Book Signing for 'Interiors for Collectors' by Alumnus John Marrs Planned for Sept. 16

John Phifer Marrs, a U of A alumnus, will sign copies of his book, "Interiors for Collectors," at 5 p.m., Sept. 16, in Vol Walker Hall on the university campus.
Dan Piassick

John Phifer Marrs, a U of A alumnus, will sign copies of his book, "Interiors for Collectors," at 5 p.m., Sept. 16, in Vol Walker Hall on the university campus.

John Phifer Marrs, a U of A alumnus, has spent more than 30 years as an interior designer. His experiences working with a range of clients led him to write his first book, called Interiors for Collectors.

A reception and book signing for Marrs and his new book will be held at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 16, on the first floor of Vol Walker Hall. This event is hosted by the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. 

Marrs, a Harrison native, studied drama and speech at the U of A and received his Bachelor of Arts in 1975. After that, he worked for several furniture design stores and design firms in Dallas before founding his own interior design business in the 1990s.

In his Dallas-based practice, John Phifer Marrs Interiors, Marrs focuses primarily on high-end residential work. Reflecting back on his clients and projects over the years, he realized that much of his work had involved helping them organize and highlight their varied collections.

Clients and their projects vary, with their particular personalities, ways of living and working, and levels of involvement, all making a difference in the design process.

"What is better than being around incredibly beautiful things all day long — and really great clients?" he said. "Every day's different, which some people don't like. I really do."

With residential design, Marrs gets to know clients better because the projects are more intimate and personal. He learns how they live and entertain, how they fold shirts and store underwear.

"I love residential work because I love the process," he said. "I love getting into people's lives and seeing what makes them happy and excited."

Over the years, friends and design community peers have asked if he planned to write a book. He didn't plan to, but the thought stayed in the back of his mind.

As he sifted through photographs of past jobs, he realized that he'd worked for many collectors — and that housing those collections had been major components to the projects.

Some have collected Chinese porcelain, antique silver and milk glass. Others collect minerals and geodes, arrowheads or silhouettes (which Marrs also collects).

The cover of "Interiors for Collectors"Some clients didn't realize they had collections among their possessions until Marrs came in with a fresh eye and suggested that they take the scattered pieces and combine them to display in some way.

Marrs and his assistant mocked up a prototype of what a book on collections could look like. He sent that to an editor a friend had used, and he got a book deal in May 2020.

"It was really fun because when you do a book, they give you specific deadlines with dates. And I took it seriously," he said. "That was nice to have those goals and to be able to think about that and not be worried about the pandemic."

The book, published in August 2021 by Gibbs Smith, shows more than 230 photos of his clients' various collections. He worked with several photographers to capture the desired images. Previously completed design projects were re-photographed to focus just on the collections.

The book begins with Marrs describing his own love for collecting and offers a brief history of collecting. There is a chapter on entire houses designed for collectors, and another on wings or additions for collections.

Marrs writes about specific collections that are interesting — such as arrowheads, turtles, Waterford crystal, dinosaur artifacts, hands of clocks, Hermès bags and art glass. And he shares his knowledge and suggestions on how best to display collections — considering how to organize them, determining the best cabinet or shelving for display, and accentuating them with lighting and fabric.

"I really wanted the text to be in my own voice, and I wanted it to be a little bit humorous with a little bit of knowledge, too," he said.

Perhaps the biggest collection included in the book is that of a client who commissioned a 12,000-square-foot addition to his home to house a private library. In addition to books and manuscripts, it holds historically significant pieces — such as Abraham Lincoln's desk and chair from the House of Representatives and paintings by Winston Churchill. Among the documents in the collection are the deed to Mount Vernon and letters that Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington.

Marrs is proud of the book created during — and despite — the strange circumstances of a pandemic.

"I think it's a beautiful book. The photography is great," he said. "When I look through it, I think about all those clients that I worked with and the wonderful experiences that I had putting together that house or that collection or that library, and all of those meaningful things that make your life worthwhile."

As part of the Sept. 16 reception and book signing, Marrs will donate a portion of sales to benefit students in the Fay Jones School. He's come to know the school well through his service on the school's Professional Advisory Board, Campaign Arkansas Steering Committee and the Campaign for the 75th, and he's spoken to design classes and provided internships for several students.

"The opportunities that the students have are great, and whatever I can share with them from just my experiences of my profession, I'm happy to. Because I didn't have that," he said. "And if I can give back through internships or going up and speaking to the students, I think it's invaluable." 


Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design


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