Stewart Manger: Romancing the Home



By Judy Carmack Bross




Scottish dining room


A recent reception welcoming international interior designer Stewart Manger, hosted by Susan and Phil Merlin and Suzette and Ally Bulley, attracted Chicago cosmopolites who took home his glorious Romancing the Home, published by Rizzoli.


Hosts Phil Merlin, Susan Merlin, Suzette Bulley and Ally Bulley, surround author and designer Stewart Mangner.


Caroline Dolan, Susan Merlin, Karen McEniry


Anne Tucker, Mike & Liz Kohler


Susan Merlin, Olivia Merlin, Stewart Manger, Ally Bulley, Suzette Bulley


Elizabeth & Chandler Bigelow and David & Anne Loucks


Book cover: Romancing the Home


With photographs of projects including a 19th-century castle perched on a Scottish coastline cliff, an over-the-top Paris pied-a-terre, and his own 1889 Southampton shingle beach house, the big, beautiful book has a forward from Bunny Williams who, along with David Easton and David Kleinberg, welcomed Manger as an apprentice. Manger recently launched his own firm and has earned his reputation for bespoke interiors were classic meets modern.


Scottish Dining Room


Manger Paris Drawing


Manger Paris MasterBed


“My overriding principle is that everyone should be comfortable in every room in your house. As you stand at the door of any room you should want to walk inside and find furniture and upholstery that is comfortable and places where you can congregate with others,” Manger said. “This definitely wasn’t always so, but those days of walking into your grandparents’ home and not feeling welcome in a room should be over. I learned from Bunny Williams that people should immediately want to sit down and feel at ease.  There’s a place to set a glass and a lamp to read by. Now, as a professional decorator, I am thrilled when people walk into a house I have just installed and think it doesn’t feel decorated. Nothing is too perfect, and everything is part of the whole.”


His own Southampton getaway Top O’Dune with octagonal town makes a great statement on the beach, and is one of the original shingle-style cottages built along Gin Lane. A multigenerational gathering spot, dinners often include 14 or more. “To avoid the crush of local restaurants, we love dining together in the peach dining room with its octagonal shape. I am always coming up with new tabletop settings, mixing family linens with new finds from a trip to Vietnam, and incorporating colorful glassware.”


Amy Davidson, Suzette Bulley, Beth & Mike Hughes


Suzette Bulley, Joan Craig


Stewart Manger, Chandler Bigelow


“My first big design job came at the age of 15 when I rushed home from school every Wednesday to meet with my mother and her decorator. It was the 1980s and chintz was decidedly in fashion, especially for those living in an Upper East Side townhouse in New York. We would visit the D & D building and explore all the latest oversize florals. Despite the trends of the time we made some excellent choices that have stood the test of time.”


Manger, who received a graduate degree in from Christie’s in London, studying fine and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the present. Along the way he worked at the Getty Museum and did set design in Hollywood before being lured back to New York to work for Marian McEvoy, founding editor of Elle Décor whom he calls “an icon of fashion and design.” “She introduced me to another icon, David Easton. I really had no experience but think, because of my auction house background, Easton saw some sort of design potential in me. My apprenticeships were all important to my career.”


Manger Paris Library


Manger shared an overarching Easton principle. “Everything is anchored in architecture.  If you have bad architecture you have to fix that first,” he said. “Sometimes in new construction the window or door heights are wrong, or the fireplace looks strange when it is flat against the wall without a mantel. There must be rhythm in the walls. Once you have good architecture then you proceed. He taught me how to build a room.”


For Manger, everything begins with choosing the rug, be it antique or modern. “I love to be at an auction house, unrolling a rug and seeing its patterns. It can absolutely sing to me, like going to the symphony and hearing a cello.”


After the rug is chosen, Manger moves on to patterns or chintzes for furniture and upholstery.


London Victoria Rd Office


“It is very important to decide how to distribute color around the room and how you will layer it with objects in the room such as a vase in the bookcase, a pillow on the sofa. The color sews it all together.”


Manger feels that rooms without a lot of furniture, such as a dining room where chair cushions are the only upholstery, can have more exciting color on the walls.


Scottish The Scores Dining Room


Romancing the Home relates the very happy news that brown furniture is making a comeback.


Scottish The Scores Library


“Even the younger generation is finding ways to use beautiful pieces of brown furniture although it’s not like the 1980s and 1990s when you would see Georgian walnut game tables, silver candelabra, and Chippendale chairs everywhere,” he said.  “You might have a single piece of brown furniture that really stands out.  There might be one modern side table but also then a beautiful rosewood mahogany one.”


Whether he is working in Paris, Chicago, Southampton, Manhattan or along the Scottish coast, he approaches projects with the superb service and the same approach to detail as he has shown with the over 150 residences he has designed.


“When you are deciding on building or renovation, my first rule is that you have to put together the right team. It’s not about who is better, it’s about finding the right fit for you of architect, builder and designer. You should enjoy the process but not steamroll ahead. I have been called in to fix some disasters but don’t have a magic wand.


“My second rule is that clients should listen to their professional team: if you have hired them, listen to them. Their sheer experience alone keeps you from making mistakes.”


Manger urges you to use every room in your house as much as possible. “I am big on table tops, casual placemats for your dining room table. Find ways to make everything functional.”


Stewart Manger, Silvia Krehbiel


Catherine Gregg, Molly Nussbaumer


Cindy Chereskin, Jessica Lagrange, Neelie Fritz


Laura Podjasek, Meredith Sullivan


Kara Mann, Robin Tebbe and Courtney Thompson


Sophie Bross, Jessica Lagrange


Paget Bahr, Olivia Merlin