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The Bald Mermaid: Designer Sheila Bridges’s Revealing New Memoir

The author writes disarmingly about confronting feelings surrounding her hair loss, in between dishing out out some excellent stories about a life spent in design.

By Angela Riechers, Superscript September 13, 2013

When interior designer Sheila Bridges learned she had the autoimmune disorder alopecia and would lose all of her exuberant curly hair, she took charge of the situation with characteristic bravado by taking a razor to her scalp. Ivy League-educated, outspoken and funny, Bridges became known for her sexy yet classic interiors shot through with rich colors. She was frequently profiled in the pages of glossy magazines, owned a home décor store in Hudson, New York, and counts Bill Clinton and novelist Tom Clancy among her clients. Her hair began falling out while she was taping the fourth season of her TV show “Designer Living”; the program was canceled shortly after that. In The Bald Mermaid (Pointed Leaf Press, 2013), Bridges writes disarmingly about confronting the powerful feelings of grief and depression following her hair loss—in between dishing out out some excellent life tips ranging from dealing with ill-behaved lovers to fending off unneeded advice on cancer remedies from well-meaning strangers. Angela Riechers discusses the book, and the stories behind its creation, with the author:

Designer Sheila Bridges writes about her storied career and her struggle with hair loss in The Bald Mermaid: A Memoir, published by Pointed Leaf Press. Photo by Trevor Tondro.

Angela Riechers: Did losing your hair change the way you approach your work as a designer?
Sheila Bridges:
No. One of the great things about being a designer is that most clients are more concerned about the ideas that are in my head than what's on it.

AR: What are your influences—what inspires you?
Spending time in the Souks in Marrakech pushes me to take bigger risks with color, texture, and pattern. Today I was at the beach watching how the morning sun shimmered on the ocean and thought about how I'd like to design a rug that captured that.

The Bald Mermaid: A Memoir, published by Pointed Leaf Press. Cover image courtesy of Pointed Leaf Press.

AR: It’s no secret that the media-related professions can be shallow and judgmental about appearances. When it came time for your TV show contract to be renewed, did anyone ever say, "If you'd just wear a wig, we can keep you on the air"?
I suspected that the network knew I’d lost my hair and my TV agent told me to not tell anyone about it, making an already difficult situation even more challenging. Having to keep quiet created a sense of shame. As a woman I don't think that there is any way to prepare for what life will be like without hair and I definitely wasn't prepared. I guess I hadn't expected people to have such strong opinions about my shaved head. Even if they did have strong opinions I was more often shocked that they couldn't keep their sometimes hurtful or insensitive comments to themselves.

The Book

The Bald Mermaid Sheila Bridges

AR: Did you find you got more insensitive remarks from strangers or from people you knew well?
Most of my close friends were supportive and tried to reassure me that I looked fine, although a few did suggest life might be easier if I wore a wig. To this day, most of the stupid remarks I receive are from strangers. I realize that most of the time it's more of a reflection of the person making the remark than about me personally.

The paneled library of a client's home in Downtown Manhattan. Bridges is known for her colorful yet classic interiors, which are frequently profiled in the pages of interior design magazines. Photo by Dana Meilijson.

AR: The Bald Mermaid is a beautiful book—lavish, colorful, full of playful typography—and the mix of images feels well chosen and compelling throughout. Did you weigh in on its look?
I collaborated very closely with the publisher's book designer, because it was such personal material. It was important for me to be able to art direct the story of my own life.

AR: The last chapter of your book is about memory and the legacy we leave behind. How do you hope to be remembered? What will be your legacy?
Part of my legacy is the body of creative work that I've amassed over the years. The Bald Mermaid is a part of that—particularly because it is not just about me, but also about the importance of my parents and family. I hope that I have been an inspiration to people through my design work but most importantly, through my actions and the way I have chosen to live my life.

"As a designer, I have always enjoyed experimenting with color and texture in fabrics, furniture, and wallcoverings," writes Bridges. Photo by Dana Meilijson.
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