Designer profile: Hillary Cohen

We sat down with Hillary Cohen, Principal and founder of HCO INTERIORS, to find out more about her signature 'liveable modern' aesthetic and her passion for French antiques

(Image credit: Hillary Cohen)

The first question we always tend to ask in our designer profile series is 'Describe your design aesthetic' and when designer Hillary Cohen came straight out with 'liveable modern' we knew exactly the kind of interior design style she meant. And it's a look H&G has been trying to coin a phrase for too –that very laid back, very lived-in look that still feels minimal and contemporary but with plenty of character. It's a look that everyone is after in 2024.

Hillary has been in the interior design world for over 15 years and started her own firm in 2015 – HCO Interiors. Here she talks us through her journey, who's inspired her along the way, and gives an insight into her covetable style.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

'My design aesthetic overall is what I like to call livable modern. It is clean and streamlined, but has a good dose of color and detail so it does not feel too cold.'

'That aesthetic is the common thread throughout all of my projects, but I love to design for each client a little differently so it really reflects their personality and the way they use the house. If you love rustic pieces we will incorporate those, if you prefer a more traditional look we make sure to have lots of detail and layers. It’s all about bringing a trained eye to curate a look that the client will love.'

Pale blue bedroom with large bed

(Image credit: Hillary Cohen)

How did it all begin?

'I started during college with a series of internships at very different types of firms – it was an amazing opportunity. I tried everything from an architecture office to a designer who was on TLC’s Trading Spaces to the marketing department of a design center.'

'Professionally, I began my career at Sills Huniford where I learned very quickly about classic interiors for high-end clientele. I started as a receptionist because I really wanted to work there, by the time I left I was a senior designer. From there I decided to expand my experience so I worked at Roman and Williams on a lot of celebrity projects and high-end hotel design. It was fun to work at an office that was a combination of architects and interior designers who were all incredibly passionate about what they do. After that, I got back in touch with James Huniford and I went to work for him as his design director for 5 years. That is really where I really learned about the business side of design, how each project has to be unique and full of creativity, and how to manage all types of clients.'

'Working at all of these places I learned an incredible amount and got to see how different niches of the industry worked and how different offices operated. It gave me an insight into the fact that I wanted to be a residential designer and I loved working in boutique design offices.'

Pale blue home office with yellow chair and modern desk

(Image credit: Hillary Cohen)

What kind of work do you take on?

'We deal mostly with residential design and the occasional hospitality project. My favorite types of projects are where we are renovating and in charge of all the décor. We recently completed a local bakery where they host baking classes. We also worked with a client who was working with a local builder to customize the details – it was great because we got to make a lot of aesthetic decisions in addition to all of the furnishings.'

White dining room with large dining table and gray chairs

(Image credit: Hillary Cohen)

What’s your favorite project you have worked on?

'I love any project where we are working on both construction and the decorative items. Our Battery Park Duplex was one of my favorites because the clients really gave me a blank slate to work with. They just wanted a beautiful, livable home and left the design direction up to me. I feel this most closely reflects my personal vision for a space so it was great fun to work on. When you are renovating and selecting all of the furniture, the design becomes very cohesive and the end result is very satisfying.'

White entryway with large blue artwork

(Image credit: Hillary Cohen)

Who inspired you when you started, and who inspires you now?

'What truly inspires me is when I see a detail that feels completely original. When I was starting out I was influenced by very classic and well-known designers like Jacques Adnet, Charlotte Perriand and Donald Judd.'

'To this day it is really the details that inspire me. I’ll often see an image that makes me pause to try and think about how they came up with an idea or how they constructed something, it gets me really excited and motivated. There are certain designers who feel so unique, I love Sally Breer, Kelly Wearstler, and this French designer Laura Gonzalez.'

Who are your dream clients?

'My dream clients are people who really trust in my vision for their home. I'd love to work in a ground up house where we have control over the complete environment. I think it would be a really true expression of my design. I've worked on ground up homes in my past professional life, but not since I've started my own firm so that is my dream.'

Monochrome entryways with white console table

(Image credit: Hillary Cohen)

What’s next?

'I'm starting work on a painter's studio which creatively is really fulfilling and an exciting project for me. I'm also working on a beautiful house in Scarsdale with a client who has been very trusting of the process and is excited by the design details which always makes the whole process much more fun.'

Anything else you think we should know?

'I’m a bit of a Francophile – I studied in Paris in college, speak a little French and would love to move to the south of France at some point. Antique shopping in Paris is my idea of a perfect day!'

Head of Interiors

I am the Head of Interiors at Homes & Gardens. I started off in the world of journalism in fashion and luxury travel and then landed my first interiors role at Real Homes and have been in the world of interior design ever since. Prior to my role at H&G I was the digital editor at Livingetc, from which I took a sabbatical to travel in my self-converted van (not as glamorous as decorating a home, but very satisfying). A year later, and with lots of technical DIY lessons learned I am back to writing and editing, sometimes even from the comfort of my home on wheels.