Living Beautifully
Known for her soothing colour palettes and incredibly warm and inviting interiors, Lee Ann Thornton is one of today’s esteemed decorators that truly needs no introduction. Since launching her eponymous boutique design firm in 2003, Lee Ann has developed a reputation for creating high-end residential and commercial projects rooted in classical design, and infused with English sensibilities.

Known for her soothing colour palettes and incredibly warm and inviting interiors, Lee Ann Thornton is one of today’s esteemed decorators that truly needs no introduction. Since launching her eponymous boutique design firm in 2003, Lee Ann has developed a reputation for creating high-end residential and commercial projects rooted in classical designs, and infused with English sensibilities. Her interiors are timeless yet fresh, as illustrated by her resplendent study (the perfect after-dinner retreat wrapped in a paradise of Lisa Fine’s Calico Floral Stripe fabric) at the 2019 Kips Bay Decorator Show House in Palm Beach. 

An Anglophile at heart, Lee Ann’s work is the likes of any Nancy Meyers movie (think pretty fabrics and furniture slipcovers mixed with wonderful rattan pieces and antiques), and has been prominently featured in leading publications such as House Beautiful, Coastal Living, and The Greenwich Times. Her former home in Brentwood California, covered in David Austin roses, remains a forever favorite at Maison Carlyle, and truly feels like a scene out of Something’s Gotta Give!

Upon graduating from college in 2016, Lee Ann’s daughter; Alexandra Macaluso, joined her mother’s Greenwich-based design firm, and has supported large scale residential projects across the United States alongside her mother. Since then, the two have relaunched a beautiful made-to-order home collection, as well as a new consulting practice, offering clients hourly calls, design partnerships and/or support on construction projects. 

We couldn’t be more delighted to sit down with our favorite mother-daughter duo whose passion for design and gracious style of entertaining show us all what it means to live beautifully! 

Where did you grow up and how has your past shaped your design aesthetic?

L: I grew up in Los Angeles, which exposed me to a casual, cool and welcoming lifestyle — a sensibility I try to infuse into my work on the East Coast. For example, you might see me style a deep slip covered sofa with a peppy tailored pinstripe. Having grown up in California, I am always looking to marry the outdoors with the interiors of any home, regardless of which “coast” the project may reside.

A: I was born and raised in Los Angeles until I turned nine years old, and then moved to Connecticut with my family.  Having been fortunate to absorb both landscapes, I have developed an appreciation for history and old houses on the east coast, while still maintaining the California sensibility of relaxed interiors, and indoor outdoor living.

How would you describe your style?

L: Romantic, layered, polished, yet livable.

A: Colorful, warm and tailored.

Who are some of your style icons?

L: Emmanuelle Alt, Ali McGraw and Jane Birkin.

A: Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen, Sienna Miller, and Charlotte Rampling in the 1970’s.

How did you start your company and what do you love most about what you do?

L: I moved to Connecticut in 2002 and friends would repeatedly ask if I could help them reimagine their homes with my “California” lens while also creating more layers to help evoke a deeper sense of “home”. Things got busier and busier, and it then became apparent that it was time to formalize my business in 2003. What I love most about my work is being able to create meaningful interiors that allow my clients to truly relish in joyful moments. It’s even more gratifying when these projects allow me to collaborate with a core project team where we’re focused on beautiful architecture and gardens that then inform the interiors.

photography by james merrell
Where do you turn to for inspiration when you begin a new project?

L: I turn to my wonderful collection of design books. I also turn to travel, and find inspiration from the hotels, to the stores, to the restaurants we may visit. Inspiration truly lives everywhere if you’re open to creating the moments to drink it in.

A: I always take inspiration from the past and love looking through old design books and my Pinterest pages.  Good design and scale that worked 50 years ago will still work today and that is my hope for our projects.

What would your dream project be?

L: Definitely a ground up project in Maine on a magical rocky shoreline. The dream would include working with Architect Gil Schafer, Landscape Architect Deborah Nevins and a world class builder that allows the creatives at play to create a dream home for the client. And being able to shop through London for antiques and furnishings, of course!

