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ginny branch stellingwhat's in your toolbox

what’s in your toolbox: ruthie chapman sommers

by Ginny


I want Ruthie Chapman Sommers to decorate my life. Not just because she is a tastemaker of the highest degree, but also because she exudes style, wit, sincerity, savvy and humility. Ruthie is a girl I definitely would have wanted to be friends with in school. She has studied antiques and art in Paris; opened and closed legendary LA-based boutique Chapman Radcliff; penned a soon-to-be-released book; and designed many fabulous interiors and spaces that have been lauded in countless decor and shelter magazines. I adore her candidness, and her website bio is awfully charming. Read on for a glimpse into the creative world of Ruthie Chapman Sommers.

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: Tape measure, scale, nails, pushpins.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel . . . “

CLICK HERE for the rest of Ruthie’s interview after the jump!

3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?


Image above: Ruthie’s shelves

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: Literally on my top shelves are old magazines; books on factory farming, the oceans, food policy, WWII; oil paints; old pieces of grasscloth for making thank you notes; too many paintbrushes; a blue dog that was broken at my store but I cannot throw away; too many glass jars. My entire art studio is my inspiration.

4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Time management is often one of the biggest obstacles for creative minds. Do you have an agenda book, and do you make to-do lists?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: Never a to-do list. I just do it when I can. I get most of my day from 6 AM–10 AM. By lunch, I am total ADD and in a tailspin but trying to get everything done that is stored in my mind done. I usually forget about four things to do that day . . .

5. Design*Sponge: Do you have any insider/secret styling tips or tricks that you care to reveal?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: All rooms can be styled. Tall branches can make a dirty vase look divine. Tablescapes are key. I love personal things, such as notepads and a jar of pencils. Small vases filled with what is growing outside of your front door. Could be moss even . . .

Image above: Ruthie’s studio

6. How do you combat creative blocks? What tools do you use to keep your creativity flowing?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: I research constantly. All old magazines; I try to buy design books that have a different point of view. I love blogs. I have so many folders online with juicy rooms from other people and designers. Travel is huge. Museums actually inspire me to be more hands-on. Bookstores. Travel magazines have tons of inspiration. I draw and paint still, so that challenges me.

7. Design*Sponge: In addition to being an interior designer, decorator, former AMAZING shop owner and author, to name a few, what would you like to conquer next?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: Well, that is really nice to list everything, but I feel that I am simply a decorator. I am deeply concerned about our wonderful and amazing planet . . . from being able to ski on gorgeous mountains to being able to surf in beautiful waters. Just catching fireflies is a luxury. Aside from the freedoms we have as Americans, we also have visual eye candy everywhere to enjoy. Why we all do not do 1,000% and really sacrifice to protect it is beyond me. We all should be doing everything we can fight to save wildlife that is going to be extinct due to human interference (from gorillas to elephants).

I use as little plastic as possible — from toys to juiceboxes, all are just landfill [waste] (give your child a hose and they will be happy). I edit wherever I can and try not to accumulate stuff. I will never drive another car as long as mine holds up. I choose all sustainable food and don’t eat meat unless I know what farm it came from (for the humane treatment of animals and for the humane treatment of the environment); it bothers me that people care more about where their child goes to preschool than cleaning up the environment or even what is happening to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. I live in Hollywood, so I have a low tolerance for chit-chat when we could be having some amazing intellectual conversation.

8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: I love the student art gallery on Lafayette in NYC and any bookstore anywhere (preferably a Mom-and-Pop kind of store). Any museum, all flea markets. I just went to Brimfield. It was heaven. Silverlake in LA. I Live in Newport, RI, for the summer, and I have been going to consignment shops there. Garden stores I adore.

9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: Lordy! Everyone! We have amazing talent among us and because of blogs we get wonderful sneak peeks all the time. I would love to be a fly on the wall in Miles Redd’s office. I know Markham Roberts, but I just want to shop with him one day. I would love to see how Steven Gambrel comes up with paint colors. Nicky Haslam designs furniture . . . Bunny Williams rearranges furniture. The list could go one. I have a client who is an amazing director, and she directs me to come up with ideas I never would have. Four eyes are better than two, and collaboration makes for some wonderful projects. Even picky clients can push you to do your best. Even the carvers who make my furniture add something to my life. Their pride inspires me, and they usually wouldn’t get to see their work outside the shop.

Image above: Pages from Ruthie’s sketchbooks/creative process

10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it include?

Ruthie Chapman Sommers: Well, funny you asked. The XX, M. Ward, Eva Cassidy, Beirut, The Swell Season, LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend, Sia, Bird and the Bee, Lou Reed, Portishead, Grant Lee Buffalo, David Byrne, The Pixies, The Long Blondes.

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