Friday, June 26, 2015

Tara Seawright

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Tara Seawright
didn’t seem like she was expecting us, or maybe she was … either way there was no sign of her. The pillows on the couch were minus their covers, the throw was rumpled and crooked and there was a pair of curling irons on the dining table. Things looked a little “distrait”. We like distrait. Tara then wandered in, barefoot and wearing a not-for-the-photo dress, greeted us a little vaguely and asked us what we did and why we were there. Um… well, to interview you? She wandered back out, came back wearing a nice dress and holding a bag of makeup. She disappeared again. Then she reappeared, minutes later, looking great. She then set about tidying up. It was impressive, as you’ll see from the photos, and done with tremendous speed. Perhaps that’s the litmus test of a good designer—how quickly can they turn a mess (it wasn’t that messy) into a really pleasing room. We enjoyed watching it happen and, when she finally sat down, we enjoyed talking to her.

You said a moment ago [while she was still tidying up] that you’re nervous about everything – how do you handle that?

I think that it’s just part of an artistic temperament. An artist will never be done with something. They’ll never be finished painting a painting, they’ll never be finished decorating … they could always try something new or it could always be better. I think artists over-process things. We take in too much information.

So when you’ve finished a project is it still in your head? Are you thinking, I could have done this or I could have done that? Or can you draw a line?

No. Interior design is a living, breathing thing. If you do a big renovation, it takes a year to get out [of the project] even after installation.
Entering Tara's Upper East Side apartment.
A print by Yayoi Kusama and a drawing by Roberto Juarez are arranged atop the cerused oak hall secretary. Nearby is a French 1950s tiger lily ashtray from Buck House.
An African mask that Tara purchased at auction is displayed on a custom iron stand. A pair of plaster, double gourd lamps stand atop a sideboard custom designed by Tara.
Looking across the main seating area of Tara's living room.
An L-shaped sofa from Mitchell Gold provides comfy seating in Tara's living room. The chevron throws are from Nate Berkus for Target and the pillow fabric is from Old World Weavers. Tara found the lamp on the windowsill at The Pier Antique Show in New York City.
Lovely pale peonies perk up a mid-century Italian marble coffee table inherited from a favorite client.  Close by, an alabaster lamp stands atop a plaster side table in the manner of John Dickinson.
Looking toward the dining area. Tara custom designed a pale celadon paint as a backdrop for the silver and neutral tones of the living/dining room.  The Lucite and chrome candlesticks are by Dorothy Thorpe.
Did you know you wanted to become an interior designer or did you want to become an artist?

I think I really did want to become an artist but I repressed that feeling. I worked for Christie’s and I married an artist. I worked in galleries for about ten years.

Why did you repress wanting to be an artist?

Because of my family. Nobody said it [was impractical] but it was implied. If I did it all over again, I would have been a sculptor.

Are you practical though?

Very practical. My mother was a Virgo. And if your mother was a Virgo, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
The Henredon dining table, a thrift shop find, was refinished in a custom pale stain to look more modern.  The chairs, from dealer C.J. Peters, were reupholstered and the backs extended to look less dated.  The rusted wrought iron on the chairs was silver-leafed to take it from an exterior chair to interior glamour. A drawing by Tara's husband, artist Sam Seawright, hangs above the custom sideboard in the dining room.  Sam's piece is called "Maypop", an indigenous flower in Georgia and is an homage to his southern roots.
Decorative-painted paneled doors were added, giving the rooms a sense of height and grandeur.  The decorative painting on the doors is by Lillian Heard Studio.
A hidden door opens up to a dressing room and master bath.
The walls of the dressing area were given a faux malachite finish by Lillian Heard Studio.
In the dressing area, a zebra skin-covered mirror hangs above a Lucite-and- tortoise shell table lamp.
An abstract work on paper by Sam Seawright adds color to the mostly white bath.
My mother is a Virgo but I’m not practical. Do believe in this stuff?

No. Do you have that book, The Big Book of Birthdays? I should pull that out and we can read all our profiles.

I think you just subconsciously tailor yourself to the description as you’re reading. It’s the same way when you’re reading a list of symptoms, you start to think you have them all. Anyway, tell us why you started TM.

Because a friend of mine did it and I had first met her when her mother died. She was very anxious and irritable. She had also just had a baby, so it was a really bad time and she couldn’t lose the irritability. Then she started doing TM and she was just fabulous. She was gracious, she was generous, she was creative, she was interesting, she was intellectual. She didn’t really advertise [that she was doing it] but she described it as changing her consciousness. I describe it, having only done it for two weeks, as it being the only time that I have, twice a day, 20 minutes a day, when I process things from an intellectual standpoint. Normally I’m either sleeping or in my waking state where I’m reacting to things. I try to chill out when I’m doing TM but what keeps coming up is something I need to pay attention to.
Peeking into the library from the living room.
But I thought that’s exactly what you weren’t supposed to do.

