The tall, blond Huniford is one-half of Sills Huniford Associates, one of the city's most prolific—and controversial—interior design firms.
James Huniford—or "Ford" as he's known to colleagues and acquaintances—was raised upstate and moved to the city after dropping out of Syracuse to pursue fame and fortune as a model and movie star. Ford's celluloid dreams never quite panned out, but he managed to catch a break soon enough. While waiting tables at Yellowfingers on the Upper East Side in the early '80s, he caught the eye of Stephen Sills, a Dallas-based interior designer who operated an up-and-coming firm with his boyfriend, Ralph Jones; within months, Sills had jettisoned his partner and taken on Ford as his new collaborator. With Sills in charge of creative matters and Ford responsible for the business end of things, the firm soon emerged as one of the hottest design firms in town, status that was confirmed in 1988 when Anna Wintour, then the editor of House & Garden, featured the duo as one of the five most exciting interior design practices in town. A steady succession of big clients followed, as well a long list of controversies and recriminations.
Known for combining antiques and contemporary styles to create a modern aesthetic, Sills and Huniford have worked with a long list of notables over the years, including Vera Wang, Anna Wintour, Linda Wells, the Newhouse family, Tina Turner, Jane Pratt, Brooke de Ocampo, Samantha Bass, Stephen and Nan Swid, Lauren and Richard Dupont, and the Rockefeller family. They've taken on a number of hotel commissions, too, designing outposts of the St. Regis in New York and Washington, D.C. But Sills and Huniford have also proven one of the most controversial interior design firms in town and over the years they've lost as many famous clients as they've gained. Anna Wintour reportedly stopped speaking with them in 1995 after Elle Décor scooped Vogue on what was supposed to be an exclusive look at their Bedford home. Four years later, the duo got into a nasty legal tiff with Dennis Alter, chairman of credit card company Advanta, who alleged they had overcharged him for work performed on his Pennsylvania mansion. It wasn't the first time the pair had gotten in trouble for price-jacking. They were previously fired by Jonathan Newhouse and the Pierre Hotel for the very same reason. Despite the brouhaha, the pair continues to operate one of New York's most prominent design firms. They also operate Dwellings, a company founded in 1995 that produces less expensive reproductions of antique furniture, lighting and tables.
In 2003, they published Dwellings: Living with Great Style with Michael Boodro.
Huniford sits on the board of DirectEffect, an AIDS research group. He also founded the annual benefit Design on a Dime, which raises money for Housing Works NYC.
Ford lives in a Bank Street townhouse he bought for $5 million late last year. He also owns a 20-acre spread in Bedford, once described by Karl Lagerfeld as the "chic-est house in America," where he keeps his mammoth collection of art and antiques, and his fleet of vintage Mercedes-Benzes.