When I was a kid, my father used to send my brother and me “window shopping”—a far cry from real shopping where you actually bought something. One of our favorite “windows” was the toy store at the Goodwives Shopping Center (surprisingly, it’s still called that). Occasionally my father bought us something if we’d express the appropriate amount of excitement—he needed to know we really wanted it. We were encouraged to pick something practical—the high-dollar rocking horse was out of the question. Still, my mental shopping list inspired me; it was something to look toward.
As a young adult, my “window shopping” took place flipping through books and magazines. I tore out inspirations left and right—an amazing watch, a beautiful chair, the perfect vacation spot. But one of my most indelible inspirations was from a book of interiors by legendary photographer Horst P. Horst. It was reprinted from an article in the November 1966 issue of Vogue entitled “Roman Classic Surprise” that featured the artist Cy Twombly and his family at home in Rome.
The image that became my obsession featured Twombly’s son Alessandro and his dog in front of a huge painting entitled “The Triumph of Galatea.” I loved how this glorious piece of art was leaning casually against the wall—it was sophisticated yet informal; the perfect mix of art and life. This family was really living with this piece, evidenced by the dog and child. I wanted that for my own home. Placing the 3-year-old in front of the painting seemed to be Horst’s tongue-in-cheek way of acknowledging the most common criticism of Abstract Expressionism by the uninitiated: “My child could paint that!” And, as far as the piece itself—well, I’m still enamored of it to this day. To me it is the perfect balance of color and whiteness, of scribbles and negative space, of spontaneity and mindfulness.
In another photo, of Cy and his wife Tatiana, an elegant, trance-like grayness pervaded—a cool, tonal look. There was a feeling of whiteness, without it being actually white. The picture's message, to me, was all about livability: The way Cy sat back, it was obvious he was comfortable in his environment. Even though the room was comprised of formal elements, like an 18th-century French chair, it felt informal, suggesting that you can have beautiful things and still live your life.
About the same time, I was working as an apprentice at Sotheby’s. Part of my job was to visit the homes of important collectors to appraise their artworks. I found that a lot of these collectors had great art, impressive real estate and amazing objects, but few had the ability to integrate their art into their life as elegantly as Twombly did. This is also the time I bought my first apartment—a 500-square-foot one-bedroom (in New York, that is a studio with a wall down the middle). In an effort to make my first home more grown-up, I referred back to my magazine clippings, particularly the Twombly inspiration. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to afford a Twombly painting anytime soon, I went for the tonal look in the photo of Cy sitting back. I painted the walls a soft gray and borrowed a Twombly drawing from my friend Earl, an art dealer. It didn’t quite capture the mood of the Horst photo, but it was a good first stab at it.
A year into owning this apartment, I sold it to purchase a townhouse a few blocks away. The sun-filled parlor room was what got me—it had 13-foot-high ceilings and expansive walls. Now, I had a much bigger canvas on which to implement my inspiration. Sadly, my friend needed his Twombly drawing back, but that was just a momentary hiccup. I thought about what really inspired me about the photo, and realized that, even without my loaner drawing, I could still replicate my favorite elements. I mimicked the general whiteness punctuated with dabs of color. I used classic piece of furniture such as 18th-century chairs and a traditional English sofa, but I placed them casually, as I would imagine Cy would have done.
Did I succeed in making my living room feel like Cy’s? Sort of. Certainly mine is less grand, but there is a slouchy elegance that I think both spaces share. I have consciously veered away from my original inspiration on occasion. The gray ultimately made the room feel a bit cold, so over time I have introduced warmer tones of white and cream.
What I learned from this process is that if you want it badly enough, you can incorporate your inspiration into your reality—even if it seems to be a stretch. I hope to help you do the same by showing you things that inspire you and giving you the tips and tools to make them your own.