Friday, December 4, 2015

Patrick Mele

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Interior designer, Patrick Mele grew up, he told us, “in a chicken coop on a farm” but the chicken coop was pretty near Greenwich, where his family owned and ran high-end restaurants. He knew the Greenwich way of life, shall we say, but as he puts it, “I was so immersed in it, but so not it.” Both his style and his career are richly influenced by so many things, old Connecticut, Kate and Andy Spade, for whom he worked, the fashion world and knowledge of store design picked up from a stint at Ralph Lauren. Then of course, there is his own very good eye. His apartment is charming without being that dread thing, “whimsical” and there’s a confident glamour to it as well: curtains spill on to the floor; a deep velvet sofa is truly comfortable while vivid color thrown against a black-and-white foundation draws the eye and enlivens the space. The apartment easily made it on to our (rather short) list of places we would want to live in.

So we know that you worked for Andy and Kate Spade early on in your career—how did you meet them?

At eighteen I met Andy and Kate Spade when I was at Syracuse studying architecture and design but I was really interested in these fashion courses they had. I took some electives and the head of the department asked me to be the, what do you call it … the student representative to go pick up these fashion designers and bring them around campus. There was a lecture series so I met Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Kate and Andy were doing a lecture. We really hit it off and they asked me to come an intern with them that summer.

Oh you lucked out!

I did.
Looking across Patrick's chic Upper East Side apartment. Atop the fireplace mantel, a pair of lamps originally from The Café de Paris in London (available through FLAIR New York), flank a plaster bust from Liza Sherman.
Patrick found the wing chair at a Connecticut auction and had it recovered Knoll Luxe black wool. The white Egyptian Revival chair is from Bruce Wylie at The Antique & Artisan Gallery in Stamford.
A small red side table, created as a prototype for a client's project adds a pop of color to Patrick's black and white color scheme. The hand-painted curtain fabric was designed by Patrick and printed by Peter Fasano.
Were you able to talk easily to people like Oscar de la Renta?

Oh my God, I was so overwhelmed! But you know I’ve been reading every fashion magazine since I was probably eleven years old. It was like … “What are you reading Patrick? It’s not your science homework …”

What did your parents think of this?

My parents both love design but I grew up in the restaurant business. They opened restaurants in and around Greenwich and Westchester. We’re out of the business now—we sold them.

What kind of restaurants were they?

They were contemporary American, sort of Danny Meyer-esque. My dad designed all of them. For Restaurant 64 (now closed) in Greenwich he took over this hideous, horrible place and he took apart a 1920s mansion in Scarsdale that was being torn down, took out the spiral staircase, took the carriage doors from the carriage house and created this whole restaurant out of a 1920s Georgian home.
A photograph by Tim Carter and a drawing by artist Alexander May hang above neatly stacked art and fashion books. Nearby, a plaster table lamp by Serge Roche stands atop a 1970s Italian mirrored table from AWK Antiques.
Back issues of the World of Interiors fill the non-working fireplace.
Mini Calla lilies in a silver cup stand next to a crystal that was a present from Patrick's grandfather.
Oh, so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

When people are like, “How did you get started?”, I mean I grew up around it. And my parents’ friends were interior designers, artists, gay, black ... a diversely rich group of individuals. I grew up in a chicken coop on a farm not some big colonial house, you know. I was so immersed in it, but so not it. I love and am inspired by people from all walks of life, regardless of their position in society.

Why do you think Andy and Kate Spade picked you?

I don’t know. I am curious. I think they liked my work ethic, probably. I didn’t mind packing nine million boxes. I didn’t mind doing anything. I was really interested in what I was learning for the first time ever. High school was great—well, I got through it, but I couldn’t wait to be an adult. I couldn’t wait to get to New York … I just couldn’t wait.
A custom daybed in black wool fabric by Kostas upholstery is draped with an ocelot throw. Opting to use the small bedroom as an office the larger living room also serves as Patrick's bedroom.
Smoking is permitted.
A pair of African totems from Beau Maas antiques flanks an oversized wall mirror. Patrick chose 1970s black track lighting, inherited from a friend's gallery, to give the space a vintage feel.
A large African basket from Antique & Artisan gallery from the Marché aux Puces hangs above more stacks of reading materials.
Can you explain what you may have had in common with the Spades and their aesthetic?

