Friday, September 16, 2016

Jesse James and Kostas Anagnopoulos

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Jesse James together with his husband and business partner Kostas Anagnopoulos (Gus) own and run a design think tank called Aesthetic Movement that provides a range of services including branding, marketing, designing and overseeing launches of products in the gift, home, jewelry and personal accessories market. They have been together for twenty years and grew up on the same street in Chicago although they did not meet until much later. Interestingly, they both chose a specific high school based on the fact that it would spare them the horrors of PE class.


Their home in Jackson Heights is full of warmth, texture, subtle color and beautiful but humble objects collected over time—we loved it and, judging by various comments online, everyone else loves it too. “I want their life,” reads one such comment, to which, when we asked them how they felt about that, Kostas answered, “Oh gosh. Well, we go to therapy …” He is also a poet and we have included one of his poems from his collection “What Works”, also entitled “What Works” at the end of the interview.

I know what you do but I want you to explain it without using terms like “branding solutions” and “selective creative retail collaboration.”

Jesse: Without using terms like that? Okay … well in a way we’re sort of making it up as we go along. Aesthetic Movement was based on a previous company that I was partner in—that was purely sales representation, representing designers [and] manufacturers to retailers. That was a company that kind of started small and grew to be national. When I divorced my ex-partner—my business partner that is—we were really thinking about what to do next … when we launched Aesthetic Movement it had at its core this sales and marketing element. And then we brought in the design element.
The Towers in Jackson Heights is where Jesse and Kostas call home.
The entrance features iron and glass double doors. A restored mural from 1924 in the lobby of the apartment in the Jackson Heights Historic District.
The celebrated griffons flanking the iron gates to the private garden.
So do you mean you would present yourselves not only as people who could market something but that you could also design from source?

Jesse: Many things. For starters it was really about the ability to work with people who had ideas in their infancy and they wanted to have help.

What sort of help do they need?

Jesse: Sometimes it’s very fundamental, [things like] how to structure their business, how to manage the pricing structure and how much inventory to develop. But then it gets more interesting. What are people going to love? What’s going to speak to people today?
An original poster from the 1970 John Cassavetes film Husbands was a wedding gift from close friends and hangs at the end of the entrance hall.
A collection of art on the entrance walls includes found pieces as well as works by the artists Becky Howland, Hugo Guinness and a portrait of the couple's daughter Olympia by photographer Philip Ficks. The paint color is "Off Black" by Farrow & Ball.
Jesse and Gus's charming and stylish living room is anchored by the large working fireplace and furnished with items collected over their twenty years together.
The custom sofa was made by Classic Sofa a decade ago. The living room carpet was picked up on a trip to Marrakech when Olympia was a baby. The indigo throws were purchased at the Chichicastenango market in Guatemala.
An antique wooden cupboard that came from a favorite store––the now-shuttered Moon River Chattel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn––holds a small mementos and curiosities.
This view towards the foyer from a corner of the living room highlights various vintage chairs upholstered in similar shades of green velvet, silk, and mohair. A small stool used as a side table is one of four that the couple bought salvaged from the old Ridgewood Democratic Club in Flushing, Queens.
A collection of Georgian brass candlesticks designed by the couple for Sir/Madam (www.sirmadam.com) sits in a corner of the living room under a favorite portrait.
More pairs of candlesticks, including a pair by Ted Muehling for E.R. Butler, sit atop the cupboard. The night painting, from 1828, was bought at an auction in Connecticut and the child's chair was once used by Jesse at his grandmother's house. It now comes in handy when nephews August and Julian visit from his sister Molly's apartment just across the hall.
And this is based on your experience of knowing what things have sold in the past and how things have appealed to people?
 
Jesse: I think it was a cumulative knowledge that we all developed over years and years of working with so many retailers … and slowly realizing over the years that we wanted to focus on things we believed in not necessarily things that were guaranteed to sell.

What would be an example of something that was guaranteed to sell but that wouldn’t be interested in?

