Thursday, June 26, 2014

...second looks: John Douglas Eason at Kips Bay 2014

He’s the kind of guy who generously uses “we” when he could easily get away with “me.” He's prone to giving more credit to serendipity than to his own innate and impeccable design sense. He’s the only person I know who can say, “Hello, darling!” and not sound like Gina Gershon in Showgirls. Meet the ever-dapper John Eason, of John Douglas Eason Interiors, a talented designer riding a wave of much-deserved attention. John stopped by AskPatrick to pull back the (GIGANTIC) curtain on his Kips Bay Decorator Show House debut, letting us know what’s behind the mirror, and why girthy Italian legs and nuclear reactors, among other things, kick-started and energized his star turn at the venerable designer show house.

Listen in on the full conversation here:

...or read on for some of the highlights!

Patrick J. Hamilton: Everybody knows Kips Bay. Was it intimidating working specifically in this amazing house, let alone Kips Bay? Because the house is kind of legendary, right?

John Douglas Eason: The house is definitely legendary. The thing that was challenging was I’ve never really worked in a 34-ft high staircase before. And I probably had one of the most logistically difficult spaces to work in, since it was the staircase. Especially having just a landing really to place furniture on. In all of that big scale and all that big size, the landing is relatively small. And with traffic coming up and down you couldn’t really do anything that would make those stairs feel more narrow. But yes, definitely, it was a little bit intimidating, having this kind of size.

PJH: It was kind of an odd combination of an incredible cubic footage of space, but a fairly small footprint to put anything down, right?

JDE: Exactly. And so getting the scale and getting proportion of everything just right was certainly a bit of a challenge.

PJH: Give us some stats. Like the yardage of wallpaper, the height of that window treatment.... drop some numbers on us, John!

JDE: The window itself was approximately 11.5’ high.

PJH: Holy moly! That’s just the window right?

JDE: That’s just the window! The walls themselves were 138” high from the stone piece that had a carved detail in it, where the stone ended. From the top of that to the bottom of the crown molding was 138.” The depth of the space was 220”.

So when we made the wallpaper, we painted that at the artist’s studio. Is this where I get to namedrop about the artists I worked with?

PJH: Of course! Assuming you’re willing to share your secret sources!

JDE: Absolutely! Christianson-Lee Studios, they’re based out of Ridgefield, Connecticut. We were able to do a small-scale sample to get all our colors right, and then we actually painted it on a thin canvas. Because of the size of their studio... we did the entire length of the wall. It was done in three different sections.

BEST & Company, the contractor I worked with, installed 220” long rolls of paper on the walls. And they did it all when there was scaffolding less than 8” away from the wall.

PJH: Yay, scaffolding!


PJH: It sounds like they lived up to their name!

JDE: They absolutely did. And they did not complain about it. I’m amazed they didn’t just throw the paper back at me!

PJH: I would imagine that stone was something that you could not change. What else were you given that you could not change or that you had to work hard to work around?

JDE: The baluster was historically landmarked, as were the stone steps, which meant that I couldn’t really put any type of beautiful runner or something just to make that softer or warmer. I really would have liked to warm that space up more.

PJH: I loved that smoky, sort of mysterious mirror. It did that trick that mirrors do: visually expand that space a bit. Is there something hiding behind there, John??

JDE: When we first took the space, the entire wall was covered with just a great big piece of sheetrock. So we had no idea what to expect when the sheetrock came off. But you know, it’s a show house, so you can generally expect that whatever the worst possible condition could be is what would be there.

PJH: It’s not going to be an ancient Roman tile or fresco or mural or something like that!

JDE: Exactly! Yes, we were not so lucky to find anything quite like that!

I considered a lot of different options. One thing would be putting a screen there. But nearly anything I would have put there would have taken from the footprint of the landing. If I had a folding screen, then that would have pushed whatever console or what-have-you out further. And there just wasn’t that kind of space.

