Friday, August 6, 2010

Eric Cohler

Interior designer Eric Cohler, was a bit frazzled when he opened the door of his apartment. Two beautiful Standard Poodle puppies had arrived the previous day and he had spent much of the night getting them used to their new home. Mind you, he bounced back so quickly that I realized this is a man who relishes change. A self described Bedouin, Cohler reinvents himself and his surroundings by moving every couple of years. His latest project (as of this interview) is a Beekman area, 1980’s rental that is chock-full of art and sculpture, a rare constant in his life. No doubt, he’ll move on. And if his next work-in-progress doesn’t keep him busy enough he’s always got his unending pile of client’s projects, his frequent travels and his two energetic puppies to fill up the day, and night.

You’re one of the few decorators …

Designers …

Designers … who …

There’s a big difference.

… who have grown up in Manhattan. There definitely is a difference to those bred here—you know it very quickly. Do you feel you have leg-up in a way, by growing up here?

Not necessarily. I think that the people with the freshest take on New York are the people who have arrived here later on. They come from somewhere else and re-invent themselves as a New Yorker.
A paper maché deer head from Hudson Home pops off the wall of the front entryway. A vibrant landscape by Wolf Kahn hangs atop the bookcases. The Brillo box is by none other than Andy Warhol.
A 19th century equestrian scene hangs above a pair of stools from Bermingham & Co.
A photo of soccer players by Evelyn Hofer and a 1960s fashion shoot from Bonnie Benrubi gallery lines on a narrow wall near the kitchen opening. A small oil by Whistler stands in front of a paining of a head of a woman by John Graham.
Looking into the living room. The book ladder gives easy access to Eric’s extensive art and design book collection.
That is something about America—you can re-invent yourself.

That’s because of the commonality of our country.

You have a Masters in historic preservation from Columbia …

And an undergraduate degree in art history and English. I have two undergraduate degrees. And I think what really formed my view of the world, as it were, was the way I grew up. I was very blessed to grow up in the kind of household that embraced new ideas and contemporary art and fantastic antique furniture because my family has had a history of collecting. Now some people could have just turned off to that … for me I actually embraced that … my paternal grandmother probably had the best taste of anyone I have ever met.
Eric expanded ‘wall’ space for his burgeoning art collection by hanging the pieces upon the apartment windows.
An oversized photograph of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra by Harry Benson hangs upon a windowed corner of the living room.
A small standing mobile by Henry Calder stands atop a lacquer coffee table from Anthony Todd.
A black wax candle of a scull sits inside a silver-and-glass candle holder atop the living room coffee table.
Griffin looks on as Eric converses with Sian. Nearby, a group of artworks including Andy Warhol’s silkscreen of Jackie Kennedy in her now famous pillbox hat hangs above a English console from the Stamford Antiques Center.
An oversized abstract painting found at Christie’s hangs next to a work by Callum Innes from Sean Kelly Gallery.
Olivia.
That’s interesting. I had read that you feel most comfortable staying in hotels—is that right?

That’s right. That’s where I am now. It’s easy. I don’t worry about anything. I travel so much … too much.

So, what is it about hotel rooms that you like?

What I like a about hotel rooms is that you check in, go to sleep and you don’t have to obsess about everything being perfect the way I do at home.

But it’s so anonymous. And it’s the polar opposite of how you decorate, with your very … your homes are filled.

Right. Hotels are a respite from that.
More views across the living room.
Griffin and Olivia look curiously at ‘the visitors.'
Eric chose to use former dining alcove as cozy seating area filled with bookcases.
A print by Nell Blaine hangs above a sofa designed by Eric. The driftwood table was purchased in Charleston.
The flat screen TV is recessed into a bookcase.
A pair of painted Louis XVI chairs topped with Ikat fabric pillows flank a small table by Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen.
And you also move house a lot. When you do settle down, will you feel as though you belong?

