There is an ease to the way Jim Aman and his partner John Meeks talk about their design work that belies a serious perfectionism. Their compatible design sensibilities merge so seamlessly that they are the rare couple who is able to both work and live together.
Jim, who has the more outgoing personality, is the public face of their design firm. He started his career in creative services for Ralph Lauren and then went on to become the creative director for Wathne, a luxury leather goods and clothing company. Since going into private design they have maintained the loyalty of a few large families with multiple homes, having worked with them for so long that by now John says: “We can read their minds.”
What I find interesting about your business in particular, unlike some designers you really have a few select, very well-to-do families that you work with—that’s quite unusual.
Jim: Well, I always say we have a small but loyal client base and we’re very fortunate because they’ll pass on to their children and they do have several residences, so it’s always enough to keep us going … I don’t like the unknown—of course we always take on new clients but with every project that we do for them it gets better because we know exactly what they want.
John: We can read their minds.
You must get to know everything about the family.
Jim: You get to know all their likes and dislikes, you know how they live but on the other hand, they sort of trust you more, so they’re more open to trying something new.
Skull’ by Donald Baechler hangs on a foyer wall. A chandelier by a British artist was found in London.
Atop the kitchen windowsill a gold ceramic vessel from The Asia Society stands next to a container of paperwhites.
A group of Fornasetti plates and a cuckoo clock from The Conran Shop fill a kitchen wall.
A view into the kitchen and living room from the foyer.
I would think that the families that you work for must be close with one another.
Jim: They all do know each other, which is really nice, and we really built our business on word of mouth. We’ve been fortunate – and most of them are amazing art collectors.
Decorating almost seems as if it is peripheral to art, if there is a great art collection.
Jim: It has to be second tier but upon examination it has to be as good as their art, you know, terrific wall finishes … and you don’t necessarily walk in and say “Oh what an amazing wall finish!” You walk in and say “What amazing art!” But all the layering is all there.
It must be great to have no budget…
Jim: Um, I think no matter who you’re working for, nobody likes to pay more than they have to.
Looking towards the foyer and main entrance. All the apartment doors were refinished in a handsome mahogany veneer.
A view from the living room into the foyer. The standing chrome light and campaign chair are from Sentimento Antiques.
Looking across Jim and John’s elegant living room.
On the west wall a pair of paintings by Kate Bergen from Moss-Greene Gallery in Sydney hangs above a cozy banquette.
If there are two sisters in a family and they have different taste, do they make fun of each other?
John: Well, each person thinks their taste is the best, of course.
So it’s sort of like [your clients] are all going to the same shrink!
John: It’s very emotional. People are very emotional about their homes.
You [Jim] were at Ralph Lauren for a while.
Jim: Yes, I was in Creative Services. Creative Services was any kind of visual background, whether it was for an advertising campaign, a store or a display. I put myself through college doing windows at Bonwit Teller. I miss that store! Both John and I come from a display background.
It does have a lot to do with design because it’s a matter of staging things.
Jim: Exactly. It’s all the way something is presented and displayed.
Did you find that Ralph Lauren himself just had this incredible eye when he would walk in a room, about what would work?
Jim: I think he went on his gut feeling. I remember in sales meetings, he would say, “I think right now is the time to have a logo,” or “I think right now we should be pulling all the logos off of everything.” What I got was that his gut feeling was to do this.
Stripe pillows in fabric from Old World Weavers top a pair of tufted leather chaises from the Aman, Carson & Meeks furniture line.
Above: Black Wedgewood Jasperware objects from Bardith are mixed with books and photos atop the living room shelves.
Right: A non-working fireplace is brought to life with a flat screen TV playing an image of wood burning logs.
Below: A living room corner is filled with a print by Damien Hirst and photographs of classical sculptures. French chairs from Sentimento Antiques flank a bronze sculpture from Newel Antiques.
I also read that you did some of Ralph Lauren’s residences—is that right?
Jim: Yes, we were put in a department called Ralph Lauren Personal – and there were three of us and we worked on 1107 5th Avenue and we worked on the house in Montauk. You would kind of have to have meetings after work and wait until Ralph was available, but it was run like I was doing a store. It was a very interesting learning experience.
How would you describe your taste? This apartment is fairly masculine.
Jim: It’s tailored … but we’re always looking for that push against … if something is man-tailored, then there’s flowers. I think a compliment is when somebody doesn’t like something that you’ve done but they say, “I think it’s beautifully done and well done.”
John: [They say] “I may not be able to live here but I appreciate the effort.”
Atop the living room shelves, a limited edition Calder standing mobile and a sculpture by Kiki Smith mix with black Wedgewood Jasperware objects from Bardith.
Fresh flowers and crystal barware fill the top of an 1820s Italian console from Newel Antiques.
A paper dress printed with Andy Warhol’s ‘Soup Cans’ hangs in the bedroom hallway.
Atop the bathroom windowsill a ceramic head from an apothecary stands next to family photos.
Do you like to shop?
Jim: [Laughs] I never realized it until John pointed it out to me!
John: If you can’t have it, it’s nice to know that someone else is going to have it.
You’re going to kill me … my pen just made a mark here…
[Both gasp] Jim: Ohh … luckily the cushion can be flipped … don’t worry about it. [starts to laugh]
John: This stuff cleans really well, we’ll get it out. Don’t worry about it.
The master bed is finished in a quilted leather cover from Frette and decorative pillows in a zebra fabric from Scalamandré. The linens are from Schweitzer.
An oversized floor-to-ceiling mirror from Sky Frame opens up the master bedroom space.
A painting by John was inspired by the work of Agnes Martin.
Bedside reading materials are neatly stacked atop the wall-to-wall MID carpet by Stark. The bedside table is from the Aman, Carson & Meeks furniture line available through Holland and Sherry.
A pair of shagreen benches from Newel Antiques stands at the end of the master bed.
Fresh flowers perk up the neutral tones of the master bedroom.
A classical bust from John Rosselli stands near a bedside table from the Aman, Carson & Meeks furniture line.
What was it like growing up in Short Hills, New Jersey?
Jim: You know, a nice place to grow up. New Jersey does have a bad rap. It was very nice.
Did you decorate your own room?
Jim: I did. Instead of toys for Christmas, I was always like, “Can I re-do my room?”
John: But you didn’t have a Farrah Fawcett poster.
Jim: No, I didn’t have a Farrah Fawcett poster.
Let’s talk about what you do when you’re not decorating. Do you like to cook?
Jim: [sighs] Well … John’s the cook. I mean decorating for us is really a passion.
Millie exploring the bed.
• Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
• Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch