If we ever needed confirmation that motherhood is universally challenging despite the most beautiful of facades, Chiara deRege is living proof.
As the brains behind some of the most stunning homes, offices and stores across the US (The Wing offices and Carolina Herrera’s Madison Avenue store, to name but a few), one may assume that Chiara’s life is as picture perfect as the spaces she designs. But speaking to Chiara is like speaking to an old friend, with conversation full of honesty, real life struggles and the questions that plague us all.
“I find the balance between work, life, and love very very hard. I want to be present for my daughter, I want to be present for my clients, I want to be present for my team and I want to be present for my friends and open for relationships,” she said. Proving that no matter how divine your external world presents itself to be, the internal world remains the same.
With honest and heartfelt insights into co-parenting, thoughts on how important work is to set an example for our children (no matter how challenging it seems at the time) and of course, tips on creating beautiful homes with our children in tow (refresingly, she says there’s no need to change our aesthetic), Chiara is our new mother hero.
See more of Chiara’s beautiful work here | Photography by Yumi Matsuo
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
I am a born and raised New Yorker with strong ties to Europe as I have a family home in Italy that I grew up going to throughout the years and now get to share with my 5-year-old daughter, Phoenix.
Phoenix’s father, Jehad Nga, is a photojournalist and he grew up between Libya, London and Kansas. When Phoenix was 2 1/2 years old, her father and I separated. It was really challenging but I felt brave taking this step into single womandom as a working mMother of a 2 1 /2 year old. And Jehad and I had to put a lot of our own issues and drama aside to do what was right for Phoenix.
I know doing what is right for your child should come easily, but it was really hard diving into a co-parenting role with this man I had at one point thought would be my partner forever. In that moment in the first days of separation, I quite simply loathed it. It has gotten a lot easier to co-parent with time and patience, and of course, Phoenix is the guiding light that makes it possible for me to put her first and do the right thing. We are making it work with as much love and light as possible.
And I am proud of myself that I choose not to sit in something toxic for the sake of having a family I had always longed for … A family in the more traditional sense where Phoenix gets both Mum and Dad in one place most of the time. Instead, I embrace our modern family but I am constantly spread thin and in the thick of always “figuring things out”… I do not know if I will ever figure it all out though!
It is so hard being the businesswoman I strive to be with my design studio and the wallpaper line I co-founded with my dear friend, Costanza Theodoli Braschi. For my design studio, I have to be on it, 100% all of the time. Details are absolutely everything in interior design and so I can’t quite ever just be chill and let things go. For Maison C, it is a collaboration and beautiful process and not nearly as stressful as my design studio.
I find the balance between work, life, and love very very hard. I want to be present for my daughter, I want to be present for my clients, I want to be present for my team and I want to be present for my friends and open for relationships. I have such an extraordinary group of friends, thank goodness for their love and support.
What did your career entail prior to launching your own firm?
My first job out of college was as a fashion assistant at Vogue Magazine in 2000. I worked for Wendy Hirschberg Clurman, the fashion market director. I did not really know what I wanted to do with my life when I graduated from college and I am so grateful that my first job was at Vogue. I think it is the best foundation I could have dreamt up for my career path.
I worked at Vogue NY for 2.5 years and then moved to Los Angeles as the West Coast Associate Editor for 2.5 years. On the west coast, I worked for Lisa Love, and styled the People Are Talking About shoots, assisted on the cover shoots and learned how to produce photoshoots, as well as styling for Teen Vogue as it got started.
Around 2005, I voiced my interest in studying architecture and interior design to my friend Kelly Biren Atterton, the west coast editor of Allure Magazine and she suggested that I work for Molly Isaksen Interiors. So I went from Vogue, to freelance styling, to interning at Molly Isaksen’s and then suddenly I was full time with Molly and enrolled in some basic architecture classes! Very quickly I knew that interior design was my field and I became determined to learn every aspect of it.
I am very grateful to certain mentors in my life in those beginning years of my career. At Vogue, Wendy Clurman, Meredith Melling, Lisa Love and Ivan Shaw guided and taught me a lot. Then I was so fortunate to learn from Molly Isaksen and later Todd and Amy of Nickey Kehoe and Suzanne Rhinestein. Since I did not go to school for interior design, I learned the ropes from these incredible designers and would not be doing what I do now, if I had not had the opportunity to work for them.
You have designed some incredible spaces - both residential and commercial. What have been some of the greatest highlights?
Jordana Brewster’s Mandeville Canyon residence is my favorite residence so far. Her home was a labor of love. I designed it from the ground up and then worked her family heirlooms, her husband’s love of modern and her love of transitional into one comfortable beautiful home that I am super proud of.
I am also so proud of The Wing locations. I am inspired by the founders Lauren Kassan and Audrey Gelman and it gave me such joy to design spaces that I knew would be loved and appreciated by an extraordinary group of women.
Finally, I am super proud of my newest completed project, the Carolina Herrera store on Madison Avenue in NYC. I just installed this store last week and it was such an awesome, beautiful creative journey with an incredible team. Wes Gordon, the creative director is an absolute genius and so much fun to work with.
And I adore Studio Mellone, led by the architect Andre Mellone. Andre is one of the most thoughtful, lovely, smart, and talented architects I have worked with. I was always on my toes, always inspired, and always excited to be a part of that great process. And I am very grateful that one of the women on my team, Gina Tomenson, brought me into that Carolina Herrera fold by introducing me to the President who in turn asked me to do a presentation for them. It was my first retail experience and I hope it will be one of many!
Did your career shift at all after becoming a mother?
Yes and no. While I feel lucky that I love my work and therefore can fall into the “live to work” category, I also fall into the “work to live” category. Without work, I would have no means, and this has made it very hard for me to ever hit pause since becoming a mother. I never took time off. Phoenix came to a client presentation at 10 days old and I just never really processed the possibility of taking any maternity leave.
In addition, since her father is a photojournalist, who was already away on assignments when she was 6 weeks old, I really just had to hold down the fort and get into the swing of being a working mother with this new extension to myself right away. As Phoenix has gotten older, the biggest change in my life is that I do not bounce back and forth between NYC and Los Angeles the way I did before she was born and when she was a baby.
How do you approach designing rooms/spaces for families with children?
I grew up in beautiful homes that were formal with antiques, great art and a bit eclectic with modern pieces spread throughout. There were sharp edges, precious china, fragile objects, beautiful textiles, and never was I or my brother told we could not play in a room or sit on a chair. I learned from an early age that homes even in a formal format, are to be lived in and enjoy. What’s the use of a Fortuny pillow if you cannot put your head upon it to read or build a fort?! I design with my clients’ aesthetic in mind and I encourage them to commit to good pieces that they will have forever and not be afraid to actually live in their homes.
Do you have any tips on managing the plethora of plastic and colourful toys that seem to come along with children?
I am afraid my reply will not very popular but it’s pretty simple… Do not buy them and tell friends and family you do not want any of it!
I joked my daughter was a depression-era baby with just a wooden spoon as a toy. She seems to be doing pretty well at 5 years old and has never once said to me, “Why didn’t I have any light-up toys or bouncy things?”
Now we are at that point where she does indeed have more than the wooden toys. She has Barbies that she knows to put back in clear storage in her toy closet and she has LEGO that belongs in clear boxes as well and dolls and calico critters, all of which have homes that she knows to return them to when done playing.
All the storage boxes are clear boxes from Amazon, so she can easily see where everything goes and it’s easy for her to put them in her closet.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Phoenix wakes me up or we wake at the same time, usually around 6:45. I put some music on, light a candle, get the NY Times at my door and make breakfast that she and I have together. Sometimes her dad comes over and joins us. Then we walk our dog on the way to school.
