John Stefanidis' long-awaited monograph brings together 50 years of the celebrated interior designer's work. In tribute, we have gathered some of our favorite stories from John Stefanidis: A Designer's Eye, revealing John's adventures and friendships with leading artists, tastemakers and writers.



Interior by John Stefanidis © John Stefanidis: A Designer's Eye 


The Stefanidis 'look', if there is such a thing, combines the Egyptian-born designer’s original use of vibrant color, and deep sensitivity to scale, proportions and comfort, with his international flair and eclectic aesthetic. Always with distinct bespoke elements - bronze door pulls, oak shutters, an inlaid table - Stefanidis’ interiors often feature the handiwork of talented craftspeople, from decorative painters to artisans who marbleize woodwork and lay in-floor mosaics. 

His much-anticipated monograph is equally distinctive: a lavishly illustrated survey of his greatest hits, featuring unpublished photographs from his personal and professional archive. Sifting through this vast repository of memories and creativity, Stefanidis shares exclusive insights into his process, rules for decorating, and stories of his adventures and friendships with many of the leading lights of the day. We have curated Cabana’s favorite stories and insights here.


Interior by John Stefanidis © John Stefanidis: A Designer's Eye


Cy Twombly

Although the phrase 'parallel lives' is now commonplace, it describes my friendship with Cy Twombly, whom I used to see with Teddy Millington-Drake in Rome, but on my own. I would visit him at Via Monserrato where Cy lived and worked. On one visit, one room would be a dining room, while on the next visit, it would be a bedroom with a four-poster bed crowned with feathers from a duster, grand white and gold Empire furniture, marble busts, a Lucio Fontana egg, and a Picasso painting on an easel. Cy’s pictures were on the walls—some finished, some not.

He displayed a gift of placing furniture in a way that enhanced its line and character. Spaces left empty had as much meaning as spaces filled. Cy came to Patmos in the early 1960s—a visit memorable for its laughter. He was a Southerner, a Virginian, his conversation interspersed with American expressions. Although he was a man of no pretension, his intelligence, so manifest in his paintings, left one in no doubt of his genius. Although later I saw him less, often in New York or at his house in Lazio, I was always acutely aware of the evolution of his work. It was a privilege and a gift of the gods to have known someone so exceptional.


Image by Francois Halard, Issue 17
Home of Cy Twombly, photographed by Francois Halard for Cabana N17


Brando and Cristiana Brandolini

Venice has been a part of my own life since I was fifteen, but became irrevocably so in the early 1980s when I began to visit at Christmas or the New Year, in the spring, in high summer, and in autumn—staying in the Dorsoduro in the palazzo of Cristiana and Brando Brandolini d’Adda. Brando was tall and elegant with great good looks and charm to spare. He was a man of taste and élan. Although charm can serve as a barrier to intimacy, Brando possessed no such encumbrance. He spoke three languages, of course, and the Venetian dialect, and had a profound knowledge of [Venice] and its churches, music, and art, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of opera. He was extraordinarily good company—always humorous, and never a bore.

Cristiana, his wife, has great taste and style—her houses and gardens are both elegant and glamorous, never forced or obvious. She serves delicious food, but forbids dawdling at table, a trait shared with her brother, Gianni Agnelli. Once in the open motorboat belonging to Brandino, the youngest of their four sons, we were about to pass under the Accademia Bridge on the way to Harry’s Bar for dinner when a friend of his leaned over the parapet of the wooden bridge to exclaim, “Brandino, sei bello come il sole” ('Brandino, you are as beautiful as the sun'). That says it all—only in Italy.


Home of Cristiana Brandolini, Vistorta © Miguel Flores-Vianna, Cabana N18


Teddy Millington Drake

Although Teddy could be critical, he was funny, making for an endless stream of jokes and ensuring an entente that lasted for decades. He had a remarkable gift for friendship, and was adored by men and women alike. He taught me to look at pictures. We went to museums wherever we found ourselves. We respected each other’s taste and judgment. I spent a lot of energy bringing a smile to his face.

His was not always an easy life. His aura of sadness is best explained by his difficult family life, and a Jungian archetype of a devouring mother, from whom he was never able to free himself. He never achieved the renown he had hoped for, and deserved, as an artist. We never lived together, except on our travels or in Patmos. Later, we would be estranged for eight years.


Interior, Patmos © John Stefanidis: A Designer's Eye


I was in a San Francisco hotel when his nephew, who found antiques for my projects, came to my room to say that Teddy was in the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. He very much wanted to see me. I promptly went to the hospital. For the next three months, we were close again. When he came to stay at my cowsheds, I was in some trepidation as I wheeled him round the garden I had created, knowing how critical he could be, but no. “This garden is absolutely marvelous.” Phew! He made the journey to Patmos, but died a few days later.

There is a whitewashed mausoleum in the garden that I built in his memory. At his death, there were two wills—one signed and one not. The signed will left the Patmos house to me for my lifetime. The unsigned will left the house to his nephews and nieces, and a large amount of cash to me. I had two years to decide before Greek taxes were due.

The Patmos house was our shared creation. We had lived in the magical, airy house with many rooms, in our separate bedrooms, just the two of us, for a decade or more, our many guests sharing a guesthouse at a convenient distance. I decided to accept the signed will. I embellished the house, turned desolate terraces into olive groves, and made of the garden what I could with limited water and a climate cold in winter and hot in summer. I have never regretted my decision.


Illustration, Patmos © John Stefanidis: A Designer's Eye


Loulou de la Falaise

At a London cocktail party at Sheridan and Lindy Dufferin’s house, the buzz was that Desmond FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin, was there with his new wife. Across the room, I could see, bobbing through the crowd, a pheasant’s feather stuck into what appeared to be a turban. It was Loulou de la Falaise, whose style of dress struck me as chic, but quite unusual. I became firm friends with Loulou after she separated from the Knight. One summer she came to Patmos. As her suitcase did not arrive, she improvised a wardrobe with headpieces and sarongs.

She had a passion for me, which in time subsided. I loved her company, her high spirits, and her effortless style. She was persuaded after some resistance to work for Yves Saint Laurent as his hands-on assistant at his first couture house on Rue Spontini, and not surprisingly became his inspiration. Her sophistication, her use of color, her daring and innate style inherited from her mother, Maxime de la Falaise, and grandmother Rhoda Birley were in large measure responsible for the avalanche of success soon achieved by Saint Laurent.

I went to many of the fashion shows to marvel at the clothes on the catwalk. I could always recognize a detail or daring innovation that revealed Loulou at her funniest and most imaginative, although she was too modest to take credit for what she had done. Our friendship was a mainstay of my life until her death in 2011.


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John Stefanidis: A Designer's Eye is published by Rizzoli Books and available to buy now via the Cabana Bookshop.

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