See How This New York Decorator Creates Grounding Interiors


headshot of Billy Cotton

Headshot of New York decorator Billy Cotton. (Portrait: Noe Dewitt)

white living room with grey sofa and colorful artwork designed by Billy Cotton

In a modern New York City home designed by Billy Cotton with architect Stamberg Aferiat + Associates, art by Cindy Sherman hangs above a Vladimir Kagan sofa. (Photo: © Stephen Kent Johnson/OTTO)

living room with colorful artwork on large tv

The living area is anchored by a custom sofa in Fortuny velvet, while artwork by Sadie Benning and Jacqueline Humphries flanks the fireplace. (Photo: © Stephen Kent Johnson/OTTO)

room with bench next to colorful arwork

A sculptural Steelcase bench is paired with a graphic painting by Stanley Whitney. (Photo: © Stephen Kent Johnson/OTTO)

Billy Cotton is a polymath decorator whose soulful, wide-ranging body of work can incorporate bouillon fringe and chintz balloon shades as easily—and winningly—as it does sculptural staircases and chalky white walls left ethereally unadorned. And while Cotton’s deft, resonant interiors can run the gamut stylistically, they are all rooted in a rigorous, inquisitive point of view the New York-based practitioner picked up at Pratt Institute. “I trained as an industrial designer, which was all about how somebody uses something and how they interact with an object, whether it’s a plate or silverware. I think of all my projects that way,” he says. “What does somebody need, what is the problem and why did they come to me?”

The function-forward answer leads Cotton to a client-specific game plan that leaves him room to play—with materials, with furnishings, with romance. “I’m a dreamer. I love to fantasize about what beauty or luxury can be. When we get together with clients, we are having fun.” In Cotton’s world, “fun” is a humble euphemism for an intuitive process that has yielded hauntingly memorable spaces, including a Manhattan refuge in which blue-chip contemporary art takes center stage, and light and air are ingredients as important to the finished scheme as the chevron patterned floors and curvy sofas. The project exemplifies Cotton’s belief that there should be a continuous push and pull between objects and furnishings as though they are in constant communication.

Cotton’s rooms are always poetic, never banal, and pared down to sensuous and unexpected details and couplings that evoke emotion. How does he compose beautiful interiors that actually make you feel something? “You have to edit,” he says. “I want people to bring things into their lives that have meaning. The objects and materials you employ in a space should be intentional. Intentionality dictates respect. Do you need this? Is this the best version? I would rather not buy a decorative object just to fill a room. I want houses to evolve over time and give people a canvas to paint their own spaces.” His talent lies in the way he distills a client’s passions to their best possible version and then gives them plenty of room to soar and sing. “Above all,” says Cotton, “design should be filled with joy.”