It helps me filter. If a thought comes, let it and then get back to your mantra. It is supposed to be very relaxed and not judgmental … it’s the only time I’m in touch with my feelings. Like when I’m with you, I’m not in touch with my feelings … I’m feeling a million different things. I don’t know what I’m feeling right now, I’m just reacting to life. There are moments when I’ve felt really blissful. And like on the third day, I got to the office and I realized that I was happy for no reason. Usually when I’m happy it’s related to an event—this was unrelated to an event.

With your husband being an artist, is he interested in your work or does he stay away from your design decisions?

If I ask his advice, he will give it. The advice he gives is that of an artist. He loves color so for him it’s like paint on a canvas, it’s not an investment and [there are no concerns] like, “How will that look in the evening?” or “Will the client like it?” For him, it’s “Chartreuse and purple, yeah! Throw it together!”
A  crystal chandelier from Treillage gives the library a light, airy feeling.  A pair of sconces from Belvedere, Inc. flanks a painting by Sam Seawright. Tara added the limestone mantel and gas fireplace.
A small ostrich-covered side table is from Lars Bolander and the crystal table lamp is from Belvedere, Inc.
That’s quite freeing, isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s freeing … so he adds that. He supports the more artistic side of being looser, asymmetrical, more colorful.

What about in your own home, does he have a lot of say?

He loves it. He doesn’t like the constant churn of [new] furniture arrangements and change. He liked the chair he was sitting on … why’s it in the other room now? He’s a guy. I try not to [do it] so much … I try to repress the urge. I’m always changing the paint colors.

Why do you keep doing that?

Because it’s fun!
Tara designed the built-in bookcases to accommodate the couple's extensive art book collection.  It also doubles as space for Sam's office.
A vintage chair is covered in a mix of fabrics from Clarence House. The fox fur throw is from HB Home.  Sam's guitar is displayed nearby near a Lucian Freud print.
A collection of small rocks and crystals is arranged atop the library bookshelves.
More views of the library. The double closet provides always needed storage space. Hidden desks pull out to create more surface for reading or creating.
A view across the library/home office into the living room.  A custom mirrored screen brings in light from the north-facing window.
What’s your starting point when you design a room?

I just get all the information I possibly can. It’s kind of like going to a paint store for an artist, like, how much paint can you grab. So there’s the big brain dump when I have a client meeting. I say, “Tell me how you live and then tell me what your fantasy would be—because that doesn’t cost anything. What would it be if money was no object or if you didn’t have get the kids off to school … and a lot of interesting things come up.

Do you have children?

No. I’m the youngest of seven. A lot of people who grew up in big families don’t have kids because it’s just chaotic. And it’s a lot of fun – there’s so many of my siblings’ kids around

You can outsource the [having of] children to your siblings!

I see my niece’s kids all the time. There’s a weird phenomenon in America about children in that there’s a lot of societal pressure to start a family and I feel that a lot of people don’t necessarily want to have kids but then they do.
Looking into the master bedroom.
A work by Sam hangs opposite the bedroom chest of drawers.  The watercolor of a lily is from a series of plant drawings.
A photograph by Diane Arbus was a wedding gift from art dealer Robert Miller.
Mirrored eglomisé bedside tables were found at a The Stamford Antiques Center.  A small watercolor by Louise Fishman, a gift of the artist, stands next to one of a pair of crystal lamps from JED.
So why did you choose to live on Upper East Side?

It was the best value for our dollar. And after you go through the approvals process with the board, it’s like, “Do you really want to go to the orthodontist again?” And now it’s just so convenient. I’m in walking distance to all my clients; we’re right by the Met; we bird watch in Central Park.

Tell us about the bird watching.

So, bird watching is like the way I do TM. It’s the lazy man’s version. In Central Park you can actually go to bird feeders. I saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak the other day. You don’t have to wake up at 5 o’clock. You don’t need binoculars.  You don’t need to know anything—you just ask the person with binoculars to your left what it is that they’re looking at and they’ll educate you. I ran into Amanda Burden bird watching—I didn’t realize who she was but she said, “You have to absolutely get a pair of binoculars.” So I did.
A paneled screen out of de Gournay wallpaper adds a touch of glamour to the galley kitchen.
Brightly colored orchids thrive on a kitchen counter.
Spice containers find a home on the side of the kitchen fridge.  
A flexible faucet from Dornbracht makes clean up all the more easy.
Views from Tara's kitchen highlight the old and new Upper East Side.
I can never find the thing I’m supposed to be looking at through binoculars. By the time I’ve located where it was supposed to be, it’s moved on.

If you go to Wave Hill, they have a free bird watching class … and there’s this guy Gabriel ….. I can’t remember … his name is so lyrical that it seems like it’s almost made up. Anyway, he’ll teach you. And it’s really hard. I had to practice. There’s a skill to it.

Isn’t it that an interesting thing life teaches you—that things you would never assume require skill, actually do.

Yeah. Like making the bed.