Best friends Caroline Cummings Rafferty and Georgia Tapert Howe may quite possibly be living the dream. Both with degrees in art history and experience working for some of the world’s top design firms, it was a mutual love for the decorative arts in particular that propelled them to launch their own home décor line in 2008, appropriately named Carolina George.
The idea for a furniture line was born out of necessity. Both living in city apartments where space is limited, the two friends found themselves daydreaming about practical pieces that could be used in a multitude of ways, but where style wasn’t compromised by functionality. Plenty of great options were available at larger retail outlets, but many of these newly designed pieces lacked the sophistication, quality and detail of some of the historical ones they’d become familiar with over the years of study and design practice. One furniture period in particular—the Campaigne furniture movement of the late-19th century—was a shining testament to highly mechanized pieces that maintained aesthetic integrity. This type of furniture—often compartmentalized and built with transformative elements—acts as a blueprint for what Carolina George is designing today.
It’s obvious the already much-accomplished young women of Carolina George have flawless taste; and, coupled with the brains, ingenuity and the drive to succeed, we foresee the making of a brand that will quickly become a décor mainstay. Lucky for us, we sat down the pair to discuss their partnership, the label and where they’d like to take it:
IC: It must be great to work with your best friend. Are there two distinct, perhaps polarizing design differences between you two? If so, how do you reconcile these differences?
CG: We are pretty similar in our design aesthetics. If we feel differently about a certain project or piece of furniture, then we usually find some common ground and make a compromise.
IC: I read on your blog that you took a recent trip to Turkey. How does travel influence your work?
CG: Travel definitely influences our design practices. In Istanbul, we captured some beautiful images—many from the city’s beautiful mosques—that we’ve digitally sketched into designs for our new line of trays, serving pieces and future fabric line.
IC: If your design style had to be summed up in terms of color, what colors are you?
CG: We typically go with neutrals like shades of white and brown, and mix them up with a pop of color, like orange or olive green.
IC: If you could take a trip with an iconic designer/tastemaker, who would it be and why?
Georgia: Coco Chanel. After I saw the film Coco Avant Chanel I was really inspired by how much she accomplished as a woman given the time period. Her taste is impeccable.
Caroline: I’ve been more influenced by time periods than one specific designer. If I could take a trip back in time, I’d love to live during the Campaigne furniture movement of the late 19th century. Also, it would have been really cool to experience the sense of discovery the British endured during The Grand Tour (18th -19th-century European travel by British nobility).
IC: What are your favorite NYC spots on a Sunday?
Georgia: I love going to Morandi for dinner.
Caroline: I love people watching in Central Park after having lunch at the Park Avenue Cafe, where I am always happily surprised by their changing interior and menu.
IC: You were both Art History majors. How does fine art fit into your designs? Do you design around art pieces, or vice versa?
Caroline: Art History definitely influences our design process and overall aesthetic. We are always interested in how the history of a particular piece of furniture or time period could shape our design.
Georgia: When I studied Art History in school it was more focused on fine art. It wasn’t until I worked for design greats David Easton, Haynes-Roberts and Mica Ertegun that I fell in love with the history of decorative arts.
IC: Is there a design period that you feel has the most impact in your work?
CG: For our furniture line, definitely the Campaign furniture movement for the mechanized and practical way they approached furniture design. For our interiors, we appreciate so many periods. The goal is to find the balance when mixing time periods, as to tell a story.
IC: What excites your customers most about your furniture line? Is there a most popular piece? What is your favorite piece?
Georgia: I think our customers get excited about the transformative nature of each piece we design. What is popular really depends on the client’s needs, but I can say that everyone loves the School Girl Desk. My favorite piece is probably the Slipper Chair or the School Girl Chair.
Caroline: I love both the School Girl Chair and Desk. I also love the Accordian Director’s Chair—I just bought one for my apartment!
IC: Tell us about your new home accessories line.
CG: Our new home accessories line is a new branch of our business that we hope to keep growing. At the moment, we have just sold out of a line of trays and serving pieces that we’ve developed from the prints of our upcoming fabric line. We will be introducing new color ways and custom colors very soon!