The influence of the Spanish: Herrera Baez, Carolina at home
Her father is a marquis, her mother is a world-renowned fashion designer, and her husband is a famous former bullfighter from Spain. It’s as close to a fairy-tale pedigree as one gets in the modern world. And yet Carolina Herrera Baez is refreshingly down to earth. “Just today I found 14 chairs in the garbage,” she says. “They were perfectly good old metal chairs. I called the super of my building, and he helped me carry them home. It took us two trips.”
While her mother, Carolina Herrera, is elegance personified, Herrera Baez—who is known as Carolina Jr.—is equally stylish but lives on the funkier, high-low side of chic. An interior design fanatic, she does all her own decorating, mixing color and pattern with panache without ever spending a fortune or sacrificing comfort.
In Herrera Baez’s world, antiques and flea-market finds combine with bargains from shops like Zara Home and Habitat. “Carolina makes everything in our home cozy, happy, and unexpected,” says her husband, Miguel Baez.
Seven years ago, the couple jumped at the chance to purchase a historic apartment on the fifth floor of their favorite 19th-century building in the heart of Madrid. Not only was it within driving distance of their country home in Cáceres, Spain, but it had a spacious layout that made it an ideal family-friendly city residence. The Baezes today have three children: daughters Olimpia, 7, and Atalanta, 4, and son Miguel, 6.
The layout was ample, but the main attraction was the postcard view. “From my window I can see the botanical gardens across the street, and there’s nearby Retiro Park, which is like the Central Park of Madrid,” says Herrera Baez, who serves as creative director of her mother’s fragrance division and global ambassador for the brand. “The Prado museum is nearby. It’s a great little corner of the city.”
When she began to redecorate, she noticed that one of the rooms—a study located between the dining and living rooms—was lined in woven jute (“It looked like potato sacks,” Herrera Baez recalls). Underneath the drab wall covering was gotelé, a stippled stucco that was popular in Spain in the 1970s but that now looks dated and is laborious to remove. “Instead of doing triple the work, I just covered it all up in pink fabric,” she says. “And it gives a cozier look because it makes the wall appear padded.”
She also adapted the apartment’s formal layout to better suit the needs of a young family. The dining room, with its soaring ceiling and French doors, does double duty as a library and home office. A dressing room contains an antique iron bed that allows it to function as a guest room when Herrera Baez’s sister, Patricia Lansing, comes to visit. Meanwhile, the kitchen was enlarged and transformed into a spacious family room that has become the central hub of the house. “This building has 14 apartments, two to a floor, and more than half of us are friends,” Herrera Baez says. “It’s open house in my home all the time. At any moment, there might be 10 kids eating in our kitchen.”
Many of the furnishings and artworks in the apartment are pieces that she has owned for years, accumulating them as she moved from her single days in New York and Los Angeles to her married life in Seville and now Madrid. She prefers to repaint or reupholster an old favorite than to start anew. “I don’t buy things because they’re fashionable,” she says. “I buy only what I love. And I don’t get tired of the things I have, because they are not gimmicky.”
For Herrera Baez, decorating is an organic process that takes time and sometimes evolves through trial and error. The living room’s odd shape (it has five walls), for instance, proved especially challenging. “That room has changed nine thousand times,” she says. “At first I had decorated the space with one huge sofa, but no matter where I placed it, the room just wasn’t coming together. So I had the sofa cut in two. Thank God Bennison still had the fabric. My friends are always saying, ‘What? Are you changing the room again?'”
From her mother, Herrera Baez inherited a passion for textiles. She favors comfortable cottons such as the black-and-white ticking of the canopy in the master bedroom. For her children’s rooms, she discovered fanciful fabrics (cowboys for Miguel, and lions and leopards for the girls) at around $15 a yard from Warm Biscuit Bedding Co., an Internet site. Meanwhile, there are touches of passementerie—a double row of blue trim on cream curtains, a navy bullion skirt on a round, tufted ottoman—that finish each space like the perfect buttons or embroidery on a blouse.
In this lively household, no room is off limits to the children, even though there are rules about putting toys in their place at the end of the day. Little Atalanta, for instance, can often be seen riding her scooter through the apartment (with her parents’ consent). “I love a house that feels lived in,” Herrera Baez says. “This one has a good vibe, with children always playing, eating, and hanging out. It feels happy. Best of all, it feels mine.”