Her design prowess is evident in her fabric, rug and lighting lines. She works boldly, favoring geometric patterns and making courageous choices.
McDonald’s interiors, while controlled and structured, can be eclectic. She loves many styles and her inspiration comes through many sources, but McDonald makes sure that “there is a strong thematic foundation so all the elements really do go together.”
A born collector, McDonald loves nothing more than seeing a curated collection she never found interesting, until it was amassed in a thoughtful way.
McDonald brings to her high-powered design schemes old world techniques as simple as draping a shawl or throw over a side table. “Even in a modern room, something that has a little old-world glamour, like a pair of French fauteuils or paneled walls or an urn,” is ripe for use.
Deconstructing Mary involves peeling back a highly polished veneer. In interviews, McDonald often projects a devil-may-care attitude. For a quick interior fix and instant glamour consider “oversized door pulls and all-mirrored powder rooms,” McDonald advises.
Or, to turn a simple room into something special, she would “professionally lacquer the room a jewel tone or paint the floor a pattern or something zippy.” Yes, she doesn’t balk at painting hardwood floors with marine paint.
Always put together, she describes her personal style as classic meets eccentric. “I find myself in sweater sets some days and ostrich feathers others — Audrey Hepburn meets Auntie Mame. My interiors have that same range,” McDonald said. Her style icons are described as “people who really go for whatever their ‘thing’ may be.”
McDonald didn’t start out to be an interior designer, though, even her New York apartment as a student was “done.” She studied fashion at the Parsons School of Design and starting making hats for fun.
This hobby turned into a fast-moving train as she found herself in demand when designers, such as Christian Lacroix, started showing their lines with over-the-top hats.
Only in her 20s, she started getting written up by Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times, Vanity Fair and Women’s Wear Daily.
A native Californian, McDonald eventually returned home. There her LA apartment was considered very glamorous for one so young. “Since it was the 1980s, I had a few too many gilded things, but thought it was fantastic,” she said. The apartment surprised people and established her reputation for one who loves glamour, drama and bold gestures — and her career began.
How does McDonald begin a project? She considers the specific needs of the client, assesses the bones of the home to highlight the best and fix the flaws, then filters the plan through her reservoir of inspiration.
“I don’t work by any one set of rules. I work mostly from instinct. Sometimes, I need to cross the line to know where it is. While I am well versed in the technical and theoretical reasons why different objects go together, my approach is visceral. My instincts are well-honed, and, ultimately, I am always trying to create a sense of balance. I don’t mean necessarily pairs or symmetry. I mean aesthetic balance — an artful gestalt.”
What is that cetain something about Mary? Like her style icons, she really goes for her ‘thing.’ McDonald’s design work is an extension of her artistic soul, and therein lies her genius.