“For those who don’t know, I am great fan of jazz. So it’s serious for me to call Tony the Duke Ellington of the design world. He is a true master of his craft. He is fearless in mixing—always intelligently—all styles of furniture, periods, and materials at the highest level. Modern with traditional, which almost goes without saying today, but also the art: cutting-edge sculpture alongside classical and old masters. We all look out for those pieces to make a home magical. Tony finds them.”
For any interior design enthusiast, my talk this week with Tony Ingrao was like traveling into a wonderland, to a place where interiors exist in their ultimate artistic, fantastical perfection. His projects are so ambitious, refined, and glamorous, and his four-decade-long career stands at the tiptop of the super wide pyramid that is the world of interior design.
Ingrao’s oeuvre stands at the intersection of architecture, art, and design, manifested in some of the best interiors of our time, where his own signature is merged with his clients’ personal choices. His successes, he acknowledged, could not have materialized without his partner in both life and business, Randy Kemper.
Ingrao is not media savvy, nor is he a household name. You won’t find his projects spotlighted on the covers of shelter magazines nor publicized online. His absence in the press is all the more surprising when you consider that his interiors are every magazine editor’s dream.
In the private arena, however, among a certain in-the-know group, Ingrao is highly respected. It was such a very rare and special experience to review the breath of his work during this week’s program. We saw everything from urban apartments and suburban estates, to country houses, beach houses, and even a hunting lodge and a horse barn.
Ingrao has an incredible eye for objects and spaces, creating intelligent interiors for people who care about their homes: highly discerning clientele who are often art and design connoisseurs, who want to live in interiors of the highest consideration, and who are willing to spend whatever it takes to craft their dream homes. Each of Ingrao’s clients receives a guide to expressing their own voice through design, and Ingrao acts as the conductor who brings it all to life.
Through his projects around the globe, Ingrao has come to define the essence of the contemporary luxurious interiors. His work is always powerful, not only because of the fine art and objects he incorporates, and not only because of the celebrity status of his clientele.
Risk-taking is Ingrao’s signature approach. The way he integrates forms, positions objects, and selects colors are always fresh and unexpected. This is Ingrao’s super power. Nothing is safe, but, at the end, the results are always dazzling—as evident in the handful of projects that have been covered in the media, such as the interiors of 35 Hudson Yards by Related Company and the Baccarat Hotel and Residences. There, in the spaces open to the public, one can view and experience his affinity for finishes, aesthetics, and sophistication. It’s no wonder that his name is included on every who’s-who list of interior designers. He is, of course, a longtime member of Architectural Digest’s prestigious AD100 List.
Ingrao’s story offers a great lesson for anyone who dreams of becoming a success story in the world of design, because becoming an interior designer or an architect is a lifelong evolution. Isn’t that the reason that none of the Pritzker Prize winners are in their 40s?
He grew up in New York’s Westchester County; his family was in the textile industry, supplying fabrics to some of the best fashion houses in the area. He began his career in the Asian department of Sotheby’s, and then, after graduating from RISD, he spent 13 years living in France. There he developed a passion for and expertise in art history along with a deep appreciation for antiques and artisanal work. It was not until much later that his passion for antiques was transferred to modern and contemporary objects. Today, Ingrao has a reputation for transforming his clients tastes from traditional to modern.
Ingrao is a great shopper, and those designers who are lucky enough to find themselves on his shopping list love working with him. “I have known Tony Ingrao and Randy Kemper for many years now,” fashion-turned-furniture designer Hervé van der Straeten told me. “Their interiors are at once elegant and punchy. It is always exciting and enjoyable to be a part of their projects and see my pieces in their striking and effortless settings.”
Ingrao’s interiors are filled with furniture and lighting created by his favorite living artists: Studio Drift, Mattia Bonetti, Ayala Serfaty, Marc Newson, Maria Pergay, and Ron Arad, to name a few. He also has some favorite vintage designers, like Pierre Paulin and Paul Evans. (He was featured in my documentary Collecting Paul Evans.)
Despite his enormous stature, Ingrao remains shy, modest, sweet, and so authentic. He likes to talk about the less glamorous sides of his profession, about the long travels, the hard work that goes into each project. He has seen it all. As trends and tastes keep changing, he has witnessed the shifts from antiques to modern, from modern to contemporary, from one color palette to another, from shingle-style houses to modernist glass houses, from a focus on aesthetics to a focus on comfort.
The new direction in interiors, he says, is the return to antiques and the quest for comfort. If Ingrao says so, it must be so. ◆