East coast to west, and a few stops in between, jet setting interior designer James McAdam’s work often complements nature, even in the digital age. With his eponymous firm more than ten years in the making, he has seen trends come, go, and evolve, marrying concepts old and new in his own work. Bicoastal projects often integrate into the design aesthetic, whether traditional or modern. At its roots, how the design of a room makes you feel is essential. McAdam shares what to consider in every space and how the genuine thrill of a client is why he does the work he does.
The Fashion Institute of Technology grad did everything by hand when he began; sketches, layouts, and floorplans were completed with paper and pencil. Today, James McAdam Design is saved by the iPad, a welcomed advance in technology for designers. Technology in general has played a role, and he says it is essentially part of all of his work.
“Smart home design has now become part of all my projects,” McAdam shares as he works in the Hamptons, New York, Aspen, Palm Beach, and Los Angeles. “Whether I am doing a historic renovation or breaking ground on a brand-new structure, integrating smart home technology is one of the biggest requests I receive.”
The majority of McAdam’s projects are on or near the water. Swimming in Sag Harbor’s Trout Pond and hiking to Long Beach with his cousins are among his fondest memories. That exciting feeling of summer is something he aims to recreate in all of his projects. Wherever he designs, taking the landscape into consideration is of the utmost importance. Design should complement its natural surroundings, not intrude.
Nature and design have melded together in recent years. Sustainable design was an emerging concept around ten years ago that had evolved into a necessary practice. “Eco-friendly design was not just trend, it was the future,” McAdam says. “I’ve really immersed myself in finding the best paints, fabrics, appliances, technology and furnishings to meet the needs of my clients. Interiors with a conscience are most definitely cool.”
While sustainability is central to McAdam’s work, different cities have different aesthetics. Considering Los Angeles as his second home, he is inspired on the west coast by Palm Springs midcentury modern architecture with its Zen-like spaces. Think polished concrete floors, smooth and geometric furnishings, and colorful textiles to punctuate neutral backgrounds. It is at once laidback… and sexy.
But, New York is home. East Coast clients tend to opt for more traditional design, as in the notable shingle-style Hamptons homes. Whites and blues in light and clean spaces, graceful and simple lines; this is the Hamptons formula according to McAdam. He finds wide plank wood floors with distressed and painted furniture are also popular.
“There are a lot of second homeowners in the Hamptons,” McAdam explains. “They are there for the weekend and just want to chill. Take off your shoes and get a little sand between your toes. I design these wonderful homes with that thought in mind. The beach is transformative and you can’t help but smile when you’re there. As long as my clients are smiling then I’ve done my job.”
As for the design process, it’s more than being an interior designer for McAdam. You’re in someone’s home helping to bring whatever vision they have for it to life. This can require a little bit of psychology but definitely a lot of empathy. With several considerations coming into play when creating the ultimate atmosphere, there are things a client may overlook that a designer like McAdam won’t miss.
Lighting. It creates a mood, sets the tone, and can even define a space. It’s easy to overlook, but is an integral part of design. The type of lighting needed in a living room is immensely different than what is needed in the kitchen. McAdam notes its importance in relation to natural light and color. Achieving the right lighting will make all of the elements of a space come together effectively.
The desire to over-furnish is another challenge clients may face when they become overwhelmed with a space. Movement and flow are essential, and McAdam says to fill a space but keep it appealing and functional. Another tip is to have a focal point.
“A focal point gives you direction and order,” McAdam says, noting there can be more than one in any given space. “Find that one thing that you want people to take notice of when they enter a room. It should be something large and bold. Something that makes a statement. A large window, fireplace or artwork. Work from there and build out and around it.”
It is a cozy time of year in the Hamptons and the desire to stay warm is not lost in coastal design. Shorter days and decreased motivation to leave the comforts of home may be strong, but it doesn’t mean you have to let go of the beach lifestyle. So how do you make a Hamptons summer home cozy in the winter?
“Lots of cashmere,” McAdam laughs, adding his cable knit cashmere blanket is a personal favorite. “I’m serious! Living by the beach is such a privilege and I want to embrace that even in the coldest of months. Now is the time to break out our collection of stones and shells from our summer beach walks. A piece of driftwood? Bring it out. These reminders of summer will keep your home feeling like summer all year long.”
McAdam also suggests brightening up living spaces with new throw pillows with shades of green, blue, and coral. This will give the feeling of spring even in the chilliest months. Candles are always a plus, especially in small groupings around the home. For extra warmth and glow, he has a unique tip. “’I’ll also go as far as changing some of the light bulbs to a warmer pink,” McAdam shares. “It instantly softens the room and makes it feel cozy.”
As he takes on his first hotel project in the Florida Keys and gears up for a new home design in North Haven, McAdam’s enthusiasm for all of his projects, relatable sense of humor, and eye for creating the perfect living space make him the ideal match for any client, even children looking for the ultimate game room. “Do I dare tell them I don’t play video games? No way… I’m going to have to take a crash course in virtual reality!”