Growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, textile designer Lisa Fine distinctly remembers an endearing love for both hair ribbons and the historic home of Jefferson Davis, even if at the time she couldn't quite put her finer on the reasoning."I was always in pigtails just so I could wrap my hair in ribbons," she remembers, a smile lilting in her Southern drawl, still intact despite having been away from the south since college. "And I adored visits to Biloxi to see Jefferson Davis' home; I liked that better than [going to] the local fair."
These childhood interests may have seemed inconsequential at the tender age of six, although they both proved to be a bit of a premonition; ribbons translated into a delving passion for textiles, and the design of Davis’ former residence launched Fine’s obsession for home decor. Initially, her post-collegiate career choice sent her seeking out the world of fashion (she worked at both Mademoiselle and Mirabelle directly after graduating), but she soon switched gears and became a contributing editor to Elle Decor and House Beautiful. Although the interest had been nesting in her since childhood, it was New York, she claims, that officially hatched her fascination for interiors.
“There is so much to learn about design [in New York] if you’re curious,” she says of the city where she has a studio apartment. “As long as your keep your eyes open, remain exposed and make an effort to meet the right people.”
Fine certainly followed her own advice, exposing herself to the art and design of worldly cultures and making acquaintances along the way. She quickly developed a distinguished admiration for exotic textiles, particularly from India, and began designing her own fabrics in accord with Indian design, including tailor-made headboards that ignited a stir within the design community. She also paired with fellow textile designer Carolina Irving to open Irving & Fine, turning the foreign prints into peasant blouses for retail; upon its launch, the blouses flew feverishly off the shelves.
But perhaps the real showcase of Fine’s inexplicable talent for textile design is the transformation of perfectly articulated fabrics into breathless décor, as is evidenced throughout the guest apartment of her Seventh arrondissement flat in Paris, where she has shared her time (along with Manhattan) for the past six years. Calling the purchase of the initial flat a “fluke,” she saw the place before it went on the market and was instantly moved to buy, investing in the neighboring guest house a few years later.
The first project Fine tackled in the guest apartment involved reworking the interior space structurally; she changed the kitchen into the bathroom, and the living room into the master bedroom. Her thought was to create the perfect “hotel suite atmosphere” by keeping the kitchen at a minimal space while maintaining the emphasis on the leisure spaces. After the renovation was complete, the apartment boasted a stunningly spacious master bed and bath, along with a sitting room and additional guest bedroom. The bones were set in stone, and Fine set out to perfect the decor.
Not surprisingly, fabric proved to be Fine’s main source of inspiration as she moved her way through the guest apartment, envisioning each room with its own distinct personality. In fact, the master bedroom, guest bedroom, and sitting room each hold privy to their own individually thematic textiles, all hand-picked from India and designed by Fine herself. When it comes to choosing textiles for her own spaces, Fine finds herself drawn to a wide variety of fabrics. “I gravitate toward most any textile as long as I like it,” she says, “anything from embroideries to ikats, block prints to solids—I truly love them all.”
Both bedrooms are wallpapered spectacularly in fabric that is handblock-printed on silk; the guest bedroom was inspired by the flowers in the popular Tree of Life designs, whereas the master one (Fine’s favorite room, in close competition with the bathroom) features a pattern inspired by a Persian tapestry, block-printed with white curry and gold on silk saris. Above the master bed is one of Fine’s own headboard designs, a white-on-white Chikan embroidery (created only by the women of Lucknow) that is one of the most feminine and elegant embroideries available, according to Fine. The room is laden in soft washes of pink, one of her favorite colors; she also loves reds, indigos and curries.
A Kutch embroidery enraptures the sitting room, a beautifully sunny space that carries a breath of freshness and warmth through a variety of rich colors and a mixture of contemporary and vintage pieces. An Indian Pakistan embroidery, it is often done with mirrors, and Irving & Fine uses the same textile on their coats and peasant tops. “It’s a pattern I absolutely adore,” says Fine, “so much that I couldn’t help but do my entire living room in it.”
The master bathroom is the only room not inspired by a specific fabric, but it certainly does not take away from the inviting nature the apartment as a whole exudes. Outfitted with an old-fashioned tub and sink, Fine finished the floor in white marble edged in black and the walls in pink wainscot. The space has a touch of art deco, and carries the quaint hotelesque sophistication Fine was striving for.
Fine literally made almost all decor-related items in her apartment herself (all materials were hand-picked from India), with the exception of her West Elm table, banquette made in Paris, a rug from Kashgar, China, and the two red chairs in her sitting room, which were constructed in Africa from tomato cans. The project took her several years, and she’s always on the lookout for additional accessories to add extra life to her space. A big fan of perusing unique finds at Indian markets and not afraid to apply clever tricks, she collected a series of Indian miniatures which were copies of the authentic antique versions, and then framed all in bone so they appeared to comprise an expensive collection.
Most recently, Fine launched a new fabric line inspired by Persian, Indian and Turkish designs, which can be found at Sulleli and Hollywood Home in L.A. She also loves flowers, and turns to Persian miniatures and Indian Palampores for additional inspiration. Not one to shy from opportunity, she actually used the decoration of her guest home as a method of experimentation for the line, taking into consideration how the fabrics and patterns worked amongst one another. The latter is evidence that Fine is talented not only in creating patterns, but in pairing them as well.
Designing and decorating the guest home took about three years, but it now successfully reflects what Fine refers to as a “cozy apartment that doesn’t feel like you’re in the city,” a re-invention of Indian aesthetics within a charming Parisian courtyard. Though the home is mostly complete from a decor standpoint, Fine is always seeking further inspiration, most commonly on her trips to India, where the culture, energy and artistic beauty she encounters fuel her imagination for the next textile pattern.
“Traveling in India is a never-ending journey and education in textile,” she says. “The colors of India are a constant surprise; each trip I discover another beautiful color combination or shade.”