It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a decade since the launch of Moda Operandi, the company that changed the fashion industry and cemented Lauren Santo Domingo’s status as a household name in the world of style. A former editor at Vogue (who started out as an assistant working with the greats like Grace Coddington — more on that below), she used her knowledge of fashion to create her game-changing company.

Moda’s household line Moda Domus brings that same stylish spirit to the home, with dinnerware, glassware, linens, and more, all elegantly coordinated to create the perfect ambiance. We spoke with Santo Domingo about her businesses, how she likes to decorate at home, and the design icons who inspire her every day. See what she had to say and be sure to shop her curation of creative Chairish picks, including pieces from Moda Domus (also featured below). And to hear her in person, listen to her conversation on all things design with Michael Boodro on The Chairish Podcast.

A tablescape featuring handpainted ceramic, nature-inspired dinner plates from Moda Domus

You’re of course known for your career in fashion and for co-founding Moda Operandi. How do you think the worlds of fashion and interior design intersect, and how have they played a role with each other in your own life?

I am always seeking newness and beauty, wherever it may be. Fashion and design regularly serve up new products, new trends… there is always something to get excited about. I think that when it comes to fashion and design, it’s the one area where being highly critical and judgemental are considered positives, so I am really pleased with my professional choices.

Tell us a bit about your personal decorating philosophy. How do you like to design your own spaces?

I take my time. I am always refining and perfecting, I will move things around… try things in different places. Once something falls into place, I am satisfied. It is a great feeling when something just “works.” I’m always chasing that feeling.

I am persistent and I’m always looking at auctions and on Chairish. I stop at all the estate sales I pass on the road and no matter where I am, I go to local antique shops. Before I travel anywhere I look up shops and Sunday flea markets to visit. Destination wedding trips are the best for treasure hunting.

How do you go about designing pieces for the Moda Domus tabletop line, and how has that evolved over time? Are there any personal favorites in the collection?

There are many places to get contemporary pieces, which I love in the right setting, but I am personally drawn to timeless traditional pieces. However, with vintage, it’s difficult to get a very large set. Moda Domus is meant to feel timeless and elevate your table setting with the highest quality craftsmanship from artisans in France and Italy. 

One of the hallmarks of Moda Domus is your unique color pairings. How do you decide on those, and what’s the inspiration behind them?

There is a great book, “Japanese Color Pairings.” I always keep it handy and use it when I am stuck creatively.

Hand-painted ceramic dishware depicting a pink lily, thought up by Lauren Santo Domingo

What’s the key to a gorgeous tablescape? How do you ensure you throw a memorable dinner party (when having guests is possible?)

Great lighting, strong drinks, and simple food. 

It is a lot like getting dressed: I usually start with the flowers, whatever is in season, and go from there. But many times, it’s the plate or a linen or a particular combo that gets me excited. I rarely plan things out too far in advance; I find I am most creative on the day of. I really wish I could be more organized, but when I look back, the tables (and my fashion looks) that I am most happy with are those that came together on the day of — which is why it’s so important to have a well-stocked cupboard. I’m now at the point of peak tablescaping, where I match the food to the plate! I found beautiful vintage black bowls that look great with a green matcha cake and a dollop of creme fraiche, or I put roasted vegetables in swirled Laguna B glass bowls…

What’s your favorite thing about the Hamptons? 

Living in New York, it’s the closest my children will get to recreating the suburban idyll of my youth in Old Greenwich — where we roamed free, biked to town for ice cream, stomped around in the marsh, and ordered mozzarella sticks for lunch every day at the snack bar.

What’s something people might not know about it?

Southampton has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and it is usually completely empty. My Italian friends are shocked to see miles of empty beaches in August. What can I say… Americans love a controlled climate.

What do you find most compelling about Chairish?

I love to scroll; who doesn’t? But sometimes I just want to see things, not people or memes or children. 

Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?

I’m always looking for unique silver items: bowls, trays, boxes, and vintage champagne buckets (which are great for floral arranging — the shape is very easy for beginners, just drop some seasonal flowers in, give them a good fluff and it looks better than anything from a florist, I promise). Also, Italian glass and “things that look like other things” — asparagus boxes, cabbage plates, etc. Of course, I love pottery and vases! The more unusual and cheap, the better. I think in advance which type of flower is coming up soon and what will go well together. 

A table set completely with Lauren Santo Domingo's household line Moda Domus

Some Design Favorites…

Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:

  • Put something on a tall plinth… a plant, a vase, a sculpture. It feels gutsy.
  • Put a picture light on your artwork; it will make it feel important.

Favorite decorating “cheap thrill”:

  • Unusual, unloved, unsigned, ugly pottery — it’s like having a perfectly half-tucked denim shirt on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Black lacquer pieces from a Japanese restaurant supply shop 
  • House plants, especially airy ferns. The more unusual, the better.

Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:

  • If you live in the suburbs, study the Americans: Elsie de Wolfe, Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, and Billy Baldwin
  • If you live in the country, be inspired by the Europeans: Nancy Lancaster, David Hicks, Madeleine Castaing
  • If you’re in the city: Maison Jansen, Royere, Eugene Printz, Jean Michel Frank, Syrie Maugham

Favorite style icon:

Nan Kempner and Carolyn Bessette 

Design destination every creative should visit at least once:

Venice. I went as an unruly teenager and it civilized me on the spot.

Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:

Working at Vogue, it was understood that we needed to know all the things you aren’t taught in school. There was once a moment when I was in a fashion meeting, and Grace Coddington referred to shooting a ‘Peter Lindbergh’-style shoot. I thought she was referring to the pilot. I had to educate myself and fast. This was pre-Internet, so my research was through Condé Nast archives and coffee table books. If only I were young now, with Wifi, it’d be easier… but I really had to earn it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Lauren Santo Domingo in a study, featuring volumes upon volumes placed on tall bookshelves, dramatic furnishings, and art pieces that lend plenty of gravitas

Some Lifestyle Favorites:

Favorite vacation destination (the next time travel becomes an option):

Tokyo. I love everything about it. 

Favorite restaurant:  

Sant Ambroeus on Lafayette is my cafeteria. I skip breakfast and get the spaghetti bolognese (even if it annoys everyone who ordered a salad).

Favorite small museum:

In Paris, Musee Maillol and MAD. I also love house museums! Like Musee Camondo… even the Roosevelt House in Flatiron. Something about a house stuck in time is thrilling to me.

Favorite podcast:

I have never listened to a podcast; I’d rather check my voicemail.

Favorite Instagram accounts to follow: 

I am aging myself, but I have gone from ogling interiors to garden accounts. I have a Finsta for flowers and gardens.

Farm-to-table by Moda Domus, a set of handpainted ceramic dinner plates depicting cabbages and flowers

Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:

If it is someone I know very well, I bring flowers from my garden in a vintage vase. I think the raffia nesting bowls from Moda Domus are beautiful too. I tie them up with natural dyed silk ribbons in the softest shade of my current favorite color — right now mine is mint green or ice blue. Pro tip: Everything looks good with a natural dyed silk ribbon. 

Favorite flower:

Whatever is fresh, in season, and local.

Favorite adult beverage: 

I gave up alcohol over 20 years ago, but I will have a glass of champagne on special occasions. I was told it’s bad luck not to. 

Favorite entertaining essential:

A bartender. See above. I can’t mix a drink to save my life, or yours.

All photos by Brittany Ambridge

May 12, 2021

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.