If it’s my laboratory, it’s my experiment. I get to try it on myself before I try it on my clients. They benefit from me moving around. I’ve had 20 apartments since college … I’m beginning to get a little tired of doing it—just beginning.

And yet your apartments create a sense of coziness.

I want to feel enveloped and cosseted. To me that’s the ultimate luxury: to feel not only secure in my own space but enveloped, with wonderful things around me.

So do you have a place in mind, a place where you want to be?

I do. It’s a 1937 Bauhaus [building]. It’s been derelict for 20 years. I’ve been restoring it very slowly. It should be done in about six months. That’ll be my home.
The second bedroom now functions as a den. Geometric patterned pillows from Scalamandre top a plush olive green velvet sofa. The painting is by David Salle.
A watercolor by Elizabeth Peyton of Jackie Kennedy with ‘John-John’ hangs above a photograph of top 60s model, Twiggy. Eric found this 1810 painting of a Danish countess in a Philadelphia gallery.
A steel sculpture stands atop a stool that belonged to decorator, Frances Elkins.
Works by Norman Parkinson, Stuart Davies and Picasso, among others fill the den wall. The Baroque style console is from Gerald Bland.
A photograph of Coco Chanel reclining on a sofa in her rue Cambon apartment.
Both your parents were psychiatrists?

Pyschoanalysts.

That must have been an interesting childhood.

Well my mother was originally an interior decorator. I think that was where my sister and I actually got this from.

Did they practice on you as patients?

I certainly hope not – but I’m sure they did.
Andy Warhol’s famed print of Marilyn Monroe hangs above an English architect’s desk.
In the master bedroom, a portrait by Alan Katz of his wife Ada hangs above a headboard designed by Eric.
Clockwise from above: A work by Josef Albers hangs above an architectural print in a bedroom corner; Some favorite photos and objects are carefully arranged atop the bedroom desk; A watercolor rendering of Mrs. Astor’s red library by Mita Corsini Bland stands atop a cherry linen press.
It’s all the mix.
Nighttime reading. The custom carpet is from Royalton Carpets.
A painting commissioned by Eric which is a combination of works by American artists Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargent, hangs in the bedroom corner.
Did you ever consider becoming a psychoanalyst yourself?

For two seconds. I’m very patient with people. And I get to do a little of that every day [with clients].

Interior design is a very demanding profession.

People do not realize how demanding it is. They think you just go out to lunch and then you go look at some pretty fabrics. Not at all. If we eat lunch it’s in a cab or in an elevator. And the rest of the time we’re in the workroom or with a client or on the road. And we work until ten o’clock at night.

How many projects do you usually have going at once?

We do, I guess, somewhere between 20 to 25 projects a year.
A Wedgewood porcelain plaque of a classical scene leans again a stack of bedside reading. Reflections of the bedroom from an 18th century mirror.
Only bespoke suits for Eric.
Bathrooms walls are filled with more (and more) art.
Do you have time to do something that’s not work-oriented?

Not really. My life is work and work is my life. I’m happiest when I’m working. On my own time I read—that’s late at night. I read voraciously.

What are you reading now?

What am I not reading is more to the point. I like to read fiction, classical fiction. I’m reading a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton and Henry James—the expatriate writers—because I’m giving a lecture in Charleston about the Grand Tour so I wanted to get Americans take on it as well as the English take on it. I have over 10,000 books in my library.

Wow. Where is your library?

In Queens—in a warehouse. I tend not to throw any book away. My brother just gave me a Kindle as a present and I’ve downloaded about 10 books on that. It’s great when you travel except you get on a plane and they say turn off all electronic devices as well as Kindles—so you can’t read. If you had a book, you could read! So I’m very ambivalent about it. I like to hold a book in my hand.
Did I read somewhere that you love watching old episodes of I Love Lucy.

That’s me.

What’s your favorite I Love Lucy episode?

Probably when she’s redecorating her house in Westport, Connecticut … she doesn’t understand the price codes. Ricky gives her a thousand dollars and she ends up spending $10,000.

• Sian Ballen • Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch