In a world where some designers are inclined to impose their style onto clients, New York-based Foley & Cox Interiors has a different approach. Taking creative cues directly from their clients — their perceptions, preferences and passions — the firm creates bespoke interiors from the widest palette of possibilities, resulting in homes that become the most personal of all places.
Michael Cox, founder of Foley & Cox, embodies these ideals through his design work. When taking on new clients, Cox is often asked to “define the firm’s design aesthetic.” For him, this is always a challenging question. Since he possesses a breadth of expertise in furniture design, customized color palettes and interior architecture, his ultimate goals are less centered around one specific aesthetic. Cox aims to create timeless, refined interiors to reflect the client’s personality.
In essence, Foley & Cox’s goals are centered around the idea of design “appropriateness,” which he defines through three fundamental aspects:
Cox always takes the project’s context into consideration first. Since the firm’s clientele spans a diverse range, his team is constantly tasked with observing the purpose and usage of a particular home. Working on a client’s primary residence alongside their vacation home, for example, has allowed Cox to develop a broad spectrum of work.
“We’ve been fortunate to interact with a wide variety of clients with houses in global locations,” he says. “We haven’t had to pigeon hole our design aesthetic into any one of those categories, but we’ve had the pleasure of designing homes that are more contemporary, more classic and more eclectic. It is one of the great joys of our work.”
Whether it’s an existing home or a new build, Cox envisions the architecture through each client’s background, cultural or otherwise. This process helps define what is appropriate when it comes to furnishings as well. Designing a mountain house for a client in Austria, for example, entails a very different approach than a ski cabin in Montana.
“Even though they are primarily mountain houses, we took very different aesthetic approaches because of the locations, and the culture of the clients,” Cox says.
How do you take something with history and tradition and make it fresh for the next generation? When working in Austria, Cox says, his team also researched Tyrolean style, aiming to develop what they imagined to be the design’s “evolution.”
“We approach it from a lot of different angles,” he says. “We do historical research, but we also get into the local vernacular of the place we’re working in. The custom iron work we develop for the staircase handrail in Austria is very different from the iron work we develop with the local shops in Montana, for example.”
How does this client live? What are their priorities, goals and dreams? What is their family dynamic? Do they enjoy entertaining? Are they more private? For Foley & Cox, each design is bespoke to the client’s vision. A longtime client Cox had worked with on a primary residence, for example, asked him to design a vacation home in the Bahamas.
“We had a deep understanding of who the client was, and how they were looking to build a retreat for their family to continue to grow and enjoy for generations to come,” he says.
Since the build was on a relatively new island, there were challenges when working alongside builders from a different culture. However, the client was thrilled with the result. When the home was damaged following a hurricane in 2019, the client asked Cox to restore it to its original form.
“They wanted it as close as possible to how we built the original 10 years ago,” Cox says. “They didn’t want to change a thing. We just completed that last year, and it was really gratifying to hear that something we developed served them so well, brought them joy, and lasted. Everything we did withstood the test of time, it just didn’t withstand a hurricane.”
Foley & Cox Home
In addition to interior design, Foley & Cox opened the Foley & Cox Home storefront in Hudson, NY in 2007. This venture extended the firm’s presence in the retail marketplace and showcases custom furniture designs, collected vintage items and antiques, as well as specialized products from skilled artisans. The store will celebrate its 15th anniversary this year.
“The store grew out of humble beginnings,” Cox says. “We would be out on major shopping trips in Europe looking for specific things for projects we were working on – the flea market in Paris, Copenhagen, London – and we would find wonderful things.”
Though some of their findings didn’t match a project they were currently working on, Cox found it difficult to part with certain pieces.
“We thought, ‘this piece is amazing, how could we leave it? Let’s just buy it and keep it until the next project comes,’” he says.
Within a few years, the group had accumulated a full warehouse of artisan furniture. Eventually, they decided to share their findings with the world.
“That’s how the store began,” he says. “It was a direct outset of all the resourcing and shopping we were doing for projects.”
The group also has a custom collection, which grew out of the designs they’d develop for client projects. After noticing certain custom furnishings fit into a variety of spaces, the team developed an official collection of core pieces.
“We basically replicated our own custom designs a number of times,” Cox says. “For example, maybe there’s a beautiful sideboard we designed and built for a specific house in the Hamptons. Then all of a sudden we’re working on another project and discover, ‘oh, that’s a perfect piece for this house in Florida as well.’”
The store also contains a span of contemporary, classic and eclectic furnishings including vintage furniture, antiques, custom and artisan work from all over the world.
“We have a woman who does hand painted dinnerware in Oxfordshire, England, in our store,” he says. “We met a woman who hand weaves beautiful cashmere out of Italy, so we have her throws in our store. Some of these items are used in our projects as well. There’s definitely a link between the treasures that we find as we travel around the world, and the artisans we discover.”
Foley & Cox will celebrate 20 years this fall. To commemorate, Cox is working on his first book, due out in 2023. It will compile photos and details on a range of projects. “There’s a continuity to projects that we’ve had with clients we’ve had for 20 years,” he says. “It’s going to be a fun way to flip through a variety of styles in locations around the world. Our goal has always been to create rooms that will stand the test of time. There’s always those elements of the evolving design process, but the fundamentals remain.”