Albert Hadley. Dorothy Draper. Mario Buatta. Bunny Williams. These are some of the giants of American interior design—and a few names fabric artist Peter Fasano tosses off in casual conversation. In his 30-plus years in the home-design industry, he’s worked with the best of the best, and tapped a seemingly never-ending well of creativity to rise to the top of an increasingly crowded field.
Peter got his start back at Parsons in the 1970s, where he studied interior design. After graduation, he worked as a hotel decorator for the Dorothy Draper & Company . . . sort of. “It’s not very creative. It’s more about buying gallons of glue for wallpaper than design,” he explains. So with a year of benefits left on his Army GI Bill, he headed out for greener pastures.
Shortly after, Peter happened upon a flyer for the Art Students League of New York and had a brainstorm. At home, he stapled a piece of fabric to the floor of his apartment and spent almost six months creating an enormous painting. When famed architect and designer David Easton, a mentor of Peter’s at Parsons, saw the work, he suggested Peter try fabric painting, and even let the budding artist buy fabric on his wholesale account.
With a hollow-core door and a pair of sawhorses as his “studio,” Peter promptly got to work creating sample fabrics. When he had enough to pack a satchel, David got the ball rolling by introducing him to the likes of Albert Hadley. “Aesthetically, there was nobody better,” Peter says about the designer who would become one of his biggest influences.
The rest is, well, the stuff of usually unattainable fantasy . . . or rags-to-riches Lifetime movies.
Peter Fasano fabrics were picked up first by Alan Campbell in New York City in the early ’80s, and later in showrooms in Chicago, Dallas, and Fort Lauderdale. It was a hugely productive period, with Peter painting 7,000 to 9,000 yards of fabric per year (with only one assistant to help mix the colors!). His work, much sought-after by decorators—like the big kahunas in the opening paragraph—was immediately recognizable. “I wanted to marry [the art of] Jackson Pollack with Eva Hesse,” he says with a grin. “I like a scribble on top of straight lines, adding chaos to order.”
In 1990, Peter and his wife, designer Elizabeth Hamilton (who released her own fabric line three years ago), pulled up stakes for a quieter life in Great Barrington, in Massachusetts’s renowned arts-and-culture-friendly Berkshire County. While their house was being built, the couple spent many a weekend over the border in Falls Village, Connecticut, at the homes of Alan Campbell and his friend and neighbor, Bunny Williams. Thus began an amazing, decades-long interior-decorating collaboration. “It’s nice to have someone appreciate what you do and come back to you,” Peter notes. “Bunny isn’t just pulling stuff off the shelf. She’ll have an idea, and we create the designs for her.”
By 1995, the business had expanded enough for Peter to build a brand-new studio and hire a staff, many of whom are artists in their own right. The crew hand paints and silk screens on linen, cotton, velvet, and hemp, using eco-friendly, water based paints and chemical-free, soap-and-water cleanup. They create all of their designs on four 6-foot-wide tables (two for wallpaper; two for fabric), which run the length of the studio, then hoist them up to dry on rods suspended from the high ceilings.
It’s a beautifully fluid process, and explains in part why Peter has so many repeat customers who have used his fabrics and wallpapers in every imaginable space. Yet even with this design-friendly approach, Peter doesn’t consider himself a fabric designer. “I’m a pattern painter,” he says. “I’m not a decorator. What I do is more like art, so whether it works in a room isn’t on my mind while I’m creating it.” The company also isn’t burdened by inventory. Instead they produce a variety of samples for various showrooms—15 across the United States, as well as in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore—and make pieces to order.
For custom projects, which account for about 25 percent of Peter’s work, he first meets with the client and sketches out a pattern, or “massages” an idea the client brings to him. “You can’t create anything new,” he insists. “You can collage in new and interesting ways things that have been done before.” From there, he may do multiple screens until he gets exactly the right combination of color, pattern, and fabric. He says, “Coming up with the pattern is so easy, but the color drives me crazy. What I like on Monday, I may not like on Tuesday.” He prefers a tight deadline on custom work, because it allows him to focus and make quick decisions without succumbing to “analysis paralysis.”
When asked about his most rewarding projects, Peter quickly points to the six years spent on various upholstery and wallpaper projects for the Bush family—yes, those Bushes, as in the folks who lived in the White House. Turns out former First Lady Laura Bush, who never met a decorating project she didn’t love, first crossed Peter’s path when George W. was still governor of Texas and she visited a Dallas showroom in search of a simple stripe fabric for her dining-room chairs. That initial project turned into several more for both the White House and the Bushes’ other homes. The highlight? Peter’s 2002 trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to design wallpaper inspired by a marble-fireplace frieze in the master bedroom of the residence.
These days, Peter is hard at work on . . . well, anything that inspires him. Standing over a worktable in a paint-splattered white T-shirt, he tugs photocopied pictures off the mood board and shows how they’ve been translated to fabric—an ikat-like pattern in three colorways inspired by pillows in Julia Reed’s book One Man’s Folly; a young Burmese girl whose tribal face paint has been transformed into a leaf-patterned tablecloth; a paisleylike Islamic artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that’s in the process of being reinterpreted on a wonderfully soft linen that looks like rustic burlap.
While Peter wishes he could see more subtlety and detail in patterns that make the pages of magazines nowadays, and could do without much of social media, he enjoys being able to see what artists and artisans from all over the industry are doing. He also admits to a fondness for Instagram—not so much to share behind-the-scenes stuff, but simply because he loves photos of beautiful things.
As he buzzes around his studio, energetically pulling one pattern, followed by another and another, off shelves and out of piles, it’s clear that after all these years, Peter is doing exactly what he was always meant to do. He says, “The great thing about the business is you can’t retire from being creative. It’s like a wonderfully productive disease.”
Here’s a shot of a project Peter recently completed for Annie. Stay tuned for the big reno reveal!