….That’s the name of his new design show on Bravo
PHOTOS BY George Kamper
Hi, come in! Love your slippers!” I stifle a giggle of delight. Carson Kressley likes my shoes! My choice of footwear—Stubbs & Wootten-esque Schiaparelli pink slippers embroidered with a skull and crossbones—was made after long deliberation. I was dressing for a royal audience.
Carson Kressley is, any way you slice it, the king of style. He rocketed to fame as the campy leader of the Fab Five on the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and has been a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race for seven seasons. This October, he reunited with his Queer Eye comrade Thom Filicia for Get a Room, a design program that airs Fridays on Bravo. Look up style in the dictionary, and you’ll see Carson’s picture.
However, there’s far more to Carson than meets the eye. Some of his fans might not be aware that he’s a serious equestrian with a world-champion title in showing Saddlebred horses. When it comes to the décor of his own homes, Carson’s love of horses is reflected in a style he characterizes as “equestrian theme park.” We visited his farm in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to see how his unique aesthetic translates to country living.
Aware that the Kressley family has been in the Lehigh Valley since the late 18th century, I had envisioned Carson’s country hideaway as a 200-year-old white clapboard farmhouse shaded by ancient oaks. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The red-brick, ranch-style house, built in 1973, was unexpected. But the minute I stepped through the door, any trace of that noisome decade was long vanquished.
Carson explains, “When I bought this house, it literally had not been touched since it was built. It had avocado-green appliances, a mauve toilet and sink, and a step-up bathtub with draperies in the master bathroom.” His blue eyes widen as he describes the horror. “But the house had great bones with well-proportioned rooms, real wooden beams, and massive fireplaces.” That being the case, no significant structural renovations were necessary. He stripped the house down to the studs and undertook a cosmetic renovation focusing on paint and wallpaper.
He notes, “I’m on cable. This is a second home. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on it.”
When he began decorating, Carson envisioned a very sparse, minimalist “Hamptons Horse” aesthetic dominated by a black-and-white color scheme. But that vision was soon dashed upon the shoals of his innate love of stuff. “I just can’t help myself. I like pillows, patterns, prints, books. I’m a maximalist, and I can’t do simple,” he says. He’s always on the lookout for anything horsey in his travels, and he admits that he’s willing to build his décor around pieces he loves. “You buy things you love,” he continues, “and you’re going to live with them and make it work.” As an example, he points to an antique weathervane he found at a flea market. Topped by a Saddlebred horse, this piece was a particularly delicious find.
Carson has a few design tricks that he consistently relies on to achieve the look he’s aiming for. Flea markets are a favored hunting ground, and one of his favorite shopping destinations is the Round Top Antiques Fair, held every April and October in Round Top, Texas. “It’s the most phenomenal vintage shopping in the world. You can get incredible bargains,” Carson explains. “There are shipping companies on-site, and shipping is not expensive.” He also visits the High Point Market in High Point, North Carolina, which is the largest furnishings-industry trade show in the world. While the selection of furnishings is vast, he cautions that the show is only open to the trade and shipping can be prohibitively expensive.
Another tool that Carson uses to great effect is wallpaper. His entryway and mudroom boast vintage equestrian-design wallpaper from the 1990s. He found it looking through old samples from high-end wallpaper manufacturer, Thibaut. The design had been discontinued for years, but in a stroke of luck the manufacturer found 10 remaining rolls and was gracious enough to give them to Carson. A striking brown equestrian print toile de joie in one guest bedroom and a hunting print in an upstairs bathroom are from York Wall Coverings.
One of the keys to Carson’s striking design sensibility is his ability to blend the old with the new to create a look that’s fresh and exciting. The focal point of one upstairs bedroom is an antique bed that belonged to Carson’s great-grandmother and grandmother. He says, “When you have a piece that’s a little grandma-ish, literally, you need to add some flair.” A modern piece of artwork, some Balinese-fabric pillows, and a Ralph Lauren treatment for the bed dispel any lingering aura of mothballs and rosewater.
Choosing the right pieces for a room’s focal point is another significant element of successful design, and nowhere in Carson’s house is this more evident than the den. A pair of Timothy Oulton saddle chairs in brown nubuck leather, complete with stirrups, dominate the room and are complemented by a pair of claw-leg stools that stand on hooves. A rank of antique hunting prints lines the mantelpiece, while the room’s dominant piece of art is a framed Hermès scarf. (Framed Hermès scarves are another Carson go-to, and he notes drily that he has many.) Naturally, there are pillows everywhere. “It’s all about the mix,” says Carson. “It can’t be all hunt scenes. You have to add some modern elements.”
Although Carson has lived in New York City for 27 years (see story below), he relishes the time he spends in the Pennsylvania countryside with his family and his horses. After we’ve toured the house, we pile into his midnight-blue Range Rover for a short drive to see his farm. He explains that the German farmers who settled Pennsylvania took greater pride in their barns than their homes, and each barn was intended to be a showpiece. Carson’s stone barn, built in 1887, offers agreeably attractive accommodations to some of his retired show horses. Once we’ve had the opportunity to admire the 19th-century architecture we’re back in the Range Rover for one last treat—a visit to Carson’s horse Beau at Broadmoor Farm, a world-class training facility that attracts Saddlebred riders from around the country.
While Carson is experienced in many equestrian disciplines, he fell in love with Saddlebreds as a boy and purchased his first horse at the age of 14. He explained, “Saddlebred horses have always been my favorite because they’re the supermodels of the show ring.” Carson puts Beau through his paces in Broadmoor’s indoor arena. He’s an elegant rider, and Beau prances and trots with all the flamboyance of Naomi Campbell walking the runway. I see his point.
EQLiving readers may recall our 2013 visit to the Manhattan apartment of Carson Kressley, where he combined equestrian decor with urban sophistication. Most of us knew Carson from his Emmy-Award-winning show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, his season on Dancing with the Stars, or Carson Nation, which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Visit Carson and his Manhattan apartment here (page 40): (Photos: Michael Weschler)
Carson recently launched a new show on Bravo, Get A Room. He once again teams up with Thom Filicia who we remember from watching these two on Bravo’s Queer Eye. Thom is an expert interior designer, while Carson is a fashion guru. However, Carson has recently been bitten by the decor bug, and Thom will be there to take him under his wing to tackle home projects big and small together in this new series. Luckily, we get to go along for this fun and fabulous ride.
Each episode of Get a Room with Carson & Thom features two clients enlisting the help of Carson and Thom to transform their spaces into something spectacular. In the words of Carson in the trailer for the new series, “Look out, America!” Watch it here.
Carson reflects on the legacy of Queer Eye: