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By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

We once concluded an interview with a recipe for salad dressing and this time we’ve concluded with an adult fable about the midlife crisis told to us by designer Jeffrey Parker, who says he hasn’t really had one but certainly thinks going from 40 years old to 50 years old passed mighty quickly. In his early 20s, he lived and worked as designer in Oman, a country almost then unknown to the West and not much better known now. Fabulous though the life was, he realized the “inevitability” of becoming a lifelong expatriate and made himself leave after five years: “I wanted to be a New Yorker,” he says.


I liked the music on your website—not many interior designers have music on their sites. I found it very soothing.

I can’t be without music.

Are you more into jazz than classical?

I like all sorts of music. I love classical. I love jazz and I also have a great respect for Beyoncé. There’s a lot of pop music I can’t listen to.  When I was in high school I was always in concert bands and marching bands. I played the trumpet and the baritone horn. When I went to the University in Maryland, I was in the marching band … played at all the football games! [laughs] But I also sang in a chorus. It was all baroque music. We would sing at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. I’ve also recorded Portuguese madrigals. I always thought, gee maybe I should consider music as my profession ...
In the front entry a painted screen from India hangs behind a marble top console that is home to an antique Chinese alter box. Two oil portraits from Hunt Slonem's 'Saint' series hang on a wall opposite a mirror that Jeffrey acquired from the old B. Altman building.
In the foyer fresh orchids in a Chinese porcelain pot stand atop a hall table covered in a classic Clarence House textile. A custom burl wood console was originally made for Jeffrey's first apartment in NYC on Park Avenue in 1990.
So what pulled you in the other direction towards design?

I think I was pragmatic. And I understood that I am in many ways a very spiritual person but I’m also very much a Taurus. I am very much rooted in this world with my feet on the ground and I am consequently admittedly and unashamedly materialistic in the sense that I love beautiful things. It is not more important to me than the spirituality of a person.

Well, maybe they’re not necessarily at odds …

They should not be mutually exclusive anyway. And it goes into my approach in interior design because at this moment I don’t try to be an arbiter of my own taste. My personal taste is my personal taste. It is just a collection of things that represent my experiences. When I meet clients, I approach it partly like reading a script for a play or a movie—what is this person about? What is important to them? What are they trying to project to their friends? What is their sense of lifestyle? [The interiors] are ways of sharing the vision of themselves to the world. I’ve done a penthouse that is completely stark modern. I’ve done very traditional English houses for people who sort of want the comfort of history around them.
In the master bedroom a painting by Josh Dayton hangs above a custom headboard upholstered in fabric from Zimmer and Rhode.  The bed linens are from Casa del Bianco; the bedside swing-arm lamps are from Ann Morris Antiques.
Rudolph surveys his domain ...
That’s an interesting phrase: “the comfort of history”. Why is it comforting?

It’s how you identify with the objects around you. I think for some people an antique piece of furniture represents history, heritage, lives lived before them and a sense of place in a large timescale.

How about the other phrase you used: “stark modern”. Why would anyone want “stark”?

I think “stark modern” appeals to people who want simplicity and order. There’s an interesting dichotomy that occurs though. In a very traditional, eclectic interior it is very easy to come in and take your shoes off and put newspapers on the table and sort of push something aside or shove an ottoman over and it still feels beautiful. When you have a very clean, contemporary apartment, it looks brilliant and then the minute someone walks in and moves something, you have totally disrupted the order of the space.
Three small oil paintings by English artist John Bantree hang above a lacquered rattan bedside table from Uncommon Design. The side chair is from Donghia. On the bedside table is a collection of photos of family and friends, arranged atop a lacquered rattan table from Uncommon Design. Jeffrey found the obelisk at the 26th Street flea market.
The other bedside table is dotted with more photos, fresh flowers and books.
Blue and white Chinese export porcelain stands atop a custom armoire by Telesca Heyman Inc.
In the master bedroom a collection of art books, objects and more photos fill an original Cole Porter brass étagère. The walls of the bedroom were glazed by John Weidl.
Which is a weird way to live.

So it is a hard way to live. If you love it and if that’s who you want to project yourself as, then it’s great and I love doing it.

Oh well. Anyway, we want to know about your life in Oman—tell us about that.

Okay. I was living in Washington D.C, in Georgetown … I started working on interiors for villas that [an architecture firm] was building in Oman. They had a sister office in Muscat in Oman and they said, “Gee how would you like to go to Oman for three months?” So here I am, I’m 22 years old, the world is in front of me … let me look on the map and see exactly where it is! Sign me up!
The walls and ceiling of the master bath are covered in a Clarence House wall covering. A custom cabinet stores more 'personal necessities'.
Holly and Rudolf watching over JH's briefcase.
Rudy peeking under the front door.
Peeking into the front entryway from the living room.
So what were your first impressions?

The first night I arrived, it was two in the morning and in those days it was a simpler airport where got off on to the tarmac … and this hot wind blew in my face. I took the ride into Muscat and I had a sinking feeling in my heart … I had just left civilization, my lovely little studio apartment in Georgetown and my lovely little life … what have I done? But I started meeting people … and it started to become interesting.

Why?

