Friday, June 27, 2014

Eddie Lee

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Eddie Lee comes from a daunting-sounding family of high achievers: Dad’s a doctor, Mom’s a nurse, Sister is a doctor and Brother has a graduate degree in genetics … he was supposed to become “the lawyer”, but that didn’t happen because he became an interior designer. It wasn’t an easy path but he followed this sage advice: “Think about what you used to be. What were your passions when you were a little kid before you ever thought about money or a job?”

We couldn’t dig up very much on you but we did find that little spoof video you did “Sh** Designers Say” – “sooo chic”, “tell me you love it” and so on … it was funny. How did the idea for that video come up?

So, Tori Mellott who worked at Traditional Home and emailed me on a Wednesday and said, “I’m doing this short little video thing at the D&D and you’re like, really funny. Can you just, like meet me there tomorrow?” I was just, like, “Yeah … sure.” I was wondering if it was like, a little insulting to the design industry?
Standing next to the front door, a Biedermeier chest from Niall Smith is the perfect place to receive morning deliveries of The New York Times. In the front entryway, walls are painted in a high-glass Peacock Blue from Farrow and Ball. "Collectors Glow Green", a painting by Jim Richard, hangs above a brass-and-black glass table from The Stamford Antiques Center. The red lacquer platter was a gift from Eddie's mother.
Eddie's living room, a harmonious mix of soothing blues and neutrals, is a cozy refuge from its bustling Garment District location. The shield-back chair was a gift from Greg Jordan. The custom sofa, upholstered in fabric from Cowtan and Tout is topped with pillows out of blue tiger velvet from Old World Weavers and black linen from Manuel Canovas. The rug is by Fort Street Studio.
Light pours through the living room French doors. The floor-to-ceiling curtains are out of Jack Lenor Larsen fabric.
A 1970s glass-and-plexi-glass coffee table from The Antique & Artisan Center in Stamford almost floats atop a rug from Fort Street Studio.
On the far wall of the living room a Brueton 1980s console stands beneath a photograph by Jen DeNike. An oversized mid-century ribbed blue glass vase adds a pop of color in the nearby corner.
Eddie's nieces, Alexandra and Arielle are displayed next to a baby photo of Eddie. The clock is the Aurora Classic from 1970 with birefractive discs and hands, creating a kaleidoscope of changing colors.
Miniature glass hand blown figurines are just a sampling of a larger collection purchased over the years.
It’s not insulting. It’s just to show that you don’t take yourselves too seriously.

I totally don’t take myself too seriously. These were scripts and there were some things that would never come out of my own mouth so I did say, “Can I say that but in my own words?”

What did you study at Vanderbilt? We do at least know you went there.

I studied political science. I went on to do an MBA at Emory after that.

A lot of designers study political science! Why do you think that is?

I don’t know … truthfully what took you towards political science is that my father is a doctor and my mother is a nurse; my sister was going to medical school and my brother was going to graduate school for genetics and there was never like a thought of design as a profession. There were like, “You’re going to be the lawyer.”

So, I thought, well what do people do before they go to law school? So I did [political science] After I graduated I worked for a year at a marketing firm in Nashville and friends all said, you cannot do this—it’s going to crush your soul.
A pair of early 19th century walnut Biedermeier chairs. Both chairs are covered in a quilted pleather from Designtex.
A ceramic bowl from Mantiques and whimsical bronze candlesticks from the New York Showplace Antiques center are arranged atop the glass-and- plexi-glass coffee table.
Family photos, beach glass and a lamp from Hinson fill a round pedestal Biedermeier table in the living room.
I suppose when we’re young we’re more likely to be influenced by our parents—when did you give yourself “permission” to be who you are?

I spoke to someone who gave me some sage advice. He said, “Think about what you used to be. What was your passion when you were a little kid before you ever thought about money or a job?” And my mom got Architectural Digest and House & Garden and I used to just pore over those magazines. I used to draw furniture plans, just thinking it was fun.

Did you just move to New York to start doing this?

Yes, I just moved to New York. I started taking classes in the evening at Parsons while I was working at Ogilvy and Mather. Then I met [the late] Greg Jordan at a party and [eventually] I started working for him. He was just starting to get press. I said to him that I would do anything … I  would work for nothing and just be an apprentice. Many things in my life, when I look back, it all just sort of happens organically. When you look back it makes sense but while it was happening it was just figuring things out.

He had really big clients like Blaine Trump and Libet Johnson, didn’t he? They were all from Millbrook, weren’t they?

Exactly!
Looking across the living room into the study.
A pair of Foo Dogs, a gift from Eddie's parents, flanks the entrance to the study. Hanging above them is "Andromeda" by CMarz from Christopher Anthony Gallery in Palm Springs and "La Perra De Monterra" , a nude by Ariel Klein acquired at a benefit auction for GLAAD.
In the study a mirrored wall reflects light from the nearby windows and creates a sense of space. The vintage Bruno chairs are covered in an Osborne & Little corduroy.
What were your first duties?