A: Any project working with Plain English Kitchens would be an absolute joy. Their work to the blind eye could seem assuming, but the use of color and detail invokes a subdued elegance.  The project would ideally be a cottage in the Cotswolds with a fabulous garden designed by Miranda Brooks.

Which decorators from the past do you most often turn to for inspiration?

L: Nancy Lancaster and Robert Banks-Pye….the creative force from Colefax and Fowler has always been my favorite. Also Ralph Lauren.

A: Although a woman of far more titles than Decorator, I constantly turn to the interiors of Bunny Mellon’s homes and the work she did with designers like Billy Baldwin and Bruce Budd. 

If you could hire any designer from the past to decorate your home, who would it be?

L: Although only recently passed, Robert Kime. His use of antiques and ability to layer a home would be my ideal.

A: Nancy Lancaster or Roger Banks-Pye.

What are some of your indispensable items when entertaining and how do you ensure a memorable dinner party?

L: Serving pieces. Anything from the platters to the interesting wicker pieces I collect…when presented together they help create a fun effortless look. I start with the menu and then work through the guest list. Music is key!

A: A great playlist and thoughtful menu are always necessary when entertaining.  I love to try something new and exciting to cook for different groups.  Good lighting is key, who doesn’t look better with the gorgeous glow of candle light?

photography by Karyn millet
Which tabletop items do you invest in, and save on?

L: Invest in a good varied china collection this way you will always be prepared for any type of entertaining, whether it’s a sit down dinner for eight, or a buffet for 30 people. Save on linens, you don’t need expensive linens. Buy stock napkins and then send them out for monogramming and it will always feel special.

A: I have learned from my mother the importance of investing in beautiful serving pieces and tableware. Where I feel you can save while still decorating your tabletop beautifully is with linens, beautiful tableware will always make an impact.

If you could invite any three individuals from the past, who would they be and what would you serve for dinner?

L: Julia Child, Princess Diana and my father. The menu would be deeply inspired by one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles; The Ivy. Homemade lime tortilla chips with freshly made tomato salsa, grilled lobster, corn, black beans and a big fresh salad served with warm tortillas. For dessert, a mixed berry cobbler with local ice cream. Not overly sophisticated, but delicious and easy to serve!

A: Nan Kempner, Steve McQueen and Robin Williams. I would want to make the night relaxed by serving dinner outside under a gorgeous pergola with climbing roses and lights strung throughout.  Everyone would be barefoot and I would serve everything family style. Caesar salad with homemade croutons (my Mom’s recipe) to start with, linguine clams and sausage followed by fresh summer berries and whipped cream. 

What does living beautifully mean to you?

L: Living beautifully means having access to the best cup of coffee in the morning, lunch with a dear friend, a walk at the end of the day with my husband and cooking and entertaining for the ones I love in our home. It’s really about savoring precious moments and recognizing that they are important enough to carve out time for them.

A: Living beautifully to me means enjoying life’s simplest pleasures.  Spending time near the water, going on long walks, eating wonderful meals and spending as much time with loved ones as possible. Taking pride in your home and finding joy in everything you do.

How do you make every day feel special in your home?

L: Fresh flowers, always! From the garden or a local farm.

A: I like to have a great candle going during the day while I work from home and put on a good playlist throughout the house.  We live right across from the beach in Boston and when the weather permits I open all of the windows and embrace the sea breeze.

What is your typical morning routine? I

L: I am an early riser. Getting a big cup of coffee and grabbing my laptop and any papers that I have brought home to work on as I go back up to my bedroom to watch the news and prepare for the day. Followed by a big walk or Pilates.

A: I wake up early and go down to my gym for half an hour to start my day.  By 7:30am I am usually out the door with a cup of tea and my fiancé and I take our dog on the beach loop outside our house. I will come home, make a smoothie and start the day with a clear head.  In between waking up, walking or eating I will have most likely facetimed with my older sister or my mom or both.

How do you like to unwind after a busy day?

L: I like to unwind at home. I often walk right in the door and go straight to the kitchen to create something wonderful for dinner. Turn on my favorite music and pour a cold glass of Chardonnay.