PJH: In spite of the size constraints, you ended up with that bust— that bust! Oh my god!— That console! That chair! That photograph!! But where did you start!?

JDE: I started with two different things. When I saw the space, the first thing that came to mind was the Ingo Mauer chandelier. I’ve admired his work for an incredibly long time and always wanted to use one of his pieces.

The next thing I knew that I wanted to go for was to see if I could get Barry X Ball to loan me one of his pieces for the space. I became familiar with Barry’s sculpture two years ago when he had a big exhibition at the Bass Museum in Miami Beach. And then fortunately as a member of the Museum of Art and Design, we did a studio tour of his studio in Brooklyn this past fall.

The minute I got the space, I thought, “Oh my god! One of these sculptures of his that has the real feeling of the Reniassance would be a perfect piece to put in the space.” The piece not only addresses what’s now and what’s hopefully part of our future, but it also addresses the past.

Barry likes to have his pieces displayed in classical venues. And so I think that was very appealing to him. It’s something you don’t run across all that often here in the United States. He’s shown before in Venice, and his works there are beautiful.

PJH: What was the biggest risk that you took with the space? Was it a specific piece, was it an overall design, was it putting art on patterned wallpaper? What felt to you like the biggest leap of faith?

JDE: Part of the biggest risk was just the arrangement of the things I chose to put in the space. A Wendell Castle chair (courtesy Friedman Benda Gallery), sitting next to a Baroque console...

PJH: Why does that work, though? Because it totally worked!

JDE: That console and that chair work together because in a way they were the yin and the yang of each other. The console was from H.M. Luther, and it’s 17th Century Baroque, Italian, and it had those great, big girthy legs...

PJH: Oh my!

JDE: ...and all those beautiful curves that were carved into that. And likewise, the Wendell Castle chair— which very 21st Century, one of only eight— that piece as well had those great big ginormous legs, but then those beautiful soft curves, and the beautiful silver leaf. And that seemed to pull with the metallics. The Thomas Struth photo that we used had the metallics in it, and that was the last thing to come in.

PJH: Did you always know you were going to put something up there, it was just a matter of what?

JDE: Originally I had always envisioned probably hanging two horizontal pieces on that wall or on the opposite wall. And when this one particular piece came, it was like, “No, your thinking is so wrong, you really need this vertical piece to offset the horizontal stripe in the wall.”

I always knew I was going to put something up there. Whatever was there needed to feel grand in scale, worthy of the space, and of the highest possible quality that I could bring.

The decision about the wall, the curtains, and everything else had already been made when the Marian Goodman Gallery gave me a selection of things to choose from. The minute I saw that was a choice I had, I was like, “This is it!” and I knew it would work.

PJH: Going back to your “Compare and Contrast” game with the console and the chair, you could bring that photo into that conversation and still do a lot of the same things. It’s sort of gutsy and curvy, there’s geometry...

JDE: That photograph is actually of the core reactor at the Max Plank Institute in West Germany. The thing that was crazy about it and unanticipated was the reactor almost looks like it has scales on it, and those scales so perfectly reflected the sails on the chandelier. It was just amazing to me how perfectly all of that came in to play together. Everything felt like it was speaking to everything else in the space.

PJH: When I was writing about the whole house, I kept coming back to your space, because it seemed to encapsulate a lot of what was going on throughout the entire house. Gray (like on your ceiling) was a through-note through a lot of the public spaces, incredible showstopper art was another, statement lighting fixtures another, even that ridiculously (in a good way) ornate console... Why were so many designers all on the same page about this house? Was it the house itself? Is it just that everybody’s tapped into the same moment? What’s going on?

JDE: Any good designer listens to what a house has to say to them. And there certainly is a sense of grandeur about these spaces. That living room, I’m not sure what the dimensions were, but it felt like a football field. In current times, and maybe not so much when the house was built, I think we all have this awareness of human scale, as well, and want spaces to feel like home, want them to feel cozy.

