“It was almost like an empty art gallery,” Smith notes. “Instead of us adapting to a historic interior, my job was to build back a sense of history by layering paneling, fabrics, chandeliers, furniture, and artworks.” Simple tweaks like raising the doorways to accentuate the 12-foot ceilings helped immensely. “Essentially, I got to direct the movie I had in my head of how we wanted to live in Madrid, and I wanted each room to be an immersive experience.”
As director, Smith had a thick portfolio of ideas and what he calls “mental souvenirs” of rooms, homes, palaces, fabrics, bedsteads, wallpapers, and other inspiration from travels through Spain and elsewhere in Europe. At the embassy residence, he had cheekily placed LA artist Ed Ruscha’s text painting Screaming in Spanish right at the front door. A decade later, for the couple’s private home, he wanted something more subtle.
When first-time visitors say the home looks more French than Spanish, it gives Smith an opportunity to recount that, starting in 1700, Spain was ruled by a branch of the French Bourbon dynasty, whose first monarch, Philip V, grew up at Versailles, and his taste was absorbed by the Spanish nobility. Even 250 years later in the 1950s and ’60s, Spanish tastemakers were among the biggest clients of Parisian decorating firm Maison Jansen. Smith sees the firm’s pared-down but over-scaled midcentury adaptations of rococo and Regency design—from paneling and furniture to doors and lighting—all over Madrid. Here, working with Portuguese architect Alexandre Gamelas of A.G.C.S. Arquitectos, Smith created his own version of that cross-Pyrenees cross-pollination.
In the grand dining room, he collaborated with Féau Boiseries to create the architecture. Designed to showcase Smith’s treasured 18th-century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper panels in Regency frames, Féau created mirrored pilasters adorned with tiny figures going about the tasks of daily life, to visually order the lengthy room, and de Gournay provided a custom green wallpaper as background to the antique white panels.