Join design editor Ariane Moore for Hunker Down as she gets to know the creators and designers she's followed for ages.
If you aren't already familiar with the name Tiffany Thompson, then let me just say that: a) You are missing out; and, b) You are in for a treat. The New York native and founder of Duett Interiors is as talented as they come thanks to her thoughtful and creative approach to design. Based in Portland, Oregon, Thompson has managed to do the seemingly impossible — successfully turn a two-story builder-grade townhouse into a swanky home for herself, her boyfriend, fine artist Julian Gaines, and her two pups. The two-bedroom/two-bathroom abode is a celebration of life and art as evidenced by the unique pieces of decor, vintage treasures, and visual inspiration showcased throughout. But beyond her ability to curate beautiful spaces, she's also just a really cool person. Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of hunkering down with Thompson to chat about her swoon-worthy home and her chic, yet approachable, sense of style.
Hunker: How would you describe your home's style?
Tiffany Thompson: I always say there's no name for my style yet. Eventually, hopefully, they will create a new style that defines who I am, but I'm very much inspired by, and live off of the ethos of wabi sabi — just really celebrating imperfection and the beauty in things, and that's definitely seen throughout [my home]. My upstairs feels different than my downstairs — my downstairs is very black and white and my office is a bright powder blue. And then my bedroom is all muted tones of cream and brown. So it's interesting using different colors and [telling] different stories in the small space that we have. It really was about getting creative ... I definitely couldn't knock down walls, and I have an HOA that is restrictive. And I think that what's really interesting about design is that at times some of your most creative ideas can come from restrictions or limitations.
The vibe here is really just a celebration of art and a celebration of life. We tried to add some small architectural details, like in my living room we have this beautiful black [wood] slat feature wall that hides my TV and it's become the focal point of the space. It also [makes the space] feel a little bit more intimate. It's rooted in black and white, grays, and a neutral color palette ... really allowing the art to be the moment that shines through the house.
Hunker: In addition to being an interior designer, you also sell products. What was the inspiration behind your unique pillows?
TT: It's kind of funny, I went to the Ralph Lauren store in Chicago one day and I was talking to one of the sales associates about a bunch of random things and she was like, "Yeah well you know everything that Ralph designs is based on a family member," and that really hit home for me. When I really thought about design, and the first person that [I remember designing] who looked like me, it was my grandmother. She was the designer in our household, and the only designer I ever knew. And so the pillows are inspired by her.
I have memories of growing up in Queens, NY, and she had a plastic-covered couch. And everybody had one, which is so crazy because I used to think it was just us ... and then, I would go to my Indian friends' house, and I'd be like "Oh, your couch is wrapped in plastic, too!" And then my Jewish friends and my Italian friends ... we were [all] on the same page with the plastic-wrapped couch. But it just became this [realization] like, "Oh, wow! This isn't just my home." It became the backdrop of a lot of memories ... I remember how it felt like to lay on that couch in the summertime, falling asleep on the couch, and being stuck to the couch. My grandma was one of the most amazing people ... she helped raise me, and it's really just paying homage to her. What's really great about the pillows is the vinyl mixed with the really fun patterns underneath — jacquards, wovens, and canvases. But then the outer vinyl just gives it a little bit of shine and sheen, and it pairs nicely with other traditional pillows that have a little less structure to them.
Hunker: Is there an item in your home that looks expensive, but was really a bargain find or a DIY project?
TT: The first thing we did was a DIY with my handyman — we did my powder bath. The countertops were this really ugly quartzite brown, and then the cabinets were brown, so everything in there was brown and not a good brown either. We painted the cabinets and the countertops. And at the time, I didn't even know that we could paint a stone. I thought, "Oh, I have to remove the stone and get a new one." But he was like, "No, you can totally paint this."