With the grandiosity of the pieces that were put into the rooms, I think it was all about addressing the grandeur of the house but also wanting to make rooms feel livable and make them feel like a place where you might actually have a family.

PJH: Sort of taming the house, a little bit.

JDE: Exactly.

PJH: When I interviewed you awhile back for Apartment Therapy about your past home, you talked about listening to the space... and you’re talking along those terms now. What did this incredible house whisper in your ear, John?

JDE: Maybe this is just some of my own musings, but I think the house would like to be a home again. And as I thought about the house as a home, and I thought about what today’s billionaires would want to put in their homes, it occurred to me that they would want whatever artwork or possessions to not only display their wealth, but be things that are also the most current... things that are very much of the moment.

JDE:  My main goal with the space was to make it feel as though we had respect for the history of the space but at the same time, I wanted to do something that would make the space feel current and modern, but not so modern and so out there that it felt like we did things that didn’t belong, that were foreign to the space.

PJH: I know you’re also heavily involved with Bailey House... were you not in up to your eyeballs on that right at set up for Kips Bay?? Like how... what... how are you still... what happened??

JDE: Yes indeed! I’m definitely heavily involved in Bailey House, and we had our big annual auction event on March 27th. It was definitely a challenge. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, I also did a tabletop thing for the Lenox Hill Spring Gala...

PJH: Of course you did!

JDE: ...which I had committed to like about 48 hours before getting the call for Kips Bay!

PJH: Oh god!

JDE: Yes!

PJH: The best way to be busy is to be busy, I always say!

JDE: It all worked out. I think it’s the thing we all find out about these things.

I’m very fortunate. I have wonderful and lovely clients who are very supportive. No doubt, there’re definitely some of them that have felt neglected over the past few weeks. But I find that when you’re involved with something like this, everything and everybody pulls things together to make things happen.

Even the folks at Bailey House were so amazing.  As the event was coming up, I was having to say no to certain meetings which I would have normally been involved in. They were like, “John, whatever we can do to help, and once the event is past, if there’s something that we can do that would be beneficial to you, just let us know.”

PJH: That’s nice to hear. What other space in the house would you have loved to take credit for? What else caught your eye in the rest of the house?

JDE: The other space that just really jumped out to me was the space by ODADA, where they took this room with this really odd blue neon light in the ceiling, and they worked with that by painting the ceiling blue.

They kept the furnishings spare, but everything in that room, if you took each piece individually, they were all just incredibly beautiful pieces, high quality. But just something about it felt warm and intellectually intriguing to me, aesthetically pleasing. It’s a room that I’d love to be able to say, “That was my room! I did that!”

PJH: Having gone through all this, and done it while Bailey House was in full swing, and while setting tables for Lenox Hill, any advice to future show house or table-top participants?

JDE: You’ve got to be organized, you’ve got to have your finances in order because things come up that you didn’t anticipate, that you have to buy at the last minute. And you’ve got to be ready to make quick decisions. That’s one of the things that happened with that mirror. We didn’t get that sheet rock off until late in the game, and I had to come up with a quick solution.

PJH: So you recently married your handsome partner Damon Crain, you’re just coming off your first smashing— I would call it a smashing— success at Kips Bay, and your apartment was just featured in New York Spaces magazine... it’s not a bad time to be John Eason, is it?

JDE: You know! (laughter) For somebody who is slightly uncomfortable with attention, I have to tell you (well, I’m slightly uncomfortable, and I love it at the same time!), it has been... quite honestly... I have a hard time finding words for it.

It is so amazing to get the support of the community that you work in, it’s so amazing to have found someone, who for better or worse, thinks that he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. And he’s incredibly supportive in what I do. He was very instrumental in helping me to be able to pull off Bailey House, Lenox Hill and Kips Bay. It’s just... yeah... there are days when I just have to pinch myself a little.

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All interior photography: Patrick J. Hamilton