Designer Carey Maloney of M(Group) grew up in Texas : ‘It is a country. It’s a great place to be from.’ Every now and then he puts on an extra helping of Texan drawl—‘Ah’ m tellin’ ya’—that is a little self-mocking. He is very, very charming and his design work is sophisticated and confident. He laughed a lot in the first part of the interview but as we moved into talking about attitudes towards gay people, it is clear that he has a serious mind, and puts serious amounts of energy into his charity work, which he does together with his life-and-work partner, Hermes Mallea. They have worked with the New York Public Library for many years and have been instrumental in helping to promote and categorize what is the world’s largest collection of gay literature. They also organize the ‘Anti-Prom’ for kids who don’t feel comfortable going to their own school proms, one of those quintessential proofs of New Yorker generosity that help make the city the place that it is.
So things must not be easy right now – are you holding on to your clients? Is the money there?
[Laughs – and replies with plenty of irony] Oh, everybody’s inherited billions – sons of billionaires! Daughters of billionaires! That’s our target market anyway!
So are inherited billions different from people who have earned their billions?
[really laughs] Let’s not talk about money! Um … we’ve been very lucky with really smart clients that have great stuff already, and I’m tellin’ ya, when you’re shoppin’ in their own warehouse space or their other houses, you’re free! The treasures that they come to us with make the difference. I once said to a client: we need black and white photos and she pipes up, ‘Well there’s some photographs in that closet.’ Well the first one I looked at was Brancusi by Steichen. There were 36 photographs of that ilk. It was a treat!
But, really what is going to happen now in this business?
Well, it’s just that the general psychology of it is that it is inappropriate to spend money, so yes, you’re down from six billion to four billion, but it’s still inappropriate. Right now we’re doing a guest house in the Village. They live on one street in a big house and they’ve bought two matching townhouses two blocks away, which will be a 10-bedroom guest house – but we’ve got to be low key! But it’s still going on.
Do you think at some level interior designers are a ridiculous luxury?
No. They couldn’t do it without us … just the sheer logistics. I mean of course, we hope the taste is there too, but I’m tellin’ ya, in the end, it’s a business. And there’s something I’ve said all along: The wives hire ya. The husbands keep ya.
What sorts of things make you mad?
It’s funny, I was just listening to the radio and there was this bit on “What’s the most irritating phrase in the English language?” and the guy said “No problem”. Well, my flag went up too – it implies that I wouldn’t be doing it if it were a problem.
Now where does your partner (Hermes Mallea) live?
Two blocks away.
Why do you have that arrangement? You work together as well?
This apartment isn’t big enough for both of us, whereas in the country, we have a house with two kitchens, three bathrooms …
Why do you have two kitchens? Different eating habits?
[He shrugs] I think this situation works perfectly for us. In the gay world, this is perfectly normal and good.
This is what I wonder about gay marriage – I mean I think they have exactly the same right to being as miserable as everyone else, but I thought they had sort of liberated a few ideas about ways of ‘being together’
Years ago I said to Hermes, the minute it’s legal in Massachusetts, we’re going to be on the list. It’s a political statement. His response was: I don’t want to get married. And I was like, Oh my God! After 25 years you don’t want to get married?! And he said, no, I don’t care. But over time, literally, when people started telling us that we couldn’t have it, then it became more of a statement … We don’t even understand why we’re the most reviled group, and it’s still not terribly politically incorrect to revile us. We’re the last group you can still make jokes about. And I’m not being paranoid. And especially, internationally, 99 percent of gay people live in the closet.
Yes, if you think of it internationally, you see the extent of it.
Yes, take the Arab Emirates, where they literally execute people. I won’t go there. But we firmly believe that until women get their rights, we don’t have a prayer. So I’m a huge feminist. The fact that 50 per cent of this world is ‘chattel’ means that we’re not going nowhere until they get somewhere.
So what do you do when you’re not working?
Well, our New York Public Library project, which we started two years ago, takes up a huge amount of time. But this is our thing. The library has the world’s biggest collection of gay literature, we were told and we looked at each other and said what are the library’s gay collections like? And they said, well the best in the world and we said: well why don’t we know that? If we don’t know about it, then how are other people going to know about it? There were 7000 feet, so a mile and a half of boxes of gay material, and each box contained 3000 pieces … an incredible amount of stuff. So we had to categorize it, digitize it, get it online … you know boring stuff upfront, glamour on the website!
What are you reading?
I just finished something great called ‘Arthur and George’, about Arthur Conan Doyle – a great novel.
Do you watch TV? What do you watch?
I’m a complete addict for BBC America News. Then I do Jon Stewart, then I do Colbert, then it’s 11 o’clock! I’m a complete news junkie.