Brian McCarthy

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Brian McCarthy at ease in his apartment.

If someone wanted an example of the differences between true professional and amateur or mediocre interior design, they could do no better than use Brian McCarthy’s lovely apartment as a case study. Although he himself is clearly a disciplined person, his apartment is so gracious that there is no sense of stiff perfectionism or stage management. It is faultless, not a single mistake of scale, proportion, mix of eras or color and conveys the effortlessness of someone who, through both training and instinct, really knows what they are doing. He knows how to be interesting with very high-end furniture and artwork, without veering towards anything like ostentation, and that is true of his personality as well, confident, friendly, humble … there’s just one, tiny, fascinated observation … his laugh … sorry, Brian, but it’s pure Vincent Price. Surely we’re not the first to say so?

There is such nice light in this apartment, really beautiful …

I looked up and down the West Side before I bought this, nearly seven years ago this October. My old apartment had a very gracious, almost European, kind of Parisian feel to it and it had a real sense of entry. And everything else I looked at had no sense of entry. You sort of walked in and you were in the apartment.

Why is a ‘sense of entry’ important, do you think? Is it the tunnel to the cave?

Because I like to set it up. It’s makes you feel more comfortable. It gives it a home-like feeling. For all of us who are kind of living in these tree houses, it’s important. It creates a sense of privacy from your neighbors.

Master Bedroom- Atop a French mahogany commode attributed to George Jacob is a French cannonball clock from the early 19th century. A Catherine Opie photograph hangs on the wall above the commode.
A photo by Georges Rousse hangs on the wall above a headboard designed by Brian and made by Jonas upholstery, flanked by Brett Weston’s ‘Cracked Wallboard’ on the right and Minor White’s abstraction on the left. Wall lights are by Vosges Inc. in Paris and the bed linens are from Nancy Stanley in L.A.
A painting by Rempré hangs above a simple metal bookcase designed by Brian.
Brian and his partner Danny. A silver match holder is a clever place for collar stays.
A sculpture by Rodney Greenblatt adds a splash of color in the master bedroom.
Bedtime reading.

The rooms are very nicely proportioned.

It’s the original plan. This building has never been sliced and diced. It used to be a rental. Earl Blackwell had a penthouse above me, then he died. Barbara Walters used to live in the building … and the woman who wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [Anita Loos], so it’s always had an interesting collection of tenants.

I was interested in something you said about seeing old wallpapers as being akin to old textiles and we wanted to talk to you about the current ‘controversy’ about old things, in particular 18th century French antique furniture. I don’t think that they are valued anymore in the way they once were.

I have a lot of young clients that are my age and younger who want good 18th century English, French, Italian, whatever. Now, it’s getting mixed up with other things and to me that’s the fun of continuing to work with this. I’m in Europe anywhere from ten to fifteen times a year and I hear from all the French dealers ‘What’s happening to our market? Are you worried about it?’ I’m not worried about it at all.

Looking West towards the Time Warner Center and looking down at 57th Street.

When you first started out, what would you say your errors were?

Um … I think maybe trying too hard to do too much in a space. I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes that a lot of decorators make.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Maryland, in Betheseda. Both my parents are basically New Yorkers and for me, well, I went to Pratt … when I decided on Pratt and Pratt decided on me, when I arrived in New York, it was like ‘This is it. You’re at home. It doesn’t get any better than this.’ And I’ve never lost that.

Looking down the bedroom hall. The leopard carpet from Stark hides all sins.
Contemporary photography lines the walls of the guest bedroom including a ‘Blue Dress’ by Loretta Lux, and a photo by Alessandra Sanguinetti from the Yossi Milo gallery.
The guest bedroom is painted in robin’s egg blue. A hanging fixture was purchased during a trip to Morocco.
A French chair by Delmey with a stenciled leopard print calf-skin seat sits in front of an oversized Louis XVI mirror from Isabelle Chalvignac in Paris.
Hanging above Swedish 18th century chest of drawers from H.M. Luther is ‘Boy in Bathtub’ by Nicholas Pryor from the Yossi Milo Gallery. A pair of photographs by Tomeo Seiki from his Paris series was purchased from the Howard Greenberg gallery and hangs above a small side table topped with a 19th century French bronze oil lamp.
‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ by Alex Soth from the Gagosian Gallery hangs above an early 19th century mahogany bed by Francois-Honoré-George Jacob.

Did you want to be an interior designer as a kid … does anyone want to be that when they’re a kid?!

No! [laughs …THAT laugh!t] … I probably shouldn’t say that. My fantasy in life as a kid growing up was being on the back of a horse and so that’s all I ever really wanted to do …I just stopped competing five years ago.

Why did you stop?

Because it was too time consuming. All I did was train and compete … I kind of felt like I had given up my life for all these years to just do that. I made a very conscious decision to let it go. My best friend [Peter Wylde] represents the United States and was on the last Olympic team that won a gold medal in Athens, and I kind of live vicariously through him.

What do you like about riding?

Oh my God … it just takes me out of my life. It takes me out of this world. I get on the back of a horse and everything disappears. You can’t be focused on this animal and be thinking about work, or anything else for that matter … it’s developing a kind of rapport or dialogue with this animal. It becomes a question of trust, and if they trust you they will really go out on a limb for you. They will do just about anything.

And falling off?

Oh God yeah. I never got really hurt. I mean I’ve had horses crash and flip over and do things like that but I was really lucky.

In the front hall a 19th century ‘Foot of Apollo’ bought in Nice sits atop an important Mayhew and Ince commode originally made as part of a suite for Blenheim palace. The painting is by Dutch painter, Mark Goethals.
Peeking into the living room from the front hall. Brian bought the zebra rug from a furrier in Canada.
A prototype for a dining chair by Hubert Le Gall sits beneath a watercolor by Chris Doyle from Jessica Murray Projects.
Fresh flowers are placed next to a photo of Danny’s mom and niece
The kitchen counter top is lined with familiar objects and personal photos.
A selection of olive oils and vinegars line the kitchen counter top.

You worked for quite a time (from 1983 to 1991) for Parish-Hadley, how was that period in your career?

I was so spoiled at Parish-Hadley because Albert is a gentleman and Mrs Parish, who I loved … I never really worked that closely with her and I would say that she had more of a temper between the two. Albert had really no temper. She was the tougher of the two to work for. But she was a lady and Albert was a gentleman so we learned in a very different atmosphere and there are a lot of decorators that I know where there was a lot of tension, a lot of stress, a lot of anger, a lot of yelling, a lot of screaming …it’s like growing up an abused child.

You mean if you work for a screamer you end up being a screamer? Right. It’s just not my temperament. I have a temper but my temperament, as such that I will almost always hold it in check.

You seem very disciplined.

I am. [laughs]

You seem to want to go to the top, testing yourself.

Oh yeah, always … I get bored really easily too.  It goes back to ‘Whose voice is it at the end of a job? Mine or the clients?’ I don’t want to look through the pictures of all the jobs I’ve done over the years and say: ‘Oh my God, I did this [the same thing] here .. and … here and here and here …’ I like really strong clients. I like them to have a really definite point of view.

A marble column topped by an illuminated alabaster urn stands in the corner. Above the dining room sideboard is a drawing by Mica Rottenberg purchased in London at Frieze Art Fair.
In the dining room corner a painting by Jackie Gendel from Jessica Murray Projects is surrounded by a 17th century Italian gilt frame found in Paris.
In the dining room, an unusual 18th century wood chandelier with carved rams’ heads hangs above an 1810 table by Jacob purchased in Paris. A contemporary glass sculpture of a tree by Mark Perpitch serves as a centerpiece.
Atop the black Regency table is a grouping of Venetian glass spheres purchased in Lyons at Michel Descours. The spheres are known to bring good luck to their owner.
Another view of the dining room. Brian had one of the original empire chairs copied in Paris by Vosges Inc.

Do you think you attract a certain type of client?

Ultimately you do, but it takes a little time to get there. They are basically, intrinsically good people. You can tell quite early. It’s like going on a blind date with somebody and they start to ramble on about their dating history and it can kind of tell you ‘I don’t want to go there.’

How often do you go on blind dates?

Um … well I’m in a relationship. Actually maybe twice and Danny [his partner of fiveyears] was one. We met at the Hudson for a drink and it was so dark we couldn’t find each other …

Who set you up? Our dentist! If you need a good dentist …

Artfully arranged living room chairs include from left to right: A painted French Empire chair, an Empire chair with a carved lion heads on the arms from Jean Waneqc in Paris and a one of a pair of Restoration arm chairs from the Chinese Porcelain Company. A photograph ‘Two Men Dancing’ by Diane Arbus leans against the window.
A 19th century foot of a Greek god stands on a low Japanese table from Phillipe Farley.
A photograph by Martina Mullaney from the Yossi Milo Gallery hangs above the early 19th century Italian mantel from John Hobbs in London. Directly below is a marble sculpture by Costa Rican artist, Maria Giamondi.
A pair of early 19th century marble pedestals flank the doorway to the dining room.
A large painting by Jacqueline Humphries hangs behind a painted French Louis XVI chair. The carpet is from Beauvais.
Looking west in the living room. The ‘Whitney’ sofa is from Schneller & Sons. The 19th century Chinoiserie coffee table was purchased at Cligancourt in Paris. An 18th century Dutch Japanned tray top table is from Garrick Stephenson.
A copy of a recent book by Adam Lewis about the life of Brian’s close friend and mentor Albert Hadley sits atop a 18th century Louis XVI table from Paris. The small painting on an easel is by William Stiger.
A bronze crocodile from Susan Silver is perched atop a painted tole drum from a chateau in France.
Brian’s positioned his desk perpendicular to the length of the living room to serve as a divider between different groupings of furniture. The painting is by Uruguayan artist Pedro Figari and an 18th century Louis XVI desk chair was purchased in Paris from Flore.
A painting by Sarah Triggs sits atop a 19th century French polished steel and gilt bronze campaign table.
Brian in his living room in front of a Jacqueline Humphries’ painting.

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