Jesse: You know … not really a huge fan of industrial designers who are just making the latest shape of a toothbrush that’s in bright plastic colors. To be honest, obviously for good reason, a lot of designers are focused on what’s new … that’s not terribly interesting to us. I think we look to the past a lot.
A pair of brass floor lamps illuminate the living room seating area. The two-tiered iron coffee table was once the base to a terrarium and adds an industrial element to the room.
Above Gus's writing desk: another night painting, photographs of his father Georgios, a watercolor by artist and neighbor Kirsten Nash as well as Rajasthani miniatures brought home from a trip to India.
The Indian étagère, purchased from Rural Residence in Hudson, New York, holds books and objects including a carved bone lobster and a papier-mâché mask bought on a recent holiday trip to Venice, Italy. The foxed mirror was found by Gus on the street, and reframed at Chelsea Frames in New York City.
A long view from the living room into the dining room. The visible transoms and moldings were installed by Jesse and Gus when they first moved into the apartment eight years ago.
The café curtains, in lieu of full draperies, allow for optimum light.
A very solid chopping block acts as a side table—it once had legs and spent half a century in the Connecticut kitchen of Jesse's grandmother before she passed away a few years ago. The vintage wooden checkers set has had years of use. It was bought in L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Provence, while on a trip during their first year together.
Pickles, the family dog making himself comfortable on the sofa, is a rescue from Puerto Rico through The Sato Project.
Pickles listens closely.
If you’re looking to the past but people are coming to you with contemporary designs, how do you approach that? I mean, you’re not antique dealers.

Jesse: No we’re not. But we’re not selling all of the, you know, big melamine collections. The other thing that I would just sort of go back to was when we launched Aesthetic Movement, part of it was being able to help people [hesitates] er … branding … maybe a re-brand.

Nooo, not branding!

Jesse: Well we’ve now partnered significantly in ways we do all of the creative. We name the brand, we do all of the branding, we art direct all the photo shoots, we design all the product, we oversee the quality and we do the sales and marketing of it.

I wonder what’s left for your client to do! Retail is changing so much, though isn’t it? All these stores are closing.

Jesse: Sure, but we also want to celebrate those that are doing it right. For a while there were just too many stores in the world.
A powder-coated brass pendant by Thomas O'Brien hangs above a simple farm table from the 1930s in the dining room.
A collection of antique ceramic spatterware canisters brought home from a summer visit to the village of Grottoglie in Puglia sits atop a bookshelf in the dining room that once lived in the library of Columbia University.
Art books are in constant rotation in the dining room where guests are frequently treated to Gus's home-cooked meals.
Jesse and Gus served us Gateau Breton, a scrumptious traditional butter cake from the incredible Cannelle Patisserie in Jackson Heights. Owner Jean Claude Perennou was formerly the executive pastry chef at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Olympia's first-ever drawing of a face on yellow construction paper sits beside one of her masks from art class. The diorama is an antique piece and depicts Ganesh, the Hindu deity known as the remover of obstacles. The pencil drawing of a man on a horse was a gift to Gus by the artist. The chair below is Eastlake Victorian.
A paper mask of singer Annie Lennox from her days in the band Eurythmics rests on top of a painting of a windmill by the Spanish artist Gregorio Prieto. It is one of several bought by Jesse's grandfather Hal James while traveling the world in the 1960s as producer of the Tony award winning musical Man of La Mancha.
A sideboard in the dining room holds vintage Troyan pottery and a collection of rulers. A large dried leaf adorns the pleated silk lampshade.
A cabinet mounted to the dining room wall holds a collection of Japanese etched crystal. The pink glass goblets were purchased from Laurin Copen Antiques in Bridgehampton, New York. The stripped 1930s metal dresser doubles as a home bar.
On the east wall of the dining room a vintage gouache of dahlias hangs above an old metal institutional chair. The Swedish armoire is painted in the color "Pigeon" by Farrow & Ball.
The armoire houses printers and other modern necessities. The parquet floors are original.
A collection of mid-century vessels sits atop the armoire. The contemporary piece in the center is by the ceramic artist M. Quan.
I always thought that people liked going into a store and touching things.

Jesse: Well we’re tactile right? And it’s good to be able to meet someone, a proprietor.

Kostas: I think neighborhoods are becoming really important to the retail market. Retailers are supported by their neighborhoods. And the fact that New York is becoming less neighborhood-driven is a sad reality.

