American architect Gil Schafer is beloved for his warm and elegant classic-contemporary style. Gil shares with Cabana his dream (and nightmare) interiors, how a sudden revelation changed the path of his career, and why he's never let introversion hold him back.



Interior by Gil Schafer © Home at Last, Rizzoli Books 


The most memorable trip I’ve taken:

It was actually a long time ago, a trip to the South of France I will always remember. It followed the wedding of a friend in Cap d’Antibes, and was a shopping expedition through Provence with friends, including interior decorator, Bunny Williams, and her husband, antique dealer John Rosselli, who were searching for inventory and asked me to come along. I was a young architect then, not yet out on my own, and my taste was very much in formation. I was also fairly inexperienced in the art of antiquing, particularly in another country. We went all through Provence, visiting dealers and artisans, and it was a revelation in learning to broaden one’s point of view aesthetically, to buy for what could be, not just what was, and to enjoy the adventure doing it. It opened my eyes to so much, and was also a wonderful moment of mentoring by these two great masters for a young and eager student.

The best party I’ve ever been to:

Oddly enough, [it] was at the start of that same antiquing trip - at the wedding of my friend. It was over a weekend at the Hotel du Cap and the wedding reception took place in a series of gardens and tents in the middle of the hotel’s iconic central allée leading down to the sea. It was perhaps most memorable for the way it had been designed and decorated. The Parisian floral designer, Christian Tortu, masterminded the flowers and decorations, along with the bride and her mother, two individuals with enormous style. A cocktail tent - covered entirely with leaves as though it were a hedged room - began the series of spaces at the top of the allée. Inside, murals had been painted as enlarged Persian miniatures depicting Aesop’s Fables.

Beyond that initial tent, one crossed into a garden of topiary animals and descended to the main dining tent. The tables were draped with a simple cotton ticking fabric, linen napkins had been embroidered with the bride and groom’s initials in Persian, the place settings had been made for the occasion by Limoges, and the amethyst-colored glassware was made by Biot. The chairs around each table were mismatched antiques with cushions in the same ticking as the tablecloths. The flowers at the center of each table were in great big amethyst beakers of Biot glass, and the whole was lit by wonky wooden candelabras on the tables, which sat on a sea of sisal. What made an impression on me then was not that it was a fancy party - which, of course, it was - but that it was a party with great style. Style that could be achieved by the skillful mix of high and low, with imagination and inventiveness, and extraordinary taste. While the scale of the whole undertaking was incredibly grand, the elements themselves had a kind of beguiling understatement that always stuck with me.


Interior by Gil Schafer © Eric Piasecki  


The greatest challenge I’ve overcome:

Being an introvert. In my profession, it’s not the most convenient attribute to have. And yet it is my default setting. So, I have worked hard over the years to counteract that instinct, when necessary, because engaging with people - as clients, as collaborators, as readers, as an audience, as teachers, as students, as inhabitors of your work - is what makes possible and enriches your work as an architect. Without those intense and meaningful interactions day after day, you cannot possibly create a successful work of architecture that is to be inhabited by others.

My proudest achievement:

Architecture is both an art form and a business, and those two aspects often have antithetical guiding principles - they are often at odds with each other. One of the things I am most proud of over the years has been to have a practice that hopefully creates beautiful buildings, but is also a successful business. And making the business side of what we do at my firm a success year after year has often been much harder than creating a satisfying body of work.

An object I will never part with:

Toward the end of his life, my grandfather - who was also an architect (as was his grandfather) - gave me a small traveling architect’s scale ruler in a leather sleeve that he'd carried with him on all of his travels while he was in practice. I take it with me on my own travels to sites across the country, and I cherish it - for being able to carry on a profession that he did so well, and as a memento of the times I had with him while he was alive. I also love that such a simple object created for a specific task has maintained its usefulness from one generation to the next.

The best gift I’ve ever received:

My wife and I try to give each other gifts that will delight the other, be used, and be loved. I think it’s always hard to isolate something as the 'best ever', but a recent gift for Father’s Day from my wife and her children stands out: a handsome watch I now wear every day. As a gift it had special meaning to me as a later-in-life husband and stepfather, suggesting that every minute counts in life, and the time we have together as a family is so precious. If I learned anything from the isolation and fearfulness of the Covid years, it was the importance and value of family.

