Designing Woman

Maureen Footer ’78

Designing Woman

Photo by Mary Hillard

Photo by Mary Hillard

Maureen Footer ’78 knew she had found her design soul mate in George Stacey when she discovered they both owned similar commodes—18th-century French commodes to be precise, from the workshop of Pierre Migeon, cabinetmaker to Madame de Pompadour. To an interior designer like Footer—whose book on Stacey, George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic, was published by Rizzoli in April—such details matter.

Although not a household name today, Stacey helped invent a distinctly American style of interior design: part modern, part classical, and full color. He worked from the 1930s through the 1970s, and his clients included the tastemakers of the 20th century: Grace Kelly, Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley. “What I love most of all about Stacey is that his design principles are still influencing design to this day, like Michael Smith at the White House—even practitioners who aren’t aware of him,” says Footer.

Stacey died in 1993, and because he was an elusive figure even during his lifetime, he had nearly disappeared from the public consciousness. For the past four years, Footer has scoured Army records, wills, ship manifests, and decades of fashion magazines to bring him blazingly back to life in more than 200 colorful pages.

As it turns out, Footer and Stacey have more in common than just Migeon commodes. Both are unabashed Francophiles with boutique design firms catering to New York’s bold-faced names. But unlike Stacey, who always knew he wanted to be an interior designer, Footer’s path has been much more circuitous.

After graduating from Wellesley with degrees in English and French literature, Footer worked first in publishing, at Vogue, and then in finance, at Citibank, in the mid-80s. But while packing her bags on the last night of a vacation in Paris, she decided not to return to her old life. “I realized how important the aesthetic was to my experience, and I really believe one should do what one’s passionate about. You will be the most productive at it and make the biggest difference,” she says.

Upon her return to New York, Footer leveraged her business skills to get a part-time job with a small designer and began taking courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Within a few years, she was working at McMillen, the oldest design firm in the country, followed by a master’s degree (with honors) in the decorative arts from the École du Louvre in Paris.

Since then, her work has appeared in Traditional Home and the Kips Bay Show House. At the moment, she’s immersed in a project on the West Coast with three-sided views of the Golden Gate Bridge, which “George Stacey really ought to be doing,” she says.

Having now added a book to her portfolio, Footer hopes always to “have another book project on my plate.” Like any writer, she’s keeping mum on her next subject, but she hinted it will require lots of travel to Italy (shucks).

Although her career has been quite an eclectic mix, Footer’s well-trained eye can easily discern the thread that runs throughout her life: “What I love, whether I’m working on a book or doing interior design, is narrative: taking a lot of random facts—or random fabrics or pieces of furniture and lamps and art—and giving them some structure that makes sense of it all.”

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