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Ambassador of Style: Geoffrey Bradfield

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It is quite a daunting task to try and encapsulate all the glamour, style savvy, and true earnest of Geoffrey Bradfield, undoubtedly New York’s classiest interior designer. Geoffrey is, quite simply, the most talented yet endearingly modest designer I have met in my years of world travel and interviews with the best in the world of design. His enchanting personality and hawk-like eye for taste have won him several accolades (including the coveted “Dean of Design” title from Architectural Digest) and, more importantly, the respect and enduring friendship of repeat clients such as the Vanderbilt Whitneys and a string of Forbes 400 luminaries and industrialists. Now, in his 31st year in the United States, the South African native is being honored by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk for making his nation proud to call him their own prized style ambassador, recognizing him for his “sterling success globally as one of the most inspiring and internationally acclaimed designers of our time.”

 ”We live in one of the most extraordinary times in design. Here we are in the new millennium. We are so privileged to be alive today-this won’t happen again for another thousand years.”

Born on South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Geoffrey grew up on a sprawling farm, surrounded by the simple nuances that are simply beautiful. He realized early on that he had an innate flare for design and a unique eye for art. After completing compulsory military service, the self confessed “flower child” set out to see the world. “I travelled around the world almost twice in my formative years, when the trend was to travel to Europe or the United States. It was very rare for a teenager to be travelling to Japan in the ’60s.” The knowledge he acquired through his world travels ultimately manifested in his later career, first in Johannesburg and then upon his arrival in the U.S. at the tender age of 29, where he worked on prestigious projects such as the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and the vice-presidential residence of Walter Mondale. To this day, Geoffrey sources his rich interiors from expert artisans as far and wide as Europe and India. In fact, it is Bradfield’s artful sensibility acquired from around the world that sets his unique design approach apart and has garnered him appeal with clients from Mumbai to Moscow.

Geoffrey’s unique design style, coined “Millennium Modern,” takes references from the past, particularly from his favorite Art Moderne period of the 1930s and ’40s, and infuses a hallmark of the age in which we live, with contemporary materials, color schemes, and fabrics. “We live in one of the most extraordinary times in design. Here we are in the new millennium. We are so privileged to be alive today-this won’t happen again for another thousand years,” exclaims Bradfield, his fervor and enthusiasm showing through a warm smile.

“For me, modern design is the most intriguing but I’m not interested in the icy cold variety. I attempt to achieve a more rooted, tactile brand of modernism, embracing comfort, form, and function,” he adds. Every one of Geoffrey’s spaces embodies a sense of comfort and “functional opulence,” where fine art lives and breathes with its inhabitants, rather than being confined behind a showcase. Whether it be a Salvador Dali sculpture in a Palm Beach apartment, an exquisite Roy Lichtenstein in an all-yellow dining room, or an electric blue pigment-filled Yves Klein coffee table in his own library, art is central to Bradfield’s interiors. “When my clients come to me, my enthusiasm rubs off on them and they become very serious [art] collectors,” Geoffrey asserts.

His recent pursuits have him touring the globe from Tuscany (where he is working on a 10th century villa) to Mumbai (where he recently completed a penthouse apartment in one of the city’s most prestigious addresses) and St. Martin. And when he returns home to New York, the penthouse at the Plaza is a blank canvas yearning for Bradfield’s expert touch. “I believe that if one’s work has resonance, it will outlive us,” says Bradfield when asked how he hopes to be remembered as a designer.

Geoffrey’s practice has now grown to the commercial arena with the meteoric success of 985 Park, whose interior finishes, lobby, and façade all bear the mark of Bradfield brilliance. He and his firm are currently restoring the prestigious Equinox Resort & Spa in Vermont in a reverent nod to the past with a decidedly contemporary flair. In addition to the hotel’s 200 rooms, Geoffrey will be reinterpreting the lobby (to pay homage to Diego Giacometti), and adding a brand new Falcon Bar and a sumptuous outdoor deck with a sunken fireplace. Various projects in the Middle East, including the island of Qatar and the booming design hub of Dubai, are also on the horizon.

It is the evening of Geoffrey’s 61st birthday, his elegantly renovated five-story Park Avenue townhouse is buzzing with the who’s who of the Manhattan social scene. It is, as he says, just “an intimate gathering of close friends,” but all the pomp and circumstance (and costumes) of Geoffrey’s legendary soirées is never far behind. The theme is “Cowboys and Indians,” befitting of a celebration marking his 30 years in New York. His guests mingle among works by Julian Schnabel, Joel Perlman, and Robert Mangold. Geoffrey fondly recalls, “I have always been in love with New York, having visited for the first time in my late teens. As I look back over thirty years spent in this city, I realize how essential its fabric is to my being. People endeavored earlier on to curb my enthusiasms, saying, ‘Oh, you’re in the honeymoon period,’ but it has, in fact, become a fantastic marriage.
Both challenging and rewarding, it is, without doubt, the ‘definitive city of our time.’ No other would have allowed me to fulfill such a gamut of aspirations.”

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New York February / March 2014
New York February / March 2014