In TZR’s franchise, Interior motifs, celebrities and tastemakers discuss their unique approach to home design and how it reflects their personal aesthetic. Here we sit down with designer Athena Calderone to discuss the Brooklyn, New York home where she lives, works and entertains.
When the New York Times call yourself “the modern girl’s Martha Stewart,” you have a lot to live up to. That said, one look inside Athena Calderone’s Brooklyn home will assure you that this multidisciplinary creativity has earned the comparison to the iconic domestic goddess. The elegant yet lived-in residence is certainly an aesthetic dream for those with a penchant for interior decorating, but what solidifies Calderone’s space as such a sought-after one is the equal emphasis on functionality: As a woman whose love language is entertaining, cooking and hospitality, hers is a house full of heart.
As the founder of EyeSwoon, a destination for all things food, fashion and lifestyle, Calderone has developed quite the following for those looking for design inspiration. And the reception and interior expert naturally came to her calling. Born to two creative people (both hairdressers), Calderone immersed herself early in the idea of beauty. “I just feel like style was very prominent in my household,” she says TZR. Her family’s lower middle-class status didn’t allow for extravagance, but that didn’t stop Calderone’s mother from making their surroundings unique and exciting. “My mom always liked to rearrange furniture in our house,” she explains. “The living room would become the dining room and the den would become the living room. [She] was never complacent with the design of our homes.”
And Calderone followed in these footsteps. After having her first child at 26 – before cultivating a career – the young mother was confined to her home for the first few years. “I don’t want to say that I was isolated in a negative way, but I was very alone and my home really became this avenue of creative expression,” she shares. Once her family began traveling as a unit, these global explorations served as great inspiration and Calerdone’s curated-yet-personalized aesthetic began to come into focus.
Now Calderone is approaching household name status. Not only Cook Beautifully, her James Beard award-winning cookbook, remains a bestseller and staple of stylish homes, but her decor eye has been used for major brand partnerships, including a rug collection with Beni and more recently an extensive furniture and accessories collection with Crate & Barrel. The collaboration, which just launched this month, includes 137 pieces ranging in price from $7.95 to $2,699.00 and runs the gamut from table linens to sectional sofas to sculpture – many of which are designed based on pieces in Calderone’s house, of one-of-a-kind vintage finds for her custom creations). “I started cataloging the things people asked about,” she says. “I wanted to give people access to things they couldn’t otherwise get, like two vintage pieces combined. I used my community and my fan base as a starting point.”
In celebration of this latest partnership—which invites Calderone’s following to get a taste of her signature style in their own homes—it felt like the perfect time to get some additional insight into her Cobble Hill home, including the design elements she’s asked about the most (her floating open kitchen shelves), the unexpected place she snuck into a chic home office, the destinations she counts on for vintage decor, and so much more.
How would you describe your home in Brooklyn?
I always struggle to describe my aesthetic, just because, more than anything, it feels very collected. I really love being able to look at pieces and not necessarily know what era or period [they came from]. Some pieces are very modern and some pieces could be Italian 70s or Scandinavian 50s. I feel that the beauty of a house lies in collecting pieces over time, so it has a soul to it.
I always look for both contrast and cohesion. Where is there polarization? It can be in the palette of light and dark, it can be in the shapes, something that is weighted and spherical next to something that is fine and delicate. Or even the scale of something. Everything is very neutral and with earth tones but to answer the original question I would say [my home is] layered, neutral, sophisticated and collected.
Tell me about your favorite space in your home?
It’s definitely the kitchen. The kitchen is the center of creativity. The heart of the house. It’s like my meditation when I’m in the kitchen. But I feel that a functional space still deserves decorative objects. They should be an extension of the rest of your home, rather than just pieces within arm’s reach or utilitarian pieces.
What do you like so much about it?
My kitchen is where my two worlds come together. I always say the dining table as well as the kitchen is the marriage of the culinary side of myself and the design side. I have a lot of strange objects that you wouldn’t necessarily find in a kitchen. Like a table lamp or a vintage mirror. a sculpture.
How much time do you spend there?
This is probably the space in which I spend the most time. Every morning I have my coffee moment, I light a candle, have music on and then work from the kitchen. I also have a desk at the end of the kitchen, which is a very good place to work. And then I also cook dinner in the kitchen, so I would say probably 80% of my time is spent [here].
Do you have a favorite piece of furniture or decor?
