James Swan

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Episode 092: Gary McBournie

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Ever since Gary McBournie can remember, he has always been drawn to beautiful things and his memories have been very visual. His earliest childhood recollection is of being placed in the drawer of a white chest with brass handles, with his great-aunt’s bulldog looking down at him. He thinks most people would remember the imposing face of the dog, but he chose to focus on the white paint and handles.

As a young boy, he was never a great athlete. He loved nothing better than to spend an afternoon with the latest issue of National Geographic, daydreaming about foreign places and adventures. He loved to watch the movies of the Thirties and Forties, not only for the elegant and glamorous lifestyles they depicted, but also for the fanciful and imaginative set designs.

School was always a challenge, a he had difficulty reading, and was later diagnosed with dyslexia. The series of Classic Comics that depicted the stories that he was supposed to be reading, but which were shown in a visual form, became both a lifesaver and an addiction.

It was during this period that his parents took notice of his struggles and interests. One night, his father came home with a big stack of art supplies. That’s when Gary McBournie started to draw and paint. Working with pastels and watercolors while he was still in fifth and sixth grade, he especially loved using the card boards from his father’s freshly laundered and folded shirts.

That was about the same time he saw the movie Auntie Mame for the first time. After Auntie Mame, nothing was ever the same. One of the things he remembers most clearly was the way the décor of the rooms changed, the way they became one thing after another in a growing, organic, almost magical way.

After graduating from high school, he went to the New England School of Art in Boston to study graphic design, painting and art history. During this period, he had a chance encounter with the well-known interior designer Richard Fitzgerald. He soon found myself working as a design assistant at his firm, feeling like the luckiest guy on earth. His first week there, he helped hang a large Modigliani portrait and saw the first of hundreds of beautifully traditionally decorated rooms that would have a lasting influence. Mr. Fitzgerald also sent him on his first European trip, during which he discovered England with the classical architecture of the Adam brothers, and the enchanting gardens, and France, with Paris, Chartres, and Versailles becoming powerful muses in his life and work. Absorbing and learning as well as traveling, became essential to my personal and design growth.

In 1992, Gary McBournie establish his own firm..

Gary McBournie and a Fabric Collection

In the 1960’s, American-born designer Amos Morrill was living on the tropical Caribbean island of Antigua.  Inspired by the natural beauty of his surroundings, he began to sketch whimsical depictions of flowers, leaves, shells, fish and other sea creatures. He then had his sketches printed on Sea Island cotton and the fabric was used to make resort wear for the increasingly stylish island clientele.


Years later while visiting Amos, his daughter Lee Morrill-Harrington discovered his original sketches in an old black trunk in his attic and decided to revitalize these designs for use in home interiors.  Together with archivist Stephanie Long and designer Gary McBournie, they played with scale and colorway to create a bolder, more graphic look and they expanded the line to include coordinating solids, stripes and checks.


The “Gary McBournie for Antilles Designs Collection” is available to the trade at Scalamandre showrooms in Atlanta and Miami, Studio 534 in Boston, The Irish Linen Shop in Bermuda and at the Coco Shop in Antigua.

Explore Gary’s Website here

Add a copy of Gary’s book Living Color to your design library. Click on the book now


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