Oman is on the Indian Ocean with miles and miles and miles of gorgeous, sandy beaches. My villa was on the beach. I started running three miles a day. Once you arrived as an expatriate, you were invited to all the embassy parties and you immediately became part of this international community. I was like, “Oh my God, this is just brilliant!”

What sort of interiors were you designing? What did they want?

It’s interesting because Oman is totally different than Saudi Arabia. They’re totally aligned with England. His Majesty went to Sandhurst [Military Academy]; he was a great friend of the Queen Mother and a great friend of the royal family. He came back to Oman and said, “this is a medieval city.” His Majesty ascended to the throne and [in the 1980s] they went from 14 miles of paved road to a country with an international community with five-star hotels, restaurants, a fabulous university. He built a Catholic church and an Episcopal church.
Looking into a corner of the living room from the foyer.
A custom L-shaped banquette creates a cozy and comfortable dining area in a corner of the living room. The chairs are from Reymour Jordan; the dining table was designed by Jeffrey and constructed by Daniel Scuderi.
Two oil paintings of parrots by Hunt Slonem hang above the dinner corner banquette. The standing lamp is from William Lipton.
Why do you call him “His Majesty”? Why not just “the Sultan of Oman”?

Because the Sultan is “His Majesty”. Typically you would call him “His Majesty.” It’s a sign of respect.

Oh.

It was a fabulous life. The look they wanted meant they wanted English interiors so we did Palladian villas with a lot of English furniture. There were marble floors … there was gilding. But it was very understated. His Majesty worked very hard to encourage an Islamic influence in the architecture of the country. It wasn’t in a vulgar way but in the tradition of illuminated manuscripts and the Ottoman Empire. He was really like the Sun King of the Middle East. Fast forward to last year—they just opened the Royal Opera House in Muscat with Renée Fleming and the opera was Turandot. It is a really, really extraordinary country that is not known to the West.

And being gay there? It’s illegal, isn’t it? How was that?

It was not a problem at all. And it was totally overlooked. If you were respectful of the community, the community was respectful to you.
An antique silver épergne from The Manhattan Art and Antiques Center is filled with moss covered ornamental balls.
Another view of the dining area.
A pair of Staffordshire pottery spaniels stand atop the living room fireplace mantel.
The gilt wood French mirror was purchased at The Manhattan Art and Antiques Center.
A lion head chair covered in a fabric from Clarence House stands near a 19th century English painting that was a gift from a friend.
Why did you eventually leave?

By 1990, I saw that people who had lived in Oman for ten years before I arrived and were still there, would go away on their holiday and come back saying “Oh, we’re so glad to be back. We hardly know our family anymore … Glasgow is miserable … London is overcrowded.” I saw the risk, or the inevitability, of becoming a lifetime expatriate, which I did not want to be. I wanted to be a New Yorker.

And now you are one. What do you like to do when you’re off duty?

Music is still very much a hobby although I don’t play an instrument or sing much anymore. I like to read … I like to read sort of outside the field. I’m reading a book by the Rabbi Friedman and it’s called Friedman’s Fables. They are adult fables, his original stories. I read one out loud at a dinner party in East Hampton and it had one of our dearest friends in tears. It’s called “The Bridge”.
A 19th century Persian carpet sets the tone in the living room.
A glass coffee table with legs that were originally from an Indian maharaja's traveling bench stands in front of a Knole sofa made in Oman.
A collection of antique tortoiseshell boxes are among objects on the cocktail table, which was created from the legs of what was once a maharaja's traveling bench.
A small French bouillette lamp, fresh flowers, crystal objects and more photos fill an inlaid side table from Ritter Antiques. 
Looking across the main seating area.
An oversized Oriental screen purchased in the 1980s in Hong Kong stands behind an Art Deco style desk by Daniel Scuderi. The desk lamps were converted from Asian urns, also from Hong Kong.
Practicality above all: the computer and printer enables Jeffrey to work from his otherwise elegant living room.
An Art Deco desk chair is from De Angelis Custom Furniture.
More photos of family and friends fill the living room desktop.
Give us a précis of “The Bridge”.

A man in his midlife is going through this crisis, looking back and saying “What is the meaning of life?” He has an a-ha! moment. He suddenly sees a goal and he sees that he must do it quickly. He has become completely re-invigorated. On this journey to this goal, he crosses a bridge. Toward the middle of the bridge, he sees a person coming from the other side. As they meet, he realizes the person has this huge bundle of rope in his hand and he reaches out and takes the end of the rope and hands it to the man. He says, “Sir, could you hold this for one moment.” The man obliges. Then the rope-guy immediately jumps off the bridge and is dangling. The [rope-guy] screams up at the man, “I can’t deal with life anymore. My destiny is in your hands. I’m your responsibility now.” The guy tries to pull him up but can only bring him up halfway. He says, “You must help yourself the rest of the way up. I don’t have the strength to pull you all the way. And I have this goal. I have to go.” But the rope-guy refuses to pull himself up so the man lets the rope go and continues on his journey.

Have you had a mid-life crisis?

Er … I wouldn’t characterize it as a crisis. It’s been a fabulous life so far and decades pass quickly … the external forces of life we have no control over but our reactions to them, we do have control over. My goal is always to find joy in the situation. It also requires you to be very strong and and know when, as they say now, to let go of toxic people. It’s “The Bridge.”



© 2013 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com