My parents didn’t have very fancy or nice things at all, so I don’t really have a lot of family heirlooms or anything passed down. But I have this wonderful green marble head. I know it seems very strange because I have so many wonderful larger pieces, but it just means a lot to me to have something. My father passed away recently and it was his, so it’s a very special piece to me. Objects trigger memories and I think they are carried into the essence and the emotion of your home.
Talk me through the decor of the space? What are some elements you made sure to include?
I think that one of the most important things when designing a space is to make sure that the eye moves around and lands on different things, so [I wanted to offer] elements that have verticality, asymmetry, that don’t keep everything too matching. I want someone to walk in and feel curious. So, for example, I have a very spherical sofa that is so soft and tactile. I wanted to pair it with something more angular and smoother. So I’m always thinking about putting things together. Make sure the shapes have some contrast to them.
Also, one of the mistakes I think people make is pushing things up against walls, so I make sure I float my bench. Or instead of having a console pushed up against a wall, maybe a center table instead. Make sure that everything is not the same shape. It’s fun to play around with unexpected placement.
How would you describe your personal style and how does it relate to your home design?
The way I dress, the way I design a space, and even the way I cook follow exactly the same principles. Always opposition. Where do you shock the palette or where do you pair something that is fine and delicate with something that is maybe a bit louder and more masculine?
I also note that I like to invest in timeless classic pieces in a similar way that I do with my furniture pieces. I love having these statement investment pieces with embellishments on top. So there’s that, but I also like texture. If everything is the same texture, it feels one-note. Same thing with how you dress. I have this image of myself wearing this Totem dress which is white silk and ruffle and I’m standing in my bathroom which has white ribbed walls. I looked at it and I was like “Oh!” I wore it with these combat boots, and that’s exactly how I design a space. Soft and neutral, but with texture, and I always inject some contrast, like an all-black element in an all-white room is something I tend to do a lot.
Has your style evolved at all over the years?
Oh, for sure! And it will continue – it must, or you will remain silent. I was always this anti-glass girl. I really didn’t like glass coffee tables or side tables, but you always have to be open-minded and absorb everything. I’m constantly going to art openings or museums or traveling — you have to absorb everything and trust that what you love will somehow infiltrate and come out in your own way. But you must always be searching. I don’t want my house to always look and feel the same. I want it to develop just like me as a person.
What inspires you and your style?
I think that classic silhouettes for furniture and clothes, things that have a certain level of timelessness, that’s really important to me. You don’t want to invest in a couch or a table that is going to feel like it’s outdated. For example, at the moment I see very thick bone tables. I will be ready to invest [something smaller like] a coffee table or a side table, but I might not want that for my dining table. The big pieces that carry a space, you should want them for 20-plus years. Same with investing in a really nice coat. You don’t want to wear it for just one season. So there are certain silhouettes that I am constantly drawn to in fashion. I love a swing skirt and I’ll always be drawn to iron and velvet too. Timeless classics that I keep going back to.
Travel also keeps me inspired. No matter where I go, I will go to the museums. It could be the union of the two colors in the marble at the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, where I’m like, “Oh, I love that burnt red with that ocher yellow.” Or the profile of a handrail and how it is set into the stone. I look at all those fine details of how connections are made. I’m constantly looking at the things that I think a lot of people don’t look at, especially when I travel and especially in museums. Subtle details in art and architecture are always going to inform my design practice.
What home retailers or designers do you shop/turn to regularly?
Of course, Crate & Barrel. Since we are on the Copenhagen tip, I really love Oliver Gustav. He is really amazing. I’m definitely a fan of 1stDibs and diving down the rabbit hole to find French 50’s or Italian 70’s. RW Guild is another great one for table top pieces and linens.
Whenever I go to any city – whether it’s Paris or Nice or even just LA – I always look for their flea markets. I also love visiting galleries like Seventh House and Galerie Half to see what they’re working on. It could be a Baroque 18th century gold or silver leaf mirror paired with a rustic farm table. I always look at the styling.
Is there a place you love from a style and design perspective?
Copenhagen and Italy for sure. Gabriella Crespi Studio had an incredible exhibition – you start to see trends emerge. I’m really into paper and silk lighting right now because it has a really warm glow. I see a lot of glass and stainless steel, but I also see that warm lighting that is drapey and romantic. The Italians and the Danes are kind of my sweet spot.
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