Harmony at Home: The Leta Effect


Leta Austin Foster has the magic touch—and indisputably good taste. She crafts something artful and ardent out of every interior design project she approaches. As the head of Leta Austin Foster & Associates, which she opened in Palm Beach in 1975, Leta knows what she’s talking about. “Decoration is so much more than color and wallpaper,” she explains. “It’s a blend of ideas, people, and places.” Her work is entirely creative—sophisticated, colorful, and carefully thought-out, especially considering the constraints designers face. It’s a challenging job to turn a bare room into an exciting finished project. But for Leta, unwavering stylishness comes naturally, which is something her clients appreciate and value.

Her fascination with design began when she first moved to New York City and took classes at the New York School of Interior Design. After the successes of her work in Florida, she went on to open an office in New York in 1990 and in California in 1992. Leta’s love for design is in her DNA; her three daughters, Elizabeth, Sallie, and India, have all joined the family business. The California office has transitioned to Elizabeth Dinkel Design Associates, while Sallie and India work with their mother in New York and Palm Beach, respectively. As interior designers, the Fosters have perfect pitch. Leta’s accolades are many, and include being named one of the “100 Greatest American Interior Designers” by House & Garden and one of the 20th century’s most influential interior designers by House Beautiful.

Leta’s projects come together seamlessly because she can read her clients as well as she can read a room. “My mantra is that places should be a blend of their location, their architecture, and the people who live within them,” she says—a mantra that is illustrated in a Hobe Sound living room she worked on (this page, center image below). “The client, who collects Asian art, wanted a house with an island feel and Asian influence,” Leta explains. “The light cypress walls lead up to raffia panels within the exposed wood beams. The room was designed around the client’s six-panel Japanese screen.” A custom wrought-iron chandelier made specifically for the project synchronizes design elements from the room as a whole, and draws the eye upward in harmonious balance.

Harmony can be found in the end result of just about any of Leta’s projects, but for her, the journey isn’t about taking the easiest—or most harmonious—path to get there. “If you don’t ever take risks, you just are going to die a bore,” she says. Still, even at her most daring, her designs are both lovely and livable, all while staying in tune with the client’s vision. The idea of slowing down is not something she subscribes to either. “I don’t plan to ever retire,” she says. And we’re counting on that.