Interior Design

Designer Profile: Cortney Bishop

Strong architectural features, relaxed elegance and a bohemian undercurrent are the hallmarks of Cortney Bishop’s life-enhancing approach to interior design

Cortney Bishop
(Image credit: Katie Charlotte)

Cortney Bishop’s full-service design studio is admired for bringing a relaxed yet uplifting energy to homes, boutique hotels and restaurants. Her interior design makes occupants feel immediately at ease, and creates a deep connection to locality through materiality and color.

Residential design is the key focus of the Cortney Bishop (opens in new tab) design studio, based in Charleston, South Carolina, but exciting hospitality projects are rapidly expanding and include boutique hotel The Ryder Hotel (opens in new tab) (below), and The Longboard restaurants in St. John (opens in new tab) and Sullivan’s Island (opens in new tab). The studio is also working with a development company on luxurious oceanfront condominiums and a beach club in Kiawah Island.

Cortney is also founder of Harwood House (opens in new tab), a line of woven textiles in collaboration with Holland & Sherry (opens in new tab), launched in June 2019. 

Here, we explore her refreshing style aesthetic, her passion for artistry and her favorite places to shop.

The Ryder Hotel bar and pool patio by Cortney Bishop

The Ryder Hotel bar and patio by Cortney Bishop

(Image credit: Cortney Bishop/The Ryder Hotel)

Creating a vibe

Light adjoining living rooms with patterned rugs and yellow walls, wood used throughout

(Image credit: Cortney Bishop / Katie Charlotte)

Cortney Bishop’s interiors exude contemporary calm with a bohemian undercurrent. It is an aesthetic perhaps more associated with West Coast style but one that her East Coast clients adore and which has been creating style ripples in the region since studio launch in 2007. 

Cortney describes her aesthetic as 'laid back, bohemian, but very strong architecturally. I like organic shapes, and creating asymmetry is also important for me because it creates so much interest.'

Style aesthetic

Grey curtains and rug, cream sofa with yellow blanket

(Image credit: Cortney Bishop)

Natural materials, textural textiles and artisanal pieces predominate; color palettes harmonize rather than deliberately shocking or clashing; and yet pattern, vibrant accents and art are judiciously used to bring punctuation points to each room. One senses that the primary objective is the subliminal energy of each room, underscored by an intrinsic awareness of connection with location. Comfort is also key.

'Comfort is a huge thing for me,' says Cortney. 'My mother (who is Greek) had very pristine homes. We couldn’t sit on the sofas, we couldn’t walk into the house with sand on our feet (we had to take a shower), things were wrapped in sheets and plastic – believe it or not – so I had a very unique experience growing up. She was very strict in the way that I lived and I had to get out of that… so comfort and the kind of relaxed style that you see on the west coast is something my studio was incorporating from day one. 

'Formality is out of the window for us: we can do it, we can create those experiences, but it has to be liveable – there is a chic sense of comfort in the rooms we create.'

Design ethos

Green kitchen by Cortney Bishop

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte)

'The whole point of the process of creating a home for somebody is so that they feel wonderful living there,' Cortney says, going on to reveal 'getting a client into the studio is harder than it used to be but so beneficial for them to see the level of support for their voice at every stage of design. We want to make them feel comfortable and secure with the approach we are taking and build a trusted relationship. That process is really important to me.'

Connection and flow

Colorful farmhouse style dining room by Cortney Bishop

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte)

Cortney Bishop’s approach to design involves creating resonance between the interiors, the architecture, the location and its views. 

'Keeping all these elements in mind determines how we choose a shade or shades of colors and also the strength of the furniture: the architectural design really does direct me in the architectural strength of each furniture piece,' Cortney says, 'Furniture is artwork as well.'

She goes on to say, 'Materiality and the building structure of the home is just as important as the furniture that goes inside. We think about it all: the stone, the plumbing metals, the architectural materials on the exterior, the colors of the doors. The colors of the fabrics and wallpapers play off of that materiality – so there is a soothing experience when you are walking though the home or hotel or restaurant that we’re designing: it’s all deliberately connected.'

'Buy once, cry once'

Kitchen, Design tips, The Expert

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte Photography/Cortney Bishop)

Cortney is emphatic that quality should never be compromised. 

'We want the design we are creating for our clients to last a lifetime. They might change the pillows or the wallcovering in 10 years but the overall home should be one that survives through all the trends. Sustainability is key, so quality is really important. 

'We understand the high/low game, that’s how we achieve success in a financial relationship with a client. We know how to mix in vintage, we understand the budget constraints in children’s rooms at certain ages of their life. We’re already thinking of these, of course, because we want the end experience to be happy but we really push for quality and investment in things that are going to be used every day: beds, the main sofas, kitchen cabinetry, the countertops. 

