Why style to perfection and write about how awesome other people’s spaces are when you can design your own bit of awesomeness? This was the question Jason Oliver Nixon and his partner, John Loecke, asked themselves. After spending more than a decade in the magazine industry (at publications like Gotham, Hamptons, and Conde Nast Traveler), the duo was prepared to forge their own path. “We needed it to be us creating for ourselves,” Jason explains of the birth of Madcap Cottage, the über-popular design blog and now interior design firm that conjures unforgettable interiors out of seemingly disparate elements from different time periods and faraway lands. Or, as they describe it on their website, “Imagine a British country house that pairs Granny’s antiques and a spirited dash of Chinoiserie chic with a soupçon of Morocco-meets-India élan. Shake, stir, then pour.”
Consider us cocktail-ready. If you are, too, read on for our exclusive interview with Jason.
Fresh American: How did you develop your signature English-with-a-dash-of-worldly-wow aesthetic?
Jason: We’ve always had an anglophile affinity, but we wanted to interpret it through a modern American lens. We’re bring a more worldly view—India, China, South America—to the table. But the idea of the British mastery of layering rooms is definitely there. And we never do a room without vintage and antique pieces in it.
FA: What’s your earliest memory of being interested in design?
Jason: My mother loved decorating—she would always have us rearrange the furniture on the weekends. The style of our house in Tampa, where I grew up, was very Spanish for a while, then deco, then a little Laura Ashley. They still have Dakota Jackson furniture that they’ve had for over 30 years! My parents were always out seeing and doing things, experiencing the world. I got my editing ability from that. Our house was often used for dinner parties and luncheons. It had a very salonlike environment, where you learned how to create dialogue with the guests and serve and entertain.
John had similar experiences growing up, with his family decorating and trying new approaches on their own. It teaches you that you can be anywhere in the world and still create magic, create moments. If you have vision and a sense of sparkle, you can dream big and make things happen.
FA: What has been the biggest change in your design approach or aesthetic over the years?
Jason: Our aesthetic is constantly evolving. It’s a little more sophisticated and subdued than a few years ago–we were very exuberant. Now we’re not doing as many wallpapers in a room. We’re more focused, and have amped up the details. For us, life is about chapters, so very few things are sacred, and we can move on to the next idea.
FA: What’s your greatest challenge as a designer?
Jason: I don’t believe in challenges, I don’t believe in competition, and I don’t believe in no. We believe in yes, in making educated decisions, making solutions. For us, a challenge becomes an opportunity.
FA: Which design “rule” or idea do you refer back to over and over? Which have you tossed out?
Jason: Scale is so important. We believe the eye should always have something to look at. A certain livability is important for us, too. I don’t do heavily lacquered baseboards anymore because who wants to be constantly touching them up? We travel a lot, so we have a very rich visual lexicon that we’re always referencing. We like things to be supremely comfy, supremely at home.
FA: What are your go-to sources for inspiration?
Jason: Vintage design books, novels, vintage movies like Gilda, The Gang’s All Here, The Women. They mark these transcendent moments during the Great Depression. My Man Godfrey has such a sense of whimsy. And travel. Those elements together really define what Madcap Cottage is about. It’s our version of what the world could be. Let’s some add some magic, some sparkle to it.
FA: Describe a project that didn’t go quite as planned, and how you turned it around.
Jason: We really haven’t had any of those experiences! Any of our lemon moments have turned quickly back to lemonade. Instead of worrying about it, I just think, “What can I do differently next time?”
FA: Which design trend or idea do you wish would go away? Which design trend or idea are you loving right now?
Jason: I don’t really look at trends, because I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. Who wants to be right now? I want to create an environment that’s timeless. At the moment, I love everything Bunny Mellon. Am I seeing it in the design landscape? Not really. That’s probably why it appeals to me. I’m very inspired by painterly bedding right now, but if it starts showing up all over, I won’t want to do it.
FA: Which designers or blogs can you not get enough of?
Jason: We look more to the past. Like Jeffery Bilhuber’s book, The Way Home. I think Mario Buatta is a genius. We both love Bunny Williams’s An Affair with a House. I love looking at how different people live, an amalgam of style—like this book I have on Russian dachas. Bunny Mellon is such a reference point for us right now! And Bryan Ferry—he’s just so stylish, so louche.
In the morning, I read Martha Stewart’s blog. I’m amazed at how big her life has become and how much she has going on. It takes a village to make her farm work. And the British design magazines, like World of Interiors, are always inspiring to me. They push, challenge, and inspire the reader—they can be quirky but livable, and not styled to within an inch of their life.
FA: In your opinion, what’s one thing that will never go out of style?
Jason: I love a great full-length portrait or a collection of portraits. You can find them for not much money. It’s timeless and beautiful and conveys a sense of an English country house. I mix new prints with portraits from the seventeenth century. It’s evocative, and brings a sense of history or layering to the room. And vintage prints add instant oomph and depth to a space.
FA: What one item in your home could you not live without?
Jason: My hand shower and bathtub.
FA: If you were to chuck design for another career, what would it be?
Jason: I would open a hotel. I’d love to have an inn on the coast of Maine where you get a basket of popovers when you arrive, the room has a coffee table full of books and a bottle of wine, there’s a great selection of movies, and they serve the perfect dinner. And when you pull away at the end, you feel like you loved every moment. It’s that idea of how do you create magic?
I would really love to redesign Motel 6—we want to democratize design and make it available for everybody.
FA: Which book is on your nightstand, and which movie is tops in your Netflix queue right now?
Jason: I’ve got Martha Stewart’s New Old House, about the renovation of her home in Connecticut. I have the vintage book Designers’ Own Homes: Private Residences of 30 of America’s Leading Interior Designers and The Great Lady Decorators. For movies, right now, I’m loving the new version of Cinderella; we designed a line of bedding inspired by it for HSN. If I’m having a management question, I watch 9 to 5; they show you how to take a business that doesn’t work and turn it around, and they’re fun and irreverent. If I ain’t broke, break it. I don’t believe in rules, the ladies in 9 to 5 don’t either. When the day is gray and boring, I watch Auntie Mame and everything is okay.