And then the next thing was the wood slat wall [in my living room]. I started looking to see if I could [buy] a slat wall that was already made, but they didn't make a size that would fit my wall. And they were super expensive, like $3,000 or something. So I ended up going to The Home Depot with my handyman and I was like, "Why don't we just do this ourselves?" So that's what we did. We cut the slats to size and [nailed] each one to the wall and then painted it black. It's not perfect ... but it's something striking and beautiful in our home. And everyone who walks in says, "Oh wow! That's super cool. How did you do that? Was it really expensive?" And no, [it wasn't]. The boards were maybe $4 per board, so it cost under $1,000 to put together this feature wall. And then we did that with the fireplace and it cost a couple hundred dollars.
I'm not a huge do-things-myself type of designer — I really like to rely on the experts because ... I want to make sure it looks right. I think sometimes with a DIY project, you can tell it's a DIY project. So if I'm doing something, or if I have an idea, I'm working in partnership with my handyman or my contractor to figure out how we do it. But I'm assisting ... I like to get my hands dirty ... and assist in it because I think that there is value in putting effort into something and then seeing the result of that effort.
Hunker: Art clearly plays a big role in your home. Can you talk about the art direction? How do you decide on which pieces to showcase?
TT: It's based on feeling. I think that I'm one of those people that's really blessed to have an artist (Julian Gaines) that lives in the house. Sometimes I go to his studio and I'm just looking around and I'm like "Oh man, this piece is really powerful. Can we put it in the house?" And it doesn't just become a "Yes!" Sometimes I have to buy those pieces of art in order to get them in the house, or I have to negotiate for something else to get them. Or, some of these pieces ... we have a massive piece in our dining room ... and that is a borrowed piece. We're kind of using our home as a small art gallery, too, so our friends and people can come and visit us and then they can see the art. And if somebody wants that piece we can easily sell that to them.
We are always rotating our pieces of art in the house, but it's telling a story and it's really thinking about conversational pieces and celebrating Black art and Black artists. He's not the only artist in our house, we have a Derrick Adams piece, he has a David Hammons piece, we have a lot of different pieces that we're starting to collect. It's really based around current events, what's happening, the color story that I want to tell in the home ... a lot of the pieces are dictated by that ... like my bedroom has a piece dedicated to Yusuf Hawkins, who was a young man that was murdered in Brooklyn. And not only because the story was so powerful and it resonated with being raised in New York, but also from a design aesthetic. So we're always [thinking]: How do things work within our household? And how do they accentuate what we already have? And I'm thinking of proportions, too. Does the message also work in partnership with the scale of that piece? Is the message that strong to also create a really powerful conversation? Because that's what art should do — whether you like it or not it should evoke some kind of emotion and some kind of conversation.
Hunker: Where do you go for inspiration?
TT: My favorite of all time is Axel Vervoordt. Tadao Ando — he's a Japanese designer and everything he does is super clean. And then I love Colin King, he's a really amazing interior stylist. I always refer back to those. I've also lately have been really obsessed with churches, like old-school or run-down churches, which is kind of weird. But there's something really cool about the wood and the stained glass and the structure — they've made some really beautiful churches. That's been my latest inspiration, especially in a time when we can't travel.
But I also just look around my surroundings ... I love being in Portland, it's an amazing city full of creatives and designers. And I think that Portland is going through its own renaissance right now of makers, and so I just like discovering new places. One of my favorite shops here is Color Theory Design Co. and she's a florist ... and I'll pop over to her shop sometimes ... and I'll just watch her make arrangements and look at the color palettes.
Hunker: What shops/brands do you love shopping when you're looking for furniture and decor for your home or for clients?
TT: Oh, there's so many! I love the website Rouse Home and what's really unique about them is that they have all of the really high-end brands — that are more international, and not always showcased in the U.S. I love Menu ... it's a company that I'm obsessed with. Horne and TRNK NYC ... I really like them. And then I love 1stDibs and Chairish — when I'm searching for vintage finds or really unique pieces those are the best sites ever. There's a store in Portland called Urbanite, and this is my favorite store ever and they have small vendors within this larger space and everybody sells different stuff from different places. I go there every two weeks because they get new stuff every two weeks! (laughs)
Hunker: What book is on your nightstand and/or coffee table right now? What show are you binge-watching?