'We call it "Buy Once, Cry Once", and know that clients will be so happy that they made those investments. I believe you have to live your life now so it’s important to make certain pieces feel unique, make them special and appreciate the fact that you get to be around them every day.'

Cortney’s design superpower

Bedroom with bed by Cortney Bishop

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte)

'Intuition for sure – and a feel for [the client’s] energy. Listening to them clearly and deeply and understanding the way that they really want to live helps guide me. There are so many ways to thread someone’s personality through their home. It’s really a mix of hearing all the things they want to do and hearing their dreams, and helping to bring out the best in them.'

A studio specialism 

Black and white beach house dining room by Cortney Bishop

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte)

'Taking risks – I’ve always taken risks, I’m one of those who does believe the larger the risk the larger the reward – and I have learned that that is what life is worth living for. So as a team we push the boundaries. 

'We don’t like to repeat ourselves: there is a world of opportunity and we’ve got all the resources so we keep wanting to do something more exciting or different or use colors we haven’t explored yet, and if that relates to the client’s architecture and their environment and the new experience that we are creating for them, we find it an opportunity to utilise ingredients we haven’t yet explored.'

Sources of inspiration

'I get so much from artistry – my light turns on. I try my best to travel to as many shows as possible. Salone (opens in new tab) in Milan was a big one on my list. What it does is mix the boldest of the bold [talents] and brings forth true artists who aren’t in a business atmosphere. When collaborations are not under a business constraint they can push the envelope to the farthest level… and I need to see that.

'We’ll go to Art Basel (opens in new tab) in Miami, to shows in Columbia, in Paris, in Milan (Switzerland is on my bucket list) – that’s where the world just busts open for me! It’s like going to a good rock and roll show, where you can go wild and think of all the possibilities and I have to do that, to see and experience those people that are beyond creative so that I can get in my fighting zone.'

Design heroes 

Kelly Wearstler in Kelly Wearstler house

(Image credit: Kelly Wearstler)

'Kelly Wearstler (above). She is just so incredible with her eye and her artistry. I’m a modernist – I live in this moment – and so that is who I’m most inspired by when I see the work that she is doing. 

'Also Laura Kirar (opens in new tab), who is a designer/artist. When you mix studio art with interior design, I very much respect and admire that path. She’s a genius. I love what she creates in the spaces for her salons to showcase her work, and the way she interprets herself. Both designers are authentic to themselves.  

I also admire architect and designer India Mahdavi (opens in new tab). She has FUN, yet remains sophisticated. I’m inspired by her playfulness and reminder that interior design should make you feel alive, happy, and smile. There is an undoubtable vitality to her aesthetic. And the rainbow, she leaves no color left behind. It’s her oyster.'

Favourite brands & resources

  • The Paris Flea Markets. Walking the streets of St Germaine is probably one of the ultimate shopping experiences. All of the antique dealers are so unique and full of the same vibrancy and they love what they do, so shopping with them is fun and special.
  • 214 Modern Vintage (opens in new tab) in Charleston is a wonderful collective of vintage dealers. I’ve known since the group inception and they have been a huge part of the success of our projects. They make the buying experience so special for our clients where they get to see unique, one-off pieces that you can mix up to bring different time periods together.
  • In New York1st dibs (opens in new tab) and WYETH (opens in new tab)
  • For fashionGucci (opens in new tab) and St Laurent (opens in new tab), for hard driven style which invigorates me. Those two fashion brands are in my lane, they make me feel myself and bolder and more confident when I’m in that environment.

Dream client or project

Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera, Barcelona

Gaudi's Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera, Barcelona

(Image credit: Florencia Potter/Unsplash)

'There are so many! One of my heroes is Gaudi. I’m a very spiritual person, grounded in my faith. His story resonates with faith. He didn’t get to see his success but he did what was in his heart and that’s been kind of a theme of our conversation. Just staying true to yourself.

'Seeing his work in person blew my mind. When you actually go and experience his buildings it’s… magical! It does show you that we are all given this innate gift by God, we just have to listen to it and if you pursue it, magic can happen. So to create an internal experience for one of his buildings or in any architectural world masterpiece would be a dream. 

'I’d also say any experience for me in a Grecian atmosphere – to be able to create a hotel or a beach club or something of the mentality where everyone is going to have a great time and is surrounded by beauty.'

Kerryn Harper-Cuss
Contributing Editor

Interiors editor and brand consultant, Kerryn Harper-Cuss has worked on four interior magazines and edited three of these, most recently The English Home, where she was Editor-in-Chief of both its UK and US editions for almost 12 years. She now writes for a number of high caliber publications, moderates design seminars and is particularly delighted to pen profile features on world-class interior designers for a regular slot on the Homes & Gardens website.