After I drop her off, I head to the office (at the moment my apartment) and begin the work day with my team. Phoenix’s incredible nanny, Faye, picks P up from school and the two of them then go on and have their own adventures until P comes home and I join her for an early dinner, bath and bedtime.
After Phoenix is asleep, I often meet up with friends for dinner or drinks or I go to a work-related event. My goal is to work meditation and exercise into my daily routine this year.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! The beauty of NYC is that inspiration can come from someone’s own street style on the subway, or an exhibit I pop into, or flowers blooming in the park, or public art throughout the city, or the way the light hits my living room in the morning, literally anything.
Lately, I find myself most inspired when I have quiet time on the nights I stay in and I look through design books either here in the city or upstate on the weekends. But I am also incredibly inspired by travel and I love any and all reasons to travel!
How do you go about working with clients to determine the style of a room?
Conversation! Lots of questions. I like to understand how they use their space, from their early morning routine to the evenings. I like to know their need., do they entertain? Do they cook? I will ask endless questions. And then, of course, I will ask that they share visuals of rooms they find inspiring or furniture styles they like. Some clients know what they like, some have no idea and then it is fun for me to provide all different kinds of creative direction I could imagine their space taking and see how they respond to these “mood boards” I present them with. I lean heavily on the architecture, location and client needs for me to begin sourcing the styles their homes could take.
What interior trends are you loving at the moment?
No trends in homes. With commercial projects, I love anything well branded.
How do you find a balance between working and family life?
I am working on it. But I am lucky to rent a tiny cottage upstate and I try to go up there with Phoenix as many weekends as possible and we unplug. I try not to look at my phone and the only work I will do is after she is asleep and with reference books or old movies. I love how present I am for Phoenix upstate.
Do you have any tips/hacks for ‘managing it all’?
Phoenix’s nanny/caregiver, Faye. She is my GLUE!
Do you feel mother guilt? If so, how do you manage through it?
Of course I do. It kills me every time Phoenix tells me she wishes I did not work. But I have working Mom friends who are supportive and I see how when kids get older they are proud to see their mothers work and I think it is wonderful to set that example.
What was early motherhood like for you?
An exhausting blur!
What do you find the most challenging elements of motherhood?
Phoenix is very, very stubborn and strong-willed. She is also extremely physical and very high energy. The most challenging element of motherhood is being present and calm for her. I am always reminding myself to listen to all her stories big and small as I want her to know she can come to me with anything, both now and when she is older. It is hard not to react to her very, very big and forceful impulses. And as a single mother with full custody, I find it hard to engage in and keep a relationship as I am devoted to Phoenix and the precious time she and I have together when I am not working. So whoever else comes into my life is another human I have to weave into our life and that is hard!
What about the most rewarding?
Seeing Phoenix navigate her world, whatever environment she is dropped into, with ease, grace and confidence.
What are your favourite spots in NYC?
My apartment, Central Park, the West Village, The Lincoln Center, The Met, The Neue Museum & Cafe Sabarsky, Natural History Museum, Metrograph (movie theater), Film Forum, Carnegie Hill, the Highline, I could go on and on and on … !
What’s on your current list of loves?
- I just finished reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
- I loved The Dropout podcast (but I guess that is not quite current at this point as I am a bit behind with podcasts!)
- My dear friend Liz Goldwyn has an amazing podcast called The Sex Ed and I love tuning in to that when I can
- I love Shiva Rose’s face oil
- I love the Grown Alchemist beauty product line
- I also just finished the HBO show Euphoria. It is amazing but hard to watch as a parent!
- For music, I have a funny mix on repeat lately of Francoise Hardy, Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, Yves Montand, the Pierrot Le Fou soundtrack, the theme song to Le Mepris and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky with Pharrell Williams (my daughter loves when they sing “like the legend of the Phoenix” – she requests this pretty much every day!) plus any Beatles song. Basically, we have a completely random soundtrack happening at the apartment these days as my five-year-old is guiding it, but I cannot complain!