Gil Walsh’s Artful Design

In her early life, Gil Walsh wanted to be a fashion and theatrical set designer, but when an opportunity came up, she switched dreams to interior design, which she set about making into a reality shortly after graduating college, by moving to Ohio to work for Irvin & Company, one of the largest in-house interior design firms of the time. She was nothing if not determined, and when she arrived she learned important skills—“how to upholster and how to make drapes,” she explains. “Understanding wood grains… I just took in everything that I could possibly learn from them.”

After some time at Irvin & Company, Walsh’s career blossomed, taking on new forms. She worked at a large architecture firm, and then at an interior design firm in Pittsburg, working on several impressive projects like the interior restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater. But after moving to Florida (“My husband had retired,” she clarifies, “and I told him, ‘I don’t do lunch!’”), she decided to start her own firm. She needed money, however. At least six to eight months of runway. So to finance her business, she melted down all of her jewelry and sold it along with her large collection of designer clothes. Gil Walsh Interiors was officially founded in 2008.

Walsh is perhaps best known for her use of color and shading. Her friend, the author and designer Steven Stolman, tells me: “She’s a master colorist.” Her first monograph is even titled, Gil Walsh Interiors: A Case for Color.
When it comes to explaining her love of color, Walsh will often go all the way back to the small Pennsylvania town, Latrobe, in which she was raised, where Arnold Palmer and Fred Rogers, of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show, were her neighbors. “I began to love the color red,” she tells me, “because of all the time my family spent with Mr. Rogers—especially during our holidays at Christmas time. It probably made a mark on my life in design.” Also, her mother would often take Gil and her sister to Pittsburg, where she would enroll her children in youth art classes. “Since I was four years old,” she remembers, “I was steeped in color.”

As a full service design firm, however, she admits that today her company does “do a lot of beige and a lot of off-white.” But it’s her ability to build trust with her clients that allows for a creative and collaborative effort in every project. “When clients come to us and talk about their homes,” she says, “we try and pull enough information from them about what they like and don’t like.” Then, she’ll go consult her library of images. Actually, it’s a massive library of images, one she’s built up over 35 years. “Voluminous files—of rooms, details of bookcases, details of chimneys, fireplaces, kitchens,” she enthuses. Walsh shows these to her clients, and they can point to the photos they like. “It makes it pretty easy.”

Right now, she says, her firm is working on 20 projects, “and they’re all different and exiting.” One is the public space of a high-rise building in Fort Lauderdale. Another is a Relais & Châteaux lodge in Pennsylvania. Currently, she has a staff of 14 in her West Palm Beach office and a project manager in her Martha’s Vineyard space. She has homes in New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida. But here in West Palm Beach, she’s actually outgrown her office space. Business is that good. “So,” she declares, “we’re moving.”

From where Gil Walsh sits, it has all gone pretty well. The kind of recognition she values most, she’s had plenty. And she’s confident there will be more to come.

“We spend a lot of time with our clients,” she reiterates. “They are telling us what to do, but they don’t really know it at first. When they find out they really do have a sense of design, it makes us so happy. Everybody has taste. Sometimes it’s just trapped within us.”