All images © Home at Last, Rizzoli Books 




My guiltiest pleasure or greatest extravagance:

Probably my house on the coast of Maine. It was not something I was looking for, or planning for, but when the opportunity fell in my lap, I took it, conscious of the extravagance of yet another house to maintain, and one whose remoteness meant it would only get used for short periods of time. But it has turned out to be my happiest place to be in life and worth all that has gone into creating it and keeping it.

My next weekend-away destination:

Ballyfin in Ireland: an architecturally magnificent expression of the Greek Revival in Ireland, beautifully brought back to life by the decorator, Colin Orchard, and a team of restoration specialists. To stay there is to feel what it is like to be a guest at a great house in the British Isles. It’s where I spent my 60th birthday weekend - another great party I will always remember.

I would describe my childhood as:

Complicated. Divorced parents, moving around a lot, and changing schools all the time. But if you’re given lemons, make lemonade! My parents, while wildly different from each other, both loved architecture and design, always had some architecture project going while they were together, and cared deeply about how to live in a house well - great conditions for an aspiring architect to be immersed in. All that moving around also meant I was exposed to a variety of places, the ways each was different from the other, and how you lived differently in each of those places - how the houses in each reflected the unique lifestyle of the particular place.

My favourite flea market or antiques fair:

The Battersea Decorative Arts Fair in London has been a great resource in recent years and is always a good excuse to come to London. I love the variety, and I always find things for projects there. It reminds me of Olympia from my younger days.

I feel most confident when wearing:

In the old days, I would have said “tie”, but now I guess I would say a sport coat. I’m always grateful for the extra layer, when needed, and with the seismic shift in the way people dress now in the professional environment, the jacket has held on even if the tie, sadly, has lost a lot of its relevance.


Interior by Gil Schafer © Home at Last, Rizzoli Books 

My signature scent:

I certainly like scent in flowers (lilac, peony, and jasmine are three favorites) or a room candle (Christian Tortu’s Forêts or Mad et Len’s Spirituelle are two that come to mind), but I think it is unnecessary on a man. My memory is probably a little off, but I’m always reminded of the scene in an old film - a Hitchcock film, I think, where the female star compliments Cary Grant for not wearing cologne, saying that it suggested a self-confidence and ease that was so attractive.

My go-to recipe:

Well, I wish I could say that I had one, but I am not the cook in our family—my wife is, and a great one at that. So, I try to stay out of her way in the kitchen and have never regretted it.

My all-time favorite fabric:

I am always drawn to linen somewhere in the scheme for a room, because of its texture possibilities, but also because it leans toward something a little less formal. Even in a fancy setting, the contrast can be interesting.

The person I call for good advice:

For life, my wife; for work, my longtime business advisor, Keith Granet.

The person I call for a good time:

That’s easy—my wife, hands down. We’re so much on the same wavelength for how we like to have fun, it’s ridiculous.


Interior by Gil Schafer © Home at Last, Rizzoli Books 

My dream dinner party companion:

My longtime friend and fellow Virgo, the former editor and now Instagram baking sensation, Elizabeth Mayhew. We don’t get to the same dinners that often, so when we do, we get in deep on the important stuff.

An artwork or exhibition that took my breath away:

Although it was a long time ago, in the late 1970s: the Palladio exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. Its large scale models of his villas made such an impression on 15-year-old me that it cemented my passion for making buildings.

Ideal interiors in three words:

Timeless, comfortable, memorable.

Distasteful interiors in three words:

Edgy, modern farmhouse, on-trend.

A new artist or designer whose work excites me:

The ceramicist Odette Heideman, who makes incredibly beautiful salt-glazed stoneware at her tiny studio in Brooklin, Maine.




One master: David Adler

One muse: Albert Hadley

One city: Edinburgh

One artwork: Orange, Red, Yellow, Mark Rothko, 1961

One book: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

One museum: Musée de la Chasse, Paris

One shop: Connolly, London

One song: The Köln Concert (Live) Part I, Keith Jarrett

One color: Cognac

One flower: Chocolate Cosmos

One word to describe your style: Tailored

One word to describe Cabana: Revelatory

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HOME AT LAST: Enduring Design for the New American House, by Gil Schafer, is published by Rizzoli Books and available to buy now.

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