TT: The book that I literally just put in my bedroom is The Gucci Mane Guide to Greatness. Gucci Mane is a rapper and I've never even listened to like one of his songs before, but my boyfriend has been obsessed with him and he's been reading his book. He was like, " I think you would really like his book." It's kind of refreshing because it's different than anything that I would ever pick up ... but it's really cool and inspiring. And then the show that I've been watching, Your Honor — have you seen that?
Hunker: No, I haven't.
TT: Oh my gosh! Okay, it's with the guy from Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston and it's on Showtime and it's a story ... all about ethics and morals, and about how every decision you make can either make it worse or make it better. You should totally watch it, because it is insane and they just [announced] there will be a season two. It's just an amazing show. I'm also obsessed with This Is Us. I think the whole first season, every episode I cried, and then I'm like, "Why do I keep watching this if it makes me cry?!" But I can't stop watching it.
Hunker: Do you have a favorite room in your house?
TT: The powder bath on my first floor that all of my guests use. It's wall-to-wall wallpaper that I got from Drop It Modern. That's just such a cool space because when you walk into our house and everything is pretty neutral and very textural, it's like a surprise when you go in that bathroom. It's a printed visual that's unexpected — it kind of punches you in the face — and everybody's like "Oh, wow!"
But I also love our bedroom ... I love the calmness and sereness. I'm not a maximalist and I think that you can really celebrate design, and you can make a statement, and you can evoke that same emotion with less. And I love that our bedroom is able to do that. It's calm, there are no TVs, and it's just one color palette, so your brain allows you to relax. I directly feel peace and calm when I walk into that space. I never get sick of that ... it's always refreshing. As a creative and a designer, my brain is always going, I'm always thinking about stuff, and so it's nice to just be in that space and feel like "Okay, I can unpack now."
Hunker: What item in your home was a big splurge?
TT: I bought this art piece — that was my first major art piece outside of my boyfriend's art — from Derrick Adams. And it was a lot of thousands of dollars! (laughs) I won't say how much it is was, but it was definitely a hefty purchase. It was something that I saw in a show at The Met and I was like, "Okay, if I can ever get this piece, I'm going to buy it." And it became available and I was like, "Oh my god! I can't believe I'm spending this much on an art piece." But it's the first thing you see when you enter our house, and hopefully, in our next home, we'll be able to showcase it in a way that's even more beautiful and really stands out. I don't regret the purchase. I think it's all relative. I think everybody spends their money on the things that are really important to them. And if you think about how often you're using something, viewing something, or how something makes you feel, I don't think a price tag can dictate whether or not it's the right purchase. It's also about balancing high and low and how it's paired together, no one would ever know the difference.
Hunker: Do you have anything in your home that is vintage or has been handed down?
TT: Oh yeah! My Wassily chairs. I got them from Chairish but it was from an older couple in Chicago. And they were just trying to get rid of stuff because they were downsizing, so I got them for a steal. I have milking stools from the '50s that I got from 1stDibs. A lot of my primitive vases are from Etsy, sourced from different places in Morocco and Mexico City. What's really unique about vintage items is that it [shows] that it's lasted over a period of time, which means that it's really great quality and it's durable.
Also, I love the idea of something having a story prior to when it reached me. We all have a story, but to think about furniture having a story — it's been through different homes, it's had different memories with different people, and now it's coming into your home. That's a really cool and unique thing. And again celebrating this level of imperfection where most furniture pieces or items that you get vintage are not perfect — it's been worn, somebody has used it, somebody has appreciated it, and now it's getting a new life.
Hunker: Since we have all been staying at home more than ever over the last year, do you have any new hobbies or interests?
TT: Oh, yeah! I've been cooking a little bit more. You know, it's really just understanding what I'm putting into my body and how it makes me feel. Also, I love the idea of activating my five senses — I like looking at the colors of food, touching it, smelling it, putting it all together, and then seeing the finished piece. I feel like everybody needs small wins every day. And cooking became a small win for me— it's a little challenge that felt controllable in a situation that's so uncontrollable. Your mental health is everything, so sometimes you have to mentally trick your brain, so you don't get frustrated about uncontrollable things. I don't know, for some reason, it's been working for me, keeping me sane for the last year or so. I'm going to [stick] with it.