A few years ago, designer Jason Wu moved his office/showroom to an industrial building in New York’s Garment District. Wu hired an architect to reconfigure the space, but he needed an interiors firm to give it personality. Vogue editor Anna Wintour recommended Jesse Carrier and Mara Miller, both Interior Design ’96, who have been working for Wintour since they started their firm, Carrier and Company, in 2005.
When they first saw Wu’s space, Carrier says, it was “a harsh white box. Our objective was to soften it a bit.” The couple added some vintage elements, like a pair of 19th century parlor doors, to create patina, and some contemporary elements, like iron display tables. “Jason’s aesthetic is modern, but it has a hint of vintage to it,” Carrier explains, “and we wanted the space to reflect that.” It also reflected Wu’s penchant for mixing rough and refined elements. “It’s about being dressed up and dressed down at the same time,” Wu said as he surveyed the finished space.
Dressed up and dressed down is a good description of the work of Carrier and Miller. They employ their extensive decorative arts expertise in settings that are not at all museum-like. Architectural Digest, in naming Carrier and Company one of the 100 top design firms in the country, described their rooms as sophisticated but livable and lauded them “for spicing the appropriate with the strikingly unusual.”
These days, their eight-person firm lists Jessica Chastain and Annie Leibovitz among its clients. Carrier and Miller see their job as providing comfortable retreats, not showplaces. Carrier says, “Their personas may be rather grand, but when you get to the bottom of it they’re really very family-focused.” Leibovitz, a longtime resident of Greenwich Village, came to them when she moved uptown to be near her daughters’ schools. And Chastain hired them to design her three-bedroom Manhattan pied-à terre. The word she used the most was ‘cozy,’” Miller recalls, adding, “We’re something like method actors. We need to understand who the clients are, what part they want the residence to play.”
Miller and Carrier met during their senior year at FIT, where they bonded over their shared love of residential decor. Most of their classmates, they say, focused on commercial interiors, which seemed the likelier route to success: Since every hotel, restaurant, office, airport, and medical facility requires a designer, that’s where the jobs are (and FIT is very good about making sure its graduates get jobs, Carrier says). But Miller and Carrier preferred working on a domestic scale. Once they started dating, flea markets were frequent destinations. They also began attending New York’s Winter Antiques Show. “I remember being able to touch the kind of things that I had seen behind glass at the Metropolitan Museum,” Miller says. “It blew my mind that they were so accessible.”
When Carrier and Miller finished school, each took a job with a top designer—he with Jeffrey Bilhuber, she with Stephen Sills. Though they gained valuable experience, their conflicting schedules often kept them apart. Miller might be out of town, installing a job in Palm Beach, say, while Carrier was at home—or vice versa. After they married in 2002, they decided that if they were going to raise a family (they now have a son and a daughter), they would need to set their own schedules, which meant starting their own firm.
Once they established Carrier and Company, the first call they got was from Wintour, who had been working with Carrier at his previous job. Since then, Carrier and Miller have designed Wintour’s townhouse in Manhattan, her offices (first in Times Square, now at the World Trade Center), her estate on Long Island, and even her children’s college dorm rooms. “The projects keep going and going,” Carrier says. One reason is that Wintour entertains a lot. “Things always need to be refreshed because there’s so much traffic.”
In their studio on the Upper East Side, Carrier and Miller complement each other’s strengths. “I’m more about broad strokes and Mara is more the fine details,” Carrier says. Miller agrees. “Jesse is a visionary; I can be kind of myopic.” Though they both work on every project, one of them is always in charge. “There has to be a lead who’s reading and answering every email in a timely fashion,” Miller says.
Their success is due not just to their design talent, but also to their business acumen. And much of what they knew about running a business, they say, they learned at FIT, where they were required to take courses in management and professional practice. Their efficiency and attention to detail make them exceptionally easy to work with. Referring to their celebrity clients, Carrier says, “Their lives are plenty full of drama. They don’t need us bringing any more drama to the table.”