A: No matter how long or stressful the day, I always turn to cooking to relax after a long day.  I will start cooking early and immediately relax from the day.  After dinner, catching up on TV before settling into a good book for an hour or so before bed.

Photography by James merrell
What do you love most about living in Connecticut?

L: I love experiencing the evolving seasons in Connecticut. I look forward to each one and the various flowers that inform the seasons and the organic moods created whilst entertaining in each season. We are so lucky.

A: Growing up in Connecticut was such a lucky experience to have. I went to Trinity College in Connecticut too, I just couldn’t get away! Being on the Long Island sound while also still being in the country is such a beautiful way to live.  Living on the water now in Boston makes me equally happy as well as enjoying all of the beautiful old homes and history this city has to offer.

While traveling, are there any objects you enjoy collecting?

L: I obsessively collect serving pieces and dinnerware. Traveling has given me the opportunity to introduce plates from Positano, silver from London and linens from France into my collection.

A: I love finding special pieces when traveling. I adore Suzanis and have begun collecting more of these beautiful textiles.  Finding antique stores in different places is so fun…you never know what you’ll find! Last year I bought a pair of lamps in a small town in North Carolina that I have in my guest bedroom now.

What is at the top of your bucket list?

L: Traveling to Provence in the fall and doing a month long cooking school. I read A Year in Provence many years back and it still inspires me.

A: Japan during Cherry Blossom season has been on my list for years now.

What are some of the greatest lessons you learned from your parents?

L: Family is everything.

A:  The importance of family and always being there for the people you love

What can we expect to see from Lee Ann Thornton Interiors in the near future?

L&A: We have some wonderful projects being published soon. In the meantime, we’ll continue to focus on our comprehensive whole-home interior design projects, and are working on building out an exciting new consulting offering.

Lee ann and allie's Favorites

Favorite Travel Destination?

L: London

A: Jackson Hole.  My fiancé’s family has been going there since the 1920’s and it is such a special palace for us both.

Favorite historic house museum?

L: The Nantucket Whaling Museum. I love everything about the island.

A: Living in Boston, I am surrounded by so many important and historical homes.  One home in particular that feels especially important to me is The Oldest House on Sunset Hill, also known as the Jethro Coffin House on Nantucket.  

Favorite interior of all time?

L: Marella Agnelli’s Moroccan bedroom, filled with my favorite wicker, lace and pale pink…it’s sublime!

A: Same! Marella Agnelli’s bedroom in Marrakesh.

Favorite design era?

L: The 70’s for sure.

A: The 70’s for me feel like where design started that still feels current, relatable and inspiring today.

Favorite wallpaper pattern?

L: Bowood from Colefax and Fowler.

A: Les Indiennes French Stripe Wallpaper

Favorite piece of furniture in your home?

L: A breakfront cabinet my in-laws gave us that I had lined with Degournay wallpaper.

A: My bone-inlay nightstands… they were my first purchase in my home that felt special and pieces that I could pass on to my children someday.

Favorite design book(s) you most often turn to for inspiration?

L: I love the marriage between interiors and architecture so I often turn to Gil Schafer’s books for inspiration.

A: Any Gil Schafer book, A Place to Call Home is probably my all time favorite

Favorite movie(s) every design lover should watch at least once?

L: All Nancy Meyers films. Period.

A: Any Nancy Meyers or Nora Ephron movie.

Favorite home scent?

L: Baies candle from Diptyque.

A: Same!

Favorite tabletop shops?

L: The seventh floor at Bergdorf Goodman, and of course Indigo Seas in Los Angeles.

A: The Six Bells in Brooklyn for special charming pieces, and Hudson Grace for great basics.

Favorite family tradition?

L: Too many to list! Most of which include holiday dinners at home while playing games.

A: Playing mahjong with my mom and sisters. We bought a beautiful blue and white set that we all love to play with.

Favorite piece of advice from your mother?

L: When things feel overwhelming, reminding yourself that “this too shall pass”.

A: Have a blueprint for your future and the life you want to lead.

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