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Isamu Kenmochi chairs surround a Warren Platner coffee table in a Park Lane residence.


A Woman of Distinction

By Rhonda Reinhart

Study photo by James Merrell | Bottom living room photo by Eric Piasecki | Book cover © 2019 Distinctly Modern Interiors by Emily Summers, Rizzoli New York


Emily Summers celebrates 40 years of design with the release of her first book, "Distinctly Modern Interiors." Here, the acclaimed designer looks back on her four-decade career and hints at what’s coming next.

Why was the time right for your first book?
I waited a long time to do this book. I think I was always waiting for the next project to be completed.

How did you choose which projects to include?
I tried to pick recent projects and include some that had never been published.

Is there a common thread that runs through all the featured projects?
I never thought there was a common thread until we laid out all the projects. Although each project reflects the owner first, I do see now that there is a certain consistent style.

You started your interior design business almost 40 years ago. How has your work evolved over those four decades?
My love of architecture, art and historic furniture has been there throughout. My love of the search and travel has always been there. However, the building of experience and sources that comes with many years adds exponentially to the range and depth of our projects.

How has the world of design evolved in general?
That question would require an essay. 

Mies van der Rohe’s Brno chairs are paired with a rosewood pedestal table in this study Emily Summers designed for her son.

You’ve mastered the art of minimalism in your design work. Why are you drawn to that style of decorating?
In graduate school in art history, I studied the transitions in 20th-century design in Vienna; Brussels; Glasgow, Scotland; Scandinavia; and, importantly, the Bauhaus in Germany. Knoll and a few other contemporary lines were reproducing the furniture from these eras, and I was hooked. I began to search for vintage, original examples of great furniture pieces. I grew up in a home full of collections on every table and furniture for the furniture. I was thrilled to adopt a cleaner and more open aesthetic. I was lucky enough to work on projects with great architects who designed open, clean spaces that change the way we live in our houses. Modern architecture dictates a more minimal, thoughtful design approach.

You also have an obvious passion for art and offer art consulting services. What’s the most important factor in choosing a piece of art?
That it is loved by the client.

Your first job out of college was at Neiman Marcus. How does fashion inform your design work?
It informs it every day. In the fashion office, we had trunk shows with Galanos, Geoffrey Beene, Chanel and more. I would accessorize these distinctive fashions, mixing color, texture, quality and craftsmanship. I’m still doing that in my designs today.

Publishing a book is a major milestone in a career. What else is on the horizon?
We currently have some very exciting projects in the works. I love my clients and my team at Emily Summers Design Associates. I continue to enjoy the process of each project from start to finish. Maybe I should do another book. 

The cover of Summers’ "Distinctly Modern Interiors" ($50, Rizzoli), which debuts Feb. 12.