Designer Q&A: Scot Meacham Wood

This designer is known for his love of classic tartan, rooms that forge an emotional connection, and a more-is-more personality, but with his recent move from San Francisco to New York, all he really wants for Christmas is a freshly painted apartment.

Text: Karen Carroll

Southern Home (SH): What was your path to becoming a designer?

Scot Meacham Wood (SMW): I was with Ralph Lauren in Northern California for about 15 years, in a division called Creative Services. We designed all the home collection installations, windows, and mannequins, and that opened me up to a world I loved. We’d take four walls and rethink them every few months. I thrived on the creative churn, but eventually realized I wanted to create personal spaces with things that had real emotional value. I left and opened up a design business because I just assumed I could. Call it an equal balance of arrogance and ignorance! This will date me, but I whipped out my Rolodex and called a couple of store customers who had always asked if I could work on their houses. One dear woman got a little teary and said she had just remodeled, the contractor pulled out of the drive about an hour ago, and could I be there in the morning? I think I did seven houses for her over the course of the next 15 years. Now how could I have planned that?

SH: What similarities have you found between designing a shop window and a room?

SMW: After a window installation, I’d get so excited when someone crossed the street for a closer look. That meant it had impact from afar, but it required more study to really see the details, be it an interesting trim, the way a light had been hung, or draperies with a pretty lining reflected in the mirror behind the mannequin. I use the same concept in my design work today. A room must look amazing from the doorway, but as you come in and sit down, more should be revealed.

SH: How did living in the South influence your decorating today?

SMW: My father was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot before eventually settling in Mississippi on his family’s land. There’s a formality to Southern decorating that I definitely respond to, because that’s just the way I was raised. My mother would endlessly plump the sofa cushions before we went to town, because what if someone came back with us? In some parts of the country, your home is your refuge, a place to shut the world out, but Southerners use their homes to invite people in. I appreciate the tradition of dining rooms and front porches, where even though it’s 100 degrees, you want to sit and visit and watch people go by. That essence of hospitality pervades a lot of my work.

SH: What are some of the hallmarks of your personal style?

SMW: I love a bold print, whether it’s a Highland tartan or an antique botanical. I like as many patterns as I can find, all shoveled into a room at the same time, and see if I can make that work. I lived in my San Francisco apartment for almost 26 years—I can draw that place to scale on the back of a cocktail napkin. It was my laboratory, and early on I’d redecorate at least once a year. I’ve just moved into an incredible apartment in New York, but I’m not intimate with it yet. Even though it’s not truly decorated at the moment, it has beautiful windows and light, and it’s a great place to live.

SH: We’ve heard you proclaim that tartan is the new black. How did tartans become a signature?

SMW: My grandfather hails from Scotland, so some of that I come by genetically. The part that I respond to emotionally is hard to describe, but every time we did a room with tartan in it, I got really frothy. I remember being in an antiques store, and I saw this beautiful old tartan cup and saucer, and I circled around it for about an hour. I knew if I bought it, I would start obsessively collecting. Well…now I could probably serve dinner for a hundred.

SH: You wear your passion proudly, but your design work is so much more than tartan.

SMW: I enjoy playing in the tartan sandbox, but there’s a difference in what I do for me and how I design for a client. I want to take their vision and turn it into a fantasy, no matter what that is. If it’s lush and crazy with pattern, fabric, and 18 kinds of trim, how can we make it digestible? If it’s stripped down, bare and minimal, how can we make that amazing? For a San Francisco project, the homeowners wanted something really light and airy. We ordered 200 yards of unlined white linen for all the window treatments and used a lambswool and cashmere flannel on upholstery that feels like you’re slipping into a cashmere topcoat when you sit down. The house is near the water, and even when it’s chilly and foggy, which is often, the living room becomes a welcoming hug.

SH: What else makes a room feel welcoming to you?

SMW: A sense of exuberance. I like spaces, whether my own or others, that have a real feeling of being and intention. I’m always so delighted when I see a house where clearly someone has crafted their style and not just checked the boxes for sofas, tables, lamps, etc. Even when I don’t have the same taste or appreciation for something, if I can follow your math and get to the answer, I’m ok with it.

SH: Your fabric collection began, no surprise, with tartans but has expanded into other designs. How did it start, and what weaves it all together?

SMW: I’d always wanted to create a line that combined traditional, historic tartans with contemporary ones I was designing. While I was in a fabric showroom in 2007, I asked what I needed to do to get a textile collection with them. My sweet friend who was the manager said I needed to be about 7,000 times more famous. I went home and started my blog, The Adventures of TartanScot, that very night, which developed a pretty enthusiastic following. And then, through a fantastic confluence of events, I found the perfect mill to partner with and started selling through my website, scotmeachamwoodhome.com. Now we’ve expanded into florals and chinoiserie patterns, and really whatever strikes my fancy. I’ll play with the scale or color of a document from my antique textile collection, or sometimes it’s just something I’ve designed in my mind. I love flipping through museum archives, and I’ll buy an antique fabric book for any amount of money. I try to be aggressive about putting myself in inspiration’s way.

SH: What’s inspiring you at the moment?

SMW: As Diana Vreeland once said, the eye has to travel, but these last few months I’ve rarely been more than two blocks from my apartment. If it’s not FedEx or the grocery store, I haven’t seen it! Fortunately, I still think one of the best sources of inspiration is film. I was in my teens when I first saw Castle Howard in the Brideshead Revisited miniseries, and it wrecked me for life—that ancestral grandness is all I ever wanted in a house. Recently I’ve been watching a Hulu series called The Great about the early days of Catherine the Great. The costumes feel both period-correct and modern at the same time. It just might be inspiration for a wallpaper collection down the road.

SH: With holidays on the horizon, we’re curious how you deck your halls.

SMW: I love a repetitive motif and a good idea I can go a little crazy with. If there’s a wreath on the window, there’s going to be a wreath on every window, door, and bookcase. But I don’t like repeating myself from year to year—that’s probably a holdover from my time in retail. A couple of years ago I became obsessed with Edwardian fruit arrangements and cloved lemons and limes for about a month, and there were hundreds of them that smelled wonderful. There have certainly been times where it’s all red tartan and green magnolia, but I’m not bound by a traditional palette. One year I did turquoise and citron.

SH: How do you entertain?

SMW: In our San Francisco apartment, it was somehow easier to have a cocktail party for 60 than a sit-down dinner for eight. It’s probably going to be the same in New York. I believe in playing to your strengths as a host, and I can throw a hell of a good cocktail party. I love creating the menu with miniature versions of what I would serve at a seated dinner. Instead of a soup course, we’ll do something like a lobster bisque served in a shot glass or little shepherd’s pies for the entree. But I haven’t gotten around to planning for this year. I’m still trying to decide what color to paint the bedroom.

SH: What’s your favorite gift to give and what’s on your own wish list?

SMW: I give a lot of books. If I see an old copy of Brideshead Revisited, I’ll buy it and hang on to it for the right person or occasion. What I want for Christmas? For the apartment to be painted. Clearly, I’m obsessed.