A Life Beautifully Woven



PROFILE-June 2011


Leslie Curtis’s transition from a life of celebrity to a life of design

Leslie Curtis is a study in contrasts.

Wearing blue jeans and big pearls, she sits cross-legged on the floor of her bright design studio on Bayview Street in Camden. It houses many of her favorite things: rich textiles, delicate antique accessories, primitive stools, and driftwood sculptures. Then there’s the wicker. Ornate chaises, tables topped with fragrant lilies, and broad armchairs set with deep cushions weave their way through the room.

For this humble designer, modest beauty and simple luxury just belong together.

“I have a different approach to design than a lot of people,” Curtis says with a smile. “I like to take my time to get to know people I’m working with, the subtleties of their lifestyle, what seems to reveal itself instead of what they can remember to tell me they like or don’t like.” (Getting down on the floor sometimes helps, too.) Now 65, Curtis began designing furniture and interiors some 25 years ago. She was divorced, had three young boys, and was living on Cape Cod. She had grown up outside of Boston, where she had also studied fine art, so she returned to the village of Dennis to settle down. On the long strolls she took with her youngest son, she always slowed down to admire an old house with a porch full of wicker that happened to be for sale. When the owners retired, Curtis purchased the wicker-filled house and started a business in garden-room design.

lcurtis02As her work expanded to encompass every element of home interiors, she fixed up her historic house and began attracting clients who appreciated her casual, comfortable design style. Curtis knows plenty about antique and reproduction wicker, and she’s known for using natural materials in elegant and original ways.

That was what client-turned-friend Barbara Schiffrin liked most about her. The pair tore down two tired cottages on the Cape and rebuilt them, with enchanting results. A live-edge table made by a young veteran of the Iraq War comes to life beside Portuguese eel traps. The wire cages hold treasures washed ashore and bleached by sunshine.

“Everything Leslie does is beautiful and unique—like the old French quilt she found for my bedroom,” Schiffrin says. “She makes it feel effortless. Organic. Gorgeous.”The effortless life she lives now is a far cry from her earlier one: she was a model in New York and married the movie star Tony Curtis when she was just 23. Their celebrity was tempered by her role as mother to Tony’s four daughters. “My ex-husband was a very busy actor, and life was very glamorous,” she says. “But I had these children to care for. We went to the park, we baked bread, we ate all the bread up with honey and smeared sticky fingers everywhere. It was so much fun.”

In fact, her love of family led her to remarry, and to move on after the death of her oldest son, Nicholas, in 1994. (Her deep, dreamy blue eyes still well up at the thought.) Curtis has spent the past 20 years married to Don Peccerill, with whom she has run her custom-furniture business and shared her rich, bicoastal life. They have pared down in recent years, though. After closing two other stores—in Los Angeles and Cape Cod—and selling their Cape Cod house, they opened their Camden store with the intention of putting down roots.


“I wouldn’t trade Maine for anything,” Curtis says. “There’s a quality to life here. Maybe it’s my age, but my son, who loves it here, says it’s the energy. I agree with him. It’s always positive, and that’s really attractive.”

Can-doers take note: simple changes make a huge difference. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Curtis loves operating a retail space she can share with everyone, even customers who can’t afford to hire her. She asks them what they like and how they live, and consults on the fly for free. If it’s a sunny room they’re after, she can steer them away from bright yellow to- ward “mayonnaise” for their walls.

These days, Curtis would be content to live in her current obsession, Swans Island Blankets. “To have something of quality that will last for years—that’s unbelievable to me,” she says of the hand-woven heirlooms that have attracted a cult-like following. “There is something about the simplicity and the luxury that I love.”That’s her goal, too. She felt she had reached it one recent weekend evening, when all the stores in town had stayed open late. Two teenaged boys stopped in, they took off their shoes, and…stayed awhile. “This is like a museum you can live in,” Curtis recalls one of them saying, glowing at the memory. “Hopefully, your home is a beautiful place where you feel comfortable and nurtured.”

Just three doors down from her studio, Curtis and Schiffrin hope to nurture local craftspeople and strengthen community ties with their new knitting shop: the Cashmere Goat. “I want to be a part of the community, and knitting brings people together,” Curtis says. She hopes to move her custom-furniture business to Maine and develop a design center in town, too. “We should all embrace the idea that we need one another to survive.”

That, and maybe a Swans Island Blanket or two.


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