In TZR’s franchise, Interior Motives, 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 dubs you “the modern girl’s Martha Stewart,” you’ve got a lot to live up to. That said, one glimpse inside Athena Calderone’s Brooklyn home will assure you that this multidisciplinary creative has earned the comparison to the iconic domestic goddess. The elegant yet lived-in abode certainly is an aesthetic dream for those who lust over interior decor, but what solidifies Calderone’s space as such a coveted one is its equal emphasis on functionality: As a woman whose love language lies in entertaining, cooking, and hospitality, hers is a home 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 in search of design inspiration. And the entertaining and interiors expert came upon her calling naturally. Born to two creatives (both hairdressers), Calderone found herself immersed in the idea of beauty early on. “I just feel like style was very prominent in my household,” she tells TZR. Her family’s lower middle class status didn’t allow for extravagance, but that didn’t stop Calderone’s mother from making their environment unique and exciting. “My mother always loved to rearrange furniture in our house,” she explains. “The living room would become the dining room and the den would become the sitting 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 path — the young mom was limited 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 alone a lot and my home really became this avenue of creative expression,” she shares. Once her family began to travel as a unit, these global explorations served as major inspiration and Calerdone’s curated-yet-personalized aesthetic started to come into focus.
Now Calderone is approaching household name status. Not only does Cook Beautiful, her James Beard award-winning cookbook, continue to be a bestseller and staple of stylish homes, but her decor eye has been utilized for major brand partnerships including a rug collection with Beni and more recently an expansive furniture and accessories collection with Crate & Barrel. Just launched this month, the collaboration includes 137 pieces that range in price from $7.95 to $2,699.00 and cover the gamut from table linens to sectional sofas to sculpture — many of which were designed based on pieces within Calderone’s home, from one-of-a-kind vintage finds to her customized creations). “I started to catalog the things people were asking about,” she says. “I wanted to give people access to things they couldn’t get otherwise, like two vintage pieces combined. I utilized my community and my fan base as a launching off 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 on her Cobble Hill home, including the design elements she’s most asked about (her floating open kitchen shelving), the unexpected place she snuck in a chic home office, the destinations she counts on for vintage decor, and so much more.
How would you describe your Brooklyn home?
I always have a little bit of a hard time describing my aesthetic, only because, more than anything, it feels very collected. I really love for you to be able to look at pieces and not necessarily know what era or time period [they came from]. Some pieces are very modern and some pieces might be Italian ‘70s or Scandinavian ‘50s. I feel like the beauty of a home is in collecting pieces over time so it has a soul to it.
I’m always looking for both contrast and cohesion. Where is there polarization? That could be in the palette of light and dark, it could be in the forms, something that is weighted and bulbous next to something that is dainty and delicate. Or even the scale of something. Everything is very neutral and with earthy 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 hub of creativity. The heart of the home. It’s like my meditation when I’m in the kitchen. But I feel like a functional space still deserves decorative objects. It should be an extension of the rest of your home, rather than it just being pieces within a hand reach or utilitarian pieces.
What do you love about it so much?
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 odd 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?
It’s probably the space I spend the most time in. Every morning I have my coffee moment, I burn a candle, have music on, then work from the kitchen. I also have a desk at the end of the kitchen, which is a really great 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 a lot of fancy or nice things at all, so I don’t really have very many family heirlooms or anything that was passed down. But I do have this amazing green marble head. I know it seems really odd because I have so many amazing larger pieces, but it just means a lot to me to have something. My dad passed away recently and it was his, so that’s a pretty special piece to me. Objects trigger memories and I think that gets carried into the essence and the emotion of your home.
Talk me through the decor of the space? What are some elements that you made sure to include?
I think that one of the most important things when designing a space is to make sure the eye moves about and lands on different things, so [I wanted to offer] elements that have verticality, asymmetry, not keeping everything too matchy-matchy. I want someone to walk in and feel curious. So, for instance, I have a very bulbous low-slung sofa which is kind of soft and tactile. I wanted to pair that with something more angular and slick. So I’m always thinking about the composition of things. Making sure the forms have some contrast to them.
Also one of the mistakes I think people make is that things get pushed up against walls, so I make sure to float my sofa. Or instead of having a console that’s pushed up against a wall, maybe a center table instead. Making sure everything doesn't have the same shape to it. 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 that I dress, the way that I design a space, and even the way that I cook follow exactly the same principles. Always opposition. Where are you shocking the palette or where are you pairing something that’s dainty and delicate with something that might be a little tougher and more masculine?
I also notice that I love investing in timeless classic pieces in a similar way that I do with my furnishing pieces. I love to have these statement investment pieces with embellishments on top of them. So there’s that, but I also love 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 that’s white silk and ruched and I was standing in my bathroom that has white textured fluted 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’m always injecting something contrast, like an all-black element in an all-white room is something that I tend to do a lot.
Has your style evolved at all over the years?
Oh, for sure! And it will continue to — it has to, otherwise you will remain stagnant. I was always this anti-glass girl. I really didn’t like glass coffee tables or side tables, but you always need 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 infiltrates somehow and it will come out in your own way. But you have to always be seeking. I don’t want my home to always look and feel the same. I want it to evolve just like me as a human.
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 sofa or a table that is going to feel like it’s dated. For example, right now I’m seeing a lot of chunky legged tables. I would be OK investing in [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. The same with investing in a really beautiful coat. You don’t want to just wear it for a season. So there are certain silhouettes that I am continually attracted to in fashion. I love a swing skirt and I will also always be attracted to iron and velvet. Timeless classics that I constantly go back to.
Travel also keeps me inspired. No matter where I go, I’ll make my way 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 paired with that ochre yellow.” Or the profile of a handrail and how it’s recessed into the stone. I look at all of those fine details of how connections are made. I’m constantly looking at the things 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?
Obviously, Crate & Barrel. Since we’re on the Copenhagen tip, I really love Oliver Gustav. He’s really incredible. I’m definitely a lover of 1stDibs and diving down the rabbit hole to find French ‘50s or Italian ‘70s. RW Guild is another great one for tabletop pieces and linens.
Whenever I go to any city — whether it’s Paris or Nice or even just LA — I’m always seeking out their flea markets. I also love to visit galleries like Seventh House and Galerie Half to see what they’re pairing together. It could be a Baroque 18th Century gold or silver leaf mirror paired with a rustic farm table. I’m always looking at the styling.
Is there a place that you love from a style and design perspective?
Copenhagen and Italy for sure. Gabriella Crespi Studio had an amazing exhibition — you start seeing trends emerge. I’m very smitten right now with paper and silk lighting because it has a really warm glow to it. I’m seeing a lot of glass and stainless steel but I’m also seeing that warm lighting that’s drapey and romantic. The Italians and the Danes are sort of my sweet spot.
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