Before I even started working for [Greg Jordan] I took a week off work and they flew me out to Vail to help install Libet Johnson’s ski house. We were like, craning furniture in—I’d never done anything like it before! Greg said that they had hired design school grads and they wanted to be working on a design project right away.  They didn’t want to climb up a ladder and re-hang a curtain or plug in lamps or carry a bolt of fabric five blocks to the upholsterer. I was willing to do anything.
They were testing me out that week.

It all sounded almost too level-headed at Greg Jordan’s office but I rather miss the screamers. I would like to interview more screamers. We don’t get them anymore! Where are they?

[Laughs] I’m not trying to sound like some sugary, sweet person. Greg wanted to see that I treated everyone with respect and they offered me a job the week after.
Looking across the plexi-glass coffee table toward a Regency chest of drawers from Guild Antiques.
A French Art Deco table lamp from High Style Deco stands next to a 19th century copy of the classical sculpture, "The Wrestlers". It was purchased at John Rosselli. The Indian ink rub was a gift from Eddie's parents.
Three black and white photos by Bruce Weber and Karl Simone are arranged upon the study windowsill. The custom sofa is covered in fabric Hines.
In the study a collection of marble obelisks, a crystal bowl and other favorite objects purchased share space with books and a flat screen TV.
A glass French Art Deco chandelier hangs from the ceiling of the cozy study.
Eddie's shiny kicks are from Alejandro Injelmo.
What did you not like about the advertising business?

Well, perhaps I would have liked it more if I had been on the creative side but I was in product management and, I mean, how long can you talk about tampons and be, like thrilled … over and over and over again.

What did your family think when you finally ditched the “proper” jobs?

Whatever makes you happy. I think coming out was harder [laughs].

So you’ve become who you are, have you?

[Hesitates] Um … I think I’m still finding out who I am.
A pair of Art Deco side tables and vintage marble column lamps flank the living room sofa.
Looking across the living room into the open kitchen/dining area.
Comfortable custom bar chairs out of a ribbed cotton fabric from Manuel Canovas surround a custom table that seats up to ten people.
On the far wall is a 1940' "Helmet" cabinet by Lorin Jackson of Grosfield House. It was purchased from High Style Deco and is originally from the estate Andy Warhol. Standing atop the cabinet are replicas of Roman ruins that were originally souvenirs from the Grand Tour.
A mirrored kitchen backsplash reflects light from the living room.
A close-up of the dining area china cabinet.
"Gravity", an ink on vellum by Lia Halloran from DCKT Gallery, hangs near the open china cabinet.
The inside of the china cabinet is filled with collections of vintage glass including, on the bottom shelf, three German beer steins that belonged to Eddie's German grandfather, great-grandfather and great uncle.
On the far wall, overlooking the dining area, is an adorable photo of a bear from Jill Greenberg's "Ursine" series acquired from ClampArt in Chelsea.
The custom dining room table is actually two tables that can be arranged in different configurations to seat up to ten people.
What is involved in becoming who we are?

Keeping your eyes open … I know this all sounds so cheesy. I do think honestly that great ideas can come from anywhere. It’s about connections and being a sponge.

Did you ever live in LA when Greg Jordan opened an office there?

No, but I love LA. People give it a bad rap. To me you find the people you like everywhere you are and you find assholes everywhere you are. Maybe you need to filter a little more in LA because a lot of people go there relying on their looks … wanting to be into acting. There’s something about LA, all the crunchy, chewy … the [new age] things you joke about … there’s something really cool about that.
Peeking into Eddie's bedroom. The abstract painting "Soft Serve Cell Peak" by April Zanne Johnson, was purchased at a benefit auction for GLAAD. Portraits of Eddie's dogs, Buddy and Carbon, given as a gift by friend and photographer Karl Simone, hang in the bedroom hall.
To create a calm oasis in the master bedroom Eddie had the walls upholstered in a ribbed velvet from Cowtan and Tout.
A pair of sconces from Y-lighting and custom bedside tables flank a bed from Baker. The painting above the bed, "Rodeo" is from Christie's.
A bed from Baker is covered in Calvin Klein linens. A large painting by Van Hanos from Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery fills the far wall of the master bedroom.
A bedroom sconce doubles as a place to hang a hat.
An oversized vintage blue glass vase stands atop a pedestal from Plexi-craft.
Fiberglass "Rock Lamps" lights by Andre Cazenave for Atelier A in Paris illuminate the Harvey Probber sideboard.
A view into the master bath from Eddie's bedroom.
A strategically placed chair from DWR for relaxing in the steam shower.
The ever-necessary walk-in closet.
Well, everyone is so driven in New York.

Yeah! I’m going next week and I’ll typically shop the showrooms on Thursday and Friday, stay with friends and fly back on Sunday. And when I’m in the showrooms I’m like I am in New York, boom, boom, boom and you’re out and on to the next one. But the people working in the showrooms, are like, “Hey, do you want some cappuccino? Would you like any green tea?” At first I was irritated but then, I’m, like “You’re right and I’m wrong. Why can’t I sit with you for five minutes and enjoy your tea?”

You said that you like reading … what are you reading?

I’m mortified that I’m saying this but I love escapist fantasy literature. I’ve read the whole of “Game of Thrones” … but years ago. And John Green’s, “The Fault in Our Stars”, which is one of my favorite books of the last few years. I sobbed through half the book.