see how his influence has filtered down through the recent generations of design.

    Great post.


  14. Patricia, Love this post on Michale Taylor. I recall seeing on your blog the books that you recommend or read or something like that... perhaps they could even be bought. I cannot seem to locate it.

  15. I hadn't heard of Michael Taylor before I read your post. I like most of the things on the "Why Michael Matters" list -- I'm going to have to check out his book and see more of his work.

    Thanks :-)


  16. Dear Patricia,
    Before your post here, I was not aware of Michael Taylor before, so thank you. I learn so much in bloglandia!
    He seems very talented man and it's nice to know about someone that has inspired your work and probably many designers in the US too.

    Hope all is well in your world!

  17. I'm actually not that familiar with his work, but it sounds like I am probably influenced by him without even knowing it. Another book to add to my ever growing wish list!

  18. Oh my goodness....I love that writing desk.
    Beautiful work.
    Have a good day Patricia!

  19. what a genius, I'll order the book, I can't wait to have t now. Thanks for this great post!

  20. What a great post Patrica. Michael was larger than life, he was ground-breaking and amazingly talented. What an icon! Your readers might be interested in reading about the Jennifer Chair Michael Designed for Jennifer Jones, also my blog has a couple posts on Michael, his design and pieces.


  21. Wow, did you know you were at 40,000 page views! Thanks for the informative post!

  22. A wonderfully written post on a true design genius. His influence is still felt after his being gone all these years.

  23. Dear Patricia,
    I will have to get my husband to buy this one for me...he's off for Chicago on Saturday. It's always inspiring to get new inputs.

    All the best to you,

  24. I love the list/summary of hallmarks of his style. rustic v glamour. white v dramatic furnishings. plants. mirrors. lighting. there's a lot to be learned from his trademark look.

  25. Oh, to peek at the catalogue! Thank you for such a great post. Loved learning more about Mr. Taylor!

  26. Thanks for making my day with all your wonderful comments!!

  27. Small world -I was just at a lecture tonight given by Stephen Drucker (editor of house beautiful) and he was talking about the genius of Michael Taylor for about 10-15 minutes and showing numerous slides I hadn't seen before. i must get this book!

  28. Its high time Taylor is honored in a book. He truly epitomizes the real California Style.

  29. Linda18/5/09

    Dear Patricia~~~

    Just wanted to let you know how very much I enjoyed going back thru your writings on "MY" (smiles) Michael Taylor... He and Billy Baldwin, were my "firsts"... (Upon initially seeing their work mannny years ago, I knew I had found my "IDOL" in Michael... and BB was there right before him ...I was glued to his book!)...

    I dropped a note to Joni Webb earlier tonight, about her possibly doing something on him (focusing on the Malibu House & the Tahoe House~~~ my very favs), & she sweetly wrote me back not only saying she thought it might be a good idea/time, but telling me that you had written several pieces on him... Sure enough, I found them (already had you in my Favs), read them, fell in love again w/ his work for the gazillionth time n' just wanted to THANK YOU!!! It was SUCH a treat to read more about Michael. Such a loss to lose him & his incredible talents/style waaaay to "early"!

    Again, my most sincere thanks and warmest blessings,

    Linda Riley (AKA * Linda in AZ *)
    CANYON PASS @ Dove Mountain
    Marana, AZ

  30. Anonymous13/6/09

    Michael Taylor has always been one of my very most favorite designers, and I wrote a paper on him while I was in design school. I had thought at that time about writing a book, but was too busy with school to do it. But dang, even with all the research I did on him at the time, I hadn't realized that House & Garden had published so much of his work!

    While he was justifiably known for the overscaled white "California look" that he created, what I've always found most fascinating about him was the range of his skills, how utterly timeless most of his work was, and the way he so successfully combined the finest of objects with the most earthy and natural.


  31. Anonymous22/4/10

    Michael Taylor's interior designs are always different and innovative.Here in this blog all the designs are so attractive and well made that it make the interior like heaven.All the designs of are unique from each other.This book is a “must” for all Interior Designers.
    Web Design Manchester

  32. Interesting Article. Hoping that you will continue posting an article having a useful information. Thanks a lot!


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