They have a real American point of view but not a prissy East Coast point of view. They really knew about design. They had these people on their team who had real expertise, like people who knew about font design from the 50s and 60s or they could reference different authors. Their knowledge was interesting. I would go with [my boss] to Brimfield and go shopping. We would buy oil paintings or pottery from the 50s and 60s, so I would learn about that. It was about a whole lifestyle brand. It was very sort of like 60s … Slim Aarons … Michigan 1967 … school girl … Royal Tenenbaum-y … a little bit eccentric, a little bit weirded off … never, like the sexy girl, always the inquisitive, geeky kind of girl who was sexy at the same time.

Did you understand that?

I was getting to understand it. I was sometimes like, “Why this dorky thing?” I always really loved glamorous.

What do you like now?

So many things … at the moment I love Dries van Noten.
A view into the front corner of the living room. A white plaster pot from a garden nursery stands atop a zinc pedestal from Beau Maas antiques.
A plaster face of biblical hero David from David Stypmann antiques hangs above a late 19th century gilt clock that Patrick purchased from a Connecticut estate sale when he was twenty-one. The clock was his first major purchase from a friend and antique dealer who agreed to have him pay on a layaway plan.
And you worked for Ralph Lauren too, didn’t you?

I had an amazing job. It was crazy. I was 22 and on my first day I was picked up in black Mercedes, driven to the airport and then I travelled for two months to Milan, London, San Francisco, Dallas … to go and make the stores look beautiful.

Ralph Lauren seems to have a few fixed themes, Downton Abbey, colonial Africa, the Southwest and so on … it seems restrictive in a way.

It’s always the same maybe six or so themes with variations on the theme. They’re wonderful themes, very cinematic, but I’m interested in more … I’ve always wanted to have my own business and my own brand. Like, the Southwest is a category that you can keep going and going on … but I’m like, “Can we dissect a little more?” They’re very literal. It’s polished and like a Disney version of the real, authentic thing. All of that is an illusion.
The one time bedroom space is now Patrick's packed office. The shelves are from CB2.
The inspiration board.
A childhood drawing by Patrick hangs above a watercolor of Diana Vreeland's red living room by artist Jeremiah Goodman.
A black Tizio lamp stands next to a pile of fabric swatches for a current design project.
Looking towards Patrick's high-gloss vermilion red front door.
But everyone is selling illusion to somebody, right?

Well definitely.

Are still surprised at how susceptible people are to fantasy?

No … because I am!

Are most of your clients young?

No. Actually most of them are late baby boomers … like my parents’ age.
In Patrick's bath a portrait of a young man by Adrien Mesko is mounted on a mirrored wall.
Patrick transformed standard white kitchen cabinets by covering their fronts with black linen from B&J fabrics. The space above the cabinets is filled with a mix of favorite objects and cooking wares.
You seem to use a lot of zebra skins … what do you like about them? I just learned a fact about zebras—they never look as if they’re starving and you can only tell if they are starving by their manes, which droop.

Really? Yes I love zebras. But I like a lot of different things, so the black and white is just a clean foundation. I dress in black and white mostly. It’s easy. It’s chic. It’s clean. I feel clean, you know like, scrubbed-clean. I never get tired of it.

How are you with technology?

Horrible. Always been. I’m as good at it as I need to be.
A small back terrace off the living room is the perfect place to entertain friends in warmer spring and summer months. Right now it is home to a Polynesian deity and a Roman bust.
A large Boston fern fills the outdoor marble top table.
Where do you like to travel?

I was in Europe this summer. I love London … maybe it’s an American fantasy of it.

Where would you like to go?

Everywhere.