Armadillo

The Journal

Polish and Patina
with Athena Calderone

Athena Calderone is the quintessential multi-hyphenate as an author, interior designer, chef, entertaining expert and founder of the award-winning lifestyle platform EyeSwoon. Read on as she takes us into her homes in New York City and the Hamptons to show how a small spark of inspiration can lead to the most exciting and personal of design journeys.

Photography by Nicole Franzen and Sarah Elliott

On your podcast, More Than One Thing, you talk to guests about pivotal moments where what seemed like a step back was in hindsight a step forward. Is there a turning point in your own life that comes to mind?

I always thought you needed to excel in a singular vocation, and that I was flighty for ping ponging around so many creative disciplines. Once I had the confidence to create EyeSwoon, a platform that married both food and design, it all fell into place. I developed my passions inside the home, through cooking, entertaining and designing. Once I realised my path was not “wrong”, just different, I was able to thrive and find a community of like-minded people, which I suppose I desperately needed. I love collaboration more than anything!

You currently split your time between a gorgeous Brooklyn townhouse and a newly renovated beach house in Amagansett. What do you love about each neighbourhood?

Brooklyn was my dream project – the neighbourhood is urban, yet intimate and charming. The gut renovation was an opportunity to challenge myself. After years of living in lofts, I was craving that meld of traditional architecture juxtaposed with hints of modernity – I dreamt of how I would colour the home with an obvious rejection of conformity. There is a grandeur, grit and reminiscence of the yesteryear days of old NYC that lingers between those townhouse brick walls. I love to think about the history.

Amagansett has been our constant home for 11 years. We just love the slow pace here – it’s just quaint, and the antithesis of city life. Our son surfs and is barefoot most days, and we connect more as a family on our nightly sunset walks at the beach. We also found a diamond in the rough – a mid-century modern home built in the 60’s that we restored and brought back to life 10 years ago. And yes, just this past winter I redesigned the space and have fallen in love with the home all over again!

You’ve described your family as “serial movers” but it sounds like the Brooklyn abode is quite special and could be your forever home. Did your husband Victor and son Jivan have much input in that renovation process? 

I certainly ask their opinion so that we are engaged in the design together as a family, but I drive the majority of the choices. And I usually find a way to turn them if they are not in agreement with me – persistence and passion, I say!!! Victor always has some strong choices, particularly spatially, and Jivan was bold in wanting a modern room that is mostly black!

The nook off the kitchen (and the cover of your new book!) is one of our favourite home office spaces. At a time when a lot of us are learning to work from home, we’d love to hear your tips for juggling work/life and maximising productivity.

It really is everyone’s favourite space! Funnily, I wanted a different cover for my book but everyone else unanimously gravitated to that space. We must be inspired to be productive and any workspace should be an inviting, calming environment – ideally, light-filled and clutter-free, so our mind has a little space to dream and to create.

You published Cook Beautiful in 2017, which won a James Beard award. What did you learn from that process that helped you when it came time to write Live Beautiful? 

With Cook Beautiful, there was a steep learning curve. I was so used to being a one-woman show cooking, food styling, prop styling, photographing – and then suddenly I had this amazing professional team. I had to learn how to communicate my vision, and that took some time. I was also incredibly depleted as I was designing the townhouse at exactly the same time – it was crazy exciting but both projects carried an immense amount of pressure to deliver!

Live Beautiful was a dream. I was in a better place emotionally, taking care of my body, mind and spirit. I also knew the process this time around so I was able to make more definitive choices. Being the highly visual person that I am, it was far easier to capture all the beauty on set and then write from these inspiring images and stories. The writing flowed out of me. I learned so much about myself through each process and would not change either experience.

"You should never rob a functional space of decorative objects."

The Hamptons beach house was your most recent project. How did you strike a balance between the functional elements and the more playful design details?

You should never rob a functional space of decorative objects. When I design a room or a vignette, I am always thinking about the alchemy of furniture and objects. I love how form, scale and a slightly atypical composition can cause your eye to bounce around the room, gently landing on and discovering new things at varying heights. To me, that is what defines a successful space – playful allure and curiosity, and always some sort of tension or contrast.

Do you have a favourite room in the house?

The kitchen is my studio, workshop, place of creation, and where I gather most often with the people I love. I just love the mix of materials – from the marble and plaster, to naturally woven decorative elements in the Nest runner and rattan lamp and stools. It strikes the perfect balance of elegant and approachable.

You are a real advocate for the beauty of imperfection. What is it about objects with a patina that you’re drawn to? 

Design is an emotional thing – you walk into a space and suddenly you can’t quite put your finger on it but you feel calm or relaxed or intrigued or inspired. I find that if everything is perfect or new, it is impossible to feel at ease in a space. This is why I love vintage – that grit and rich, unknown history it offers in its patina. Same goes for marble! Let it get mucked up, stained, scratched – they are the marks of life, and thus memories. No one wants to walk into a sterile environment where everything feels too precious; a home should allow you to feel comfort.

Even before COVID-19, it seemed like there was a movement towards more comforting, sensorial homes. How do you think the inclusion of tactile elements, like a rug, can nurture our wellbeing?

Oh, the tactile is absolutely essential. Design is the interplay of materials – just the right balance of hard and soft, smooth and textured. I never want anything to feel one-noted. I love marble and angular edges, but I am always compelled to soften them with non-linear, natural materials that offer an artisanal touch of the hand – materials that will age and weather over time. A woven piece brings high design back down to reality, and that is comforting, relatable, and inviting.

What’s keeping you creatively stimulated during these uncertain times?

 Cooking with my son. Beach walks with my puppy and discovering nature through his excitement. Continuing to create and share content with my following to offer them some actionable tips to instil beauty into their space, through a meal they can create or even a yoga practice they can depend on.

 Are there any little luxuries are you allowing yourself to indulge in?

Pasta, whenever I want it. And lots of tequila and Cheetos cheese doodles. Or did you mean baths and face masks? Haha!

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?

Ooh, the Sahara runner in the kitchen is just a dream!

Follow Athena Calderone on Instagram.

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