Is someone going to dismiss us all as being a bunch of romantics?

Jesse: There’s nothing wrong with being romantic!

I’ve heard the retro look that’s popular now described somewhat disdainfully as “Williamsburg kitsch” but it’s a look that young kids seem to love. What do you make of that?

Kostas: I think everyone’s always re-inventing the past.
A view of the pantry from the dining room. A photograph of Gus's great-grandparents from the Greek island of Zakynthos, hangs on the wall in a carved Black Forest frame.
Vintage photographs and illustrations hang on a narrow pantry wall where Olympia's height has been recorded over the years in pencil. A portrait of Olympia taken by Portland-based photographer Parker Fitzgerald hangs in the pantry. It's a favorite outtake from a shoot for the cookbook The Kinfolk Table. Aprons, candles and market totes hang from a French hook below.
A souvenir folding postcard of the Statue of Liberty, from 1918 hangs framed at the entrance to the kitchen. The contemporary AGA stove looks vintage and sits well in the prewar surroundings. The area rug was brought home from a trip to Crete.
The linen tea towel hanging on the stove was designed by the couple for Sir/Madam and illustrates a handy kitchen conversion chart. The Pullman porter stool, tucked under the steel shelving made in upstate New York, was purchased in Chicago and helps Olympia reach the upper cabinets.
A 1968 promotional poster for Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters album features the Queensboro Bridge.
Dry goods are stored in vintage mason jars. Black-and-white photographs of the couple's respective fathers hang on the wall beside a Vitamix and an aubergine Staub teapot, both of which are frequently used. The "Heirloom" candle smells of vine-ripe tomatoes. It was created by Gus and Jesse and is by Izola (www.izola.com).
An oversized cast-iron Clarion farmhouse sink from Strom Plumbing does the trick after large family dinners. A grouping of silver prayer milagros, collected on trips to various places over the years, hangs above the backsplash.
A Chemex glass coffee pot is the preferred brew method.
The built-in cabinetry was restored to its original 1920s condition and provides ample storage space.
Pots and pans hang from a rack purchased from Williams-Sonoma.
Houseplants are perched on the refrigerator.
Bulk olive oil from Gus's family olive groves in Greece is stored in a 5-gallon drum below the sink. It is used daily and often gifted to friends.
A chart of poetic forms, saved by Gus from a class with the poet Bernadette Mayer many years ago, currently hangs on the refrigerator door.
When I was young, I only wore vintage clothes …

Jesse: Yeah! We all went to thrift stores. But it starts with affordability. And it’s often inspired by music or novels or movies that you’re watching and if you find yourself being pulled into a different era, it’s so much more interesting than what you see every day.

Is it more forgiving than the real life pressures of your own actual era?

Jesse: Well with [our daughter] Olympia, we went on this kick of watching all five seasons of “Call the Midwife” [a British show set in 1950s working class London] This was such an amazing lens for her. She is adopted so she’s really curious about birth and it de-mystified this process but because it was through the lens of the past, it kind of put it in a place where you could be separate enough to talk about it. It was so magical for all of us to curl up in bed every night and watch an episode.

But I am so tired of re-purposed wood slab tables and industrial … stuff.

Jesse: Sure, it’s run its course. But for us there is a reality at play and we have to put on the table for a broad number of people. We are really pulling away from heritage because it’s just so overplayed … you know this man in a rugged outdoors outfit who probably doesn’t spend a lot of time outdoors.
A view down the mirror-lined bedroom hallway with industrial pendants from PW Vintage Lighting (www.pwvintagelighting.com).
A view into Jesse and Gus's bedroom.
The pure linen Trousseau Bedding in Saffron is from Sir/Madam (www.sirmadam.com).
A second bookcase from the Columbia University library houses favorite books, textiles and accessories.
A small landscape painting hangs over one of a pair of Empire nightstands.
A well-worn, hand-me-down love seat is positioned at the foot of the bed. Draped in an antique Moroccan textile, it awaits re-upholstering.
An intricately carved Eastlake mirror hangs on the bedroom wall reflecting wall-mounted hooks in a closet niche.
We also have to ask you about which is your respective names … living with the name Jesse James must be slightly annoying.

