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Captivating Interiors by Marie Claire Rochat photos courtesy of Susan Zises Green

Talking with well-known interior designer

Susan Zises Green is like taking in copious amounts of fresh air. She is like the month of May; her overwhelmingly positive and genuinely sunny outlook – about her family, about her clients, about her industry, about the blessings of her life – is mood-enhancing and simply lovely. Talking with her not only makes me want to hire her to design my own living space, but also invite her to be a guest at my next dinner party.

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Susan Zises Green believes that she has followed her calling,

Today, nearly 40 years later, Susan Zises Green is considered

that she was born to be an interior designer. As an

one of New York’s most prominent interior designers. She has

adolescent, she recalls walking the grounds of the grand

participated in the premiere designer show houses (including

estates of Long Island’s Gold Coast and being captivated by

seven years at New York’s notable Kips Bay Boys and Girls

the stature and beauty of the homes. Sharing her parents’

Club Show House) and her work has been featured in national

interest in design, she often tagged along with them when they

publications, including House Beautiful, Traditional Home and

scoured the showrooms of New York’s City’s D and D

Architectural Digest. Her solid reputation and well-established

Building. While her contemporaries were tuned in to the teen

client base has opened up opportunities around the country

sub-culture of the decade, Zises Green was flipping through

as well; Zises Green has worked on major projects in

books of fabric samples at Clarence House and Cowtan & Tout.

Connecticut, Nantucket, Tennessee, Florida and Texas.

Her early intrigue was recognized by a close friend of her parents,

Her rise to prominence in her field has certainly not been without

prominent New York City-based decorator David Barrett.

stumbles; there is always a learning curve.

“He looked at me one day and said, ‘Child, you should get

“My first client was a single man who asked me to prepare an

into design. Someday you should go to design school’,” said

estimate for work on his one-bedroom New York City

Zises Green, fondly recollecting the words of her early mentor.

apartment,” she said. “I put my heart into it – and presented

His advice didn’t fall on deaf ears; Zises Green went on

number of yards of fabric needed, where to get it, etc. He had

to attend the New York School of Interior Design. Upon

his secretary order everything and never hired me.”

him with a very precise, very thorough proposal, including the

graduation, David Barrett offered her a job at his firm. Not to be deterred by the mistakes of a young, naïve “I did not accept,” she said. “I wanted to go out on my own.”

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businesswoman, Zises Green slowly began to build her


captivating interiors

business, meeting potential new clients at trade shows, in the

Her commitment and dedication to her work and to her clients

show houses of New York’s Seventh Avenue and through word

is, she believes, a key component to her success. “I have

of mouth. Many of her first clients were like Zises Green

known many of them for so long – I have really developed a

herself; they were young, just starting out in their fields, had

relationship with them. It is such an intimate business, in a way.

limited budgets and, in most cases, small, architecturally unimag-

You learn about how people live, about their lifestyles.”

inative one-bedrooms in New York. But while many designers snubbed low-budget or small projects, she was hungry. “In

Zises Green describes her design style as very luxurious, very

many cases, I was the only designer who called people back.”

classic and also very warm, inviting and, well, friendly. She designs spaces for living; rooms should not come across as

Zises Green embraced those little jobs, worked within the modest

being “only for company.” She subscribes to the philosophy

financial parameters and transformed those little apartments

that children with untied shoes and scraped knees should be

into pretty, comfortable living spaces. Today, Zises Green is

comfortable curled up in an overstuffed, chintz-covered arm-

still working for many of those early clients. Having “grown

chair in the family living room or enjoy chocolate cupcakes at

up” together in their respective industries, she is now

the formal dining room table. Good design can blend

designing their luxurious country homes and vacation retreats.

elegance, formality, comfort and practicality, she explained. The challenge is creating the right balance.

“I have one client who I have worked with for more than 20 years,” explained Zises Green. “I hadn’t heard from her for a

In her own homes, Zises Green focuses first on comfort and

while, but one day she called me and asked if I would oversee

warmth. She works long hours and travels frequently, so it is

the construction, renovation and design of her home in Palm

imperative for her nest to be full of fluffy sofas, plenty of cozy

Beach while she and her husband were in Venice. When they

throws and pillows, soothing lighting and lots of books strewn

returned, the house was completely transformed. They broke

about. “It’s a cold world,” she said, referring most specifically

into tears.”

to the outdoor temperature on this dismal March afternoon.

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There is nothing predicable about Zises Green’s style. Part of her success in avoiding the “cookie cutter” look of a home taken over by a designer is in making the interior reflect the lifestyle of the client.

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captivating interiors

“I can’t wait to get home at night!” There is nothing predicable about Zises Green’s style. Part of her success in avoiding the “cookie cutter” look of a home taken over by a designer is in making the interior reflect the lifestyle of the client. Zises Green likes to work in details or pieces that are meaningful. These touches not only add visual depth and interest, but make the space unique to the client. “In one job, the client had a lot of formal, French furniture. They also had a Lucite lamp from the early 1960s that they loved. We placed it on a formal chest of drawers; it made the room look very livable and added an element of playfulness.” Whenever she can, Zises Green looks to create interiors that borrow from – and are harmonious with – the surrounding landscape or artistic and cultural traditions of the community. In her own Nantucket cottage located in the heart of the Island’s historic district, for instance, Zises Green showcases

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her collections of lightship baskets and sailor’s valentines (two artifacts that harken back to Nantucket’s rich whaling history); the name of one of Nantucket’s earliest families (and the

Whenever she can,

builder of the house) is painted into the border of a wall mural in the sitting room.

Zises Green looks to create interiors that borrow from – and are harmonious with – the surrounding landscape or artistic and cultural traditions of the community.

During the course of our talk, Zises Green is periodically interrupted by one of her assistants confirming plans for a consultation with a new client, making travel arrangements for an upcoming trip to Palm Beach, following up on her charity work and the plethora of trusts and boards which vie for time on her busy agenda. This work – her opportunity to give back – is as fulfilling to Zises Green as her work as a designer. She feels so blessed: “I have wonderful children, lovely friends, a great career, a really well-rounded life. I am lucky.” “My father always used to say, ‘You come, into this life with a good name. You want to go out with one’.” It seems Zises Green is on the right track.

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Captivating Interiors  

Talking with well-known interior designer Susan Zises Green is like taking in copious amounts of fresh air. She is like the month of May; he...

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