NEW YORK—A gentleman in every sense of the word, Geoffrey Bradfield sported an immaculate white suit, striped shirt, and bow tie. His distinguished winged haircut hinted at the fact that here is a designer with a refined, yet playful signature.
“Well I’ve never been short of ideas and I don’t like a formula,” he said articulating his thoughts—gently intoned speech, with a posh accent.
He has a talent for creating daring juxtapositions with the objects he combines, in a perfectly balanced way that exudes elegance and a subtle glamour. If interior design sets the scene to reflect a person’s lifestyle, Bradfield just knows how to collaborate very well with his clients to highlight, and in some cases help form their identities.
“I believe that we as designers are only as good as our clients allow us to be,” he wrote in his book, “Artistic License,” an English-Chinese bilingual interior design book of high caliber.
Everything that Bradfield designs is custom-made for the interiors of his regal and Fortune 500 clients who span the globe. Most of his clients are collectors and his work is invariably predicated on the use of contemporary art. He has overhauled Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Westbury, Long Island, estate, the late King Hussein’s mansion in Maryland, and Hollywood director Oliver Stone’s riverside New York apartment, to name a few. Currently he’s working on palatial-type residencies in Tokyo, Hakone, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Jakarta.
He quoted a tried and true saying to explain his success. “You have to learn to bend to stand up straight,” he said, quoting Confucius.
Soon to turn 70 and looking younger than his age, he takes life as it comes. He has a keen sense of humor, which was highlighted by contrast to his perfect posture and apparent restraint, as he requested to keep several witty points “off the record.”
A Grateful New Yorker From the South African Riviera
A New Yorker at heart since the ’70s, Bradfield was born in South Africa. He grew up on a farm in the Transkei part of Eastern Cape Province with spectacular views of the Indian Ocean. He’s the fourth generation of farming families who immigrated on land grants that were given by the British Crown in 1820. That coastline of the Transkei is often referred to as the South African Riviera.
“I had a wonderful childhood growing up on the wild coast. It was very, very beautiful,” Bradfield said in his jewel of an apartment on Park Avenue.
His propensity to have everything in place comes through in his work. Many writers have described his style, how there’s such a sense of serenity about the spaces he has designed.
“I like order, I love serenity,” he affirmed.
Growing up he “drove his family to distraction” because he would constantly rearrange the furniture in the house, which he said was very large but “with no architectural merit to speak of.” His parents allowed him to turn the house into his formative design laboratory.
“The only chair I was not allowed to move was my father’s. That was the only one that was sacrosanct,” he said laughing. He also loved orchestrating parties. “I would have everyone up all night creating decorations, planning events …” he said.
After completing his army training, he left South Africa to travel around the world for two years. During his travels he came to New York for the first time at the age of 19 and instantly fell in love with the city.
“I just knew this is where I was going to live. It was as simple as that. The proverbial bell went off, ‘Bradfield this is where you are going to live one day,'” he said. After that initial trip, later he would visit New York, which he calls “the definitive 20th and 21st century city,” every year in June for seven years.
He had a very comfortable life in South Africa, where he enjoyed his dogs and horses, and a very successful interior design company. At 28 he pulled the rug out from under his own feet. It was an inevitable, huge sacrifice moving to New York because he had to start from scratch like everyone else.
But it was worth it. “There’s nothing like it. I think you can be, really, anything you want to be. I know it’s such an ill-used term but the energy here has no equal,” he said.
Place and Timeless Beauty
Ultimately Bradfield draws his inspiration from art, from the past, and from a deeper source.
“There’s no more glorious, inspiration than nature,” he said. When asked how he would define beauty, Bradfield said it’s “very simple, timeless, and classic.”
He showed a custom-made carpet that he designed for a penthouse residence in the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem, which can be seen in his latest book, “A 21st Century Palace, Jerusalem”—the second one in a series of five. Location is crucial to his design choices. “It’s hardly likely that you get to do a Tutor style apartment in a high rise,” he said.
As the penthouse is located in the heart of Jerusalem he wanted to introduce biblical references. In addition to including ancient statues of the prophet Jonah and King David, the lilies on the lavish master bedroom carpet that blossom along a free-form vine reference Reuben’s Lily, or mandrake, in the Song of Solomon.
“We cannot ignore the past. The past is where we come from, it’s our reference,” he said in his Beekman drawing room that he designed with the ’30s in mind.
China Looking West
Bradfield is honored to have been invited to judge the national Chinese design competition in Shanghai for the past three years. He finds it exciting to work with his Chinese clients, whom he calls “the billionaires of our time,” and believes that we are looking at an emerging Chinese century.
“Up until recently my feeling was that China lacked, to some extent, an identity in a decorative sense. It was beaten out of them by Mao and their culture was almost completely obliterated for 60 years,” he said.
“It is not unnatural that they would look to the West culturally to fill a void,” he added.
He’s particularly impressed by the Chinese families he works with, at how fast they have adapted and refined their taste in art while shopping in New York.
“I’m astounded at how much more confident they are, how much more in synch they are with their own emerging taste and I find that very exciting that I can be a small part of that process,” he said.
Bradfield is a recipient of a Fengshui Certificate from Nanjing University of China. He was fortunate to be 1 of 10 designers invited from around the world, as a guest of the Cultural Division of the Chinese regime. He found it was an enriching experience and an opportunity to acquaint himself with Chinese traditions, which date back several thousand years. He continues to immerse himself in such exploration, and it is a constant learning curve for him.
Leaving His Imprint
Bradfield is very proud of the publications he has produced and continues to produce. The third book in the “21st Century Palace” series is on a Washington residence, and will be published in November.
“No one wants to ride away into the sunset without leaving some imprint. In many ways my books have, quite by accident, become a record of my career,” he said.
Bradfield has been named a “Dean of American Design” by Architectural Digest, one of the top 10 in the world by the “Robb Report,” and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors throughout his career. Still he’s rather modest about it. “I always feel ‘Wow is it me, are they talking about this farm boy?’ and they say these flattering things about me, and I think ‘Is this for real?'” he said.
One thing he’s definitely not shy about is his signature. “I think people will look at a project and say, ‘Oh that’s Geoffrey Bradfield,’ I’m absolutely confident of that,” he said smiling.