Jesse: It is annoying but it is my name and it’s been my name all my life. It causes daily conversations—it breaks the ice sometimes, you know at the desk at the airport or the bank. It was my father who gave me that name and my mother sort of let him. I actually have a long name: Jesse Hampton Nathaniel William Floyd Robin James. They all are these revolutionary folks. But now Jesse James is this like this motorcycle guy who Sandra Bullock was married to who is a racist. So that’s awful. I’m not very Google-able.

And your name must be annoying because people probably mispronounce it. How do you say it properly?

Kostas: Like Indianapolis.

Jesse: That’s a terrible, terrible way to pronounce it. He dumbs it down all the time. He’s been trained over the years to say “Anag-nopolis”. Somehow he believes people can say Anag-nopolis better than [pronounces it properly].

Kostas: They can’t.
A demi-lune table sits below a window, flanked by a nude collage by the artist James Gallagher and a work on paper by the artist Ginna Triplett.
The antique bedroom chair was re-upholstered in a loomed homespun textile from Transylvania and is draped with a vintage flour sack.
A wooden puzzle made from a Viet Nam poster was Jesse's childhood toy. It sits on top of a French secretary purchased at Holler & Squall on Atlantic Street in Brooklyn.
Simple white ceramic pieces made by Jesse's cousin Ashley James hold feathers, minerals, and carved gourds brought back from a trip to Peru. The crocheted linen doily was made by Gus's grandmother Katina.
Peeking into the master bath, which retains its original floor and wall tiles.
The master bath walls are painted in Farrow & Ball "Sudbury Yellow".
I was reading some of the comments online where your apartment has been published and people say things like “I want their life. Everything is so beautiful, their work, their home, their family …” How do you feel about how you seem to others?

Kostas … Oh gosh. Well we go to therapy … er … oh my God conflict is everywhere even in domestic settings!

Jesse: I don’t think I think about [other people’s impressions] to be honest. I’m often thinking about other people’s lives. If someone is peeking into our window, there’s someone else’s window that I’m peeking into.

Kostas: And the house gets messy.
Jesse's sister Casey Blue James also lives in the apartment and works in business development at Penguin Random House. A group of hand-colored bird etchings framed with linen mats surround a 1960s mirror in her room.
The hand-embroidered bedspread is from Pakistan, and was purchased in Jaipur. The mirrored pendant was made in Philadelphia by lighting designer Robert Ogden.
Casey Blue is a voracious reader, hence the stacks of books that line the walls of her room.
An oxblood Remington typewriter sits atop Casey Blue's dresser.
Vintage frames and an artist's board found in the Hamptons lean against the wall behind a stool used as a bedside table.
Jesse and Gus's 9-year old daughter Olympia Baltimore James works on an art project in her bedroom. The painting above her bed was done by the furniture designer Eugene Schoen, the great-grandfather of a friend. The "In the morning there is meaning" poster is by the artist Eve Fowler and quotes Gertrude Stein whose birthday Olympia shares.
A beloved stuffed bear and a rabbit sit on top of a chest at the foot of Olympia's bed along with a pair of fuzzy gold leather moccasins. The walls are painted Farrow & Ball "Light Gray."
A glass-front bookcase houses some of Olympia's favorite books and sits beside a leaning sand-portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the artworks and objects around the room have an "O" theme.
The vintage slippers on the bookcase come from the Philippines.
Olympia's desk sits beside a tank that houses her goldfish. She made the buffalo mask while at summer camp at the Queens Museum.
Olympia and Casey Blue share a bathroom painted in Farrow & Ball "Setting Plaster". Instead of a bathroom mirror above the sink, nickel shelves hold toiletries and keepsakes.
What Works
by Kostas Anagnopoulos

Friday will work
I’ll be cooking
Taking big steps
They sound bigger downstairs
Vibrating in my head
Until I put them on paper
I invited the people from the bus stop to dinner
An English couple, Gerry and Karolyn, and their two bright girls
New friends
Since I don’t have old ones
Seasons go by
Everyone changes
Regrets of waking life at the window
With a view of the little wild mint patch
Avoid small talk
Even in Queens
Returning from the market unspotted
After rinsing the fruits and vegetables
A lot of peeling