Story of a House: At home with designer Betsy Anderson

Keep on the sunny side
At home with designer Betsy Anderson

by Jesma Reynolds
photographs by Catherine Nguyen

“Wherever I live, I can just make it work,” says interior designer Betsy Anderson. In her rental bungalow near North Hills, she did more than that: she elevated a fairly straightforward Cape Cod into a home with style and elegance.

A few deceptively simple techniques serve as her guides. She decorates with neutral colors and accessorizes with antiques and flowers; she uses whatever she has; she constantly adapts and refines. “You don’t need a lot of stuff…just good stuff,” she says. Case in point: Anderson placed a set of four daffodil leather chairs by the late Greensboro, N.C. designer Otto Zenke (intended for a client who never claimed them) in her sunroom for an unexpected pop of color. A carefully edited arrangement of furniture and accessories allows each piece to be noticed in the room.

Anderson says she often looks to fashion for interior design inspiration, and cites Ralph Lauren as a great influence. “He’s a genius because he’s so timeless and classic. It’s similar to what I would do … where he might just have a tailored white suit and a gold cuff and tortoise shell sunglasses … that’s a house for me. A sofa, a pair of lamps, a pair of lampshades…”

 

It’s an approach she and her daugher Katie O’Neal use when working with residential clients. “Working with Katie is so great because she see things in a fresh way,” says Anderson, herself a graduate of Parson’s School of Design and Smith College. She believes design is something “you inherently get … you don’t necessarily have to go to school for it,” and credits her mother and grandmother for helping to hone her eye. Both were forward thinkers, Anderson says. Her mother liked architecture, and was always open to trying new things. Once, she imported 24 inch x 24 inch stone tiles from Italy to use for flooring at their house in Marblehead, Massachussetts, and then proceeded to paint them white. For her part, Anderson’s grandmother was an avid collector who insisted on using her finest things all the time. Both women had a lasting impact.

“I think each generation – my grandmother, my mother, myself – we’ve refined the technique of design.” In hopes of continuing that legacy with her daughter Katie and beyond, Anderson is a passionate collector of art. “It is my passion. Someday it will hang in the homes of my children and their children.”