Caryn Schacht

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Caryn Schacht joined her mother’s design business when her mother persuaded her to give up on the film industry. The final humiliation of being fired from a production assistant job on a new NBC mini-series the night before the job even started made Caryn rethink her life. Apparently her mother, who has now passed, did not mince her words and called her “a schmuck” for putting up with the vagaries of making movies. The decision to join Lorin Marsh, the accessories showroom founded in 1975 by Lorraine Schacht and Sherry Mandell, led not only to a career but to a newfound closeness between mother and daughter: “It took our relationship to a whole other dimension. It gave us something to talk about all the time, something of substance.”

So you didn’t start immediately in your Mom’s design business—at what point did you decide to go ahead with it as a career?

So the business started in 1975 and I was finishing up college and starting my career, which was filmmaking. I moved out to LA for a summer, worked on a film and decided I couldn’t stand it.

What did you hate about it?

I just didn’t like the way LA was so spread out. I didn’t like not walking places. I didn’t like meeting people who were only in the film business—they were very superficial and uninteresting.

In the living room an oversized chandelier is from 1stdibs. The magnet wall sculpture, hanging above the fireplace mantel is by the Belgian artist Michelle Francois.
The bench is French Art Deco and the custom carpet is from Stark.
Looking across the plexiglass coffee table.
The chrome vintage chairs from Lorin Marsh are upholstered in pony skin.
In a corner of the living room a 1940s French table is surrounded by chairs designed by Tommi Parzinger .
Recessed bookshelves with goatskin-and-brass cabinets flank the living room fireplace. The hemp wall covering is from Maya Romanoff. The gold inlay frieze paper is from Cowtan and Tout.
An L-shaped custom sofa by Jonas provides ample seating in a corner of the living room. The large abstract painting hanging on the far wall is by Callum Innes.
Fresh tulips and two sculptures by Michael Joo are arranged upon a pair of small tables.

But what did you imagine it would be like?

I was more focused on my craft and what I wanted to do in the film world. I thought I wanted to direct films … I guess. I’ve always loved the camera. I majored in film and photography—I spent hours in the darkroom in college. But the type of photography that I really loved, I could never make a living doing.

Sometimes doing something you’ve always thought you wanted to do can be the best way to find out that you don’t actually want to do it.

Yeah … I mean when you work on a film and you spend eight hours doing the same four sentences in different light or a different direction, you realize that it’s boring.
You don’t realize it until you do it. I still love taking pictures although I find it hard to do as a hobby now with everything else going on.

A large abstract painting by Garth Weiser hangs on a living room wall covered in hemp textured-paper from Maya Romanoff. The vintage bucket chairs are covered in a Bergamo fabric.
A view across Caryn’s vast living space.
A mid-century ceramic lamp stands atop a cloud-shaped goatskin table.
Oversized oak doors give the space a feeling of grandeur.
A custom bar/TV cabinet from Lorin Marsh is topped with vintage ceramics and an elephant tusk.

Caryn purchased the oversized chandelier from 1stdibs.
L. to r.: Floor-to-ceiling curtains out of fabric from Lee Jofa and made by La Regence emphasize the 20-foot living room ceiling.; Gorgeous fresh flowers add a pop of color to the neutral tones of the living room.

Fanta, the family’s mini Golden Doodle, napping.

So you came back to New York … and?

I came home—I grew up on Long Island—at that time my parents had gotten divorced, my mother had started the business and she was living in an apartment in the city. After being in LA, I moved in with her and thought I would just work in the film world here so I got this job on a mini-series called “Nurse”. They called me at midnight the night before I was supposed to start working and they said, “You’re fired. NBC had cut back the budget and you’re was the first to go.” I hung up the phone, my mother walked into my room and she said, “Who was that?” I said, “Can you believe it? I just got fired and I didn’t even work yet.” She said, “You know? You’re a schmuck.” She said, “I have this business … why don’t you try it? If you don’t like it, you leave.” And she was right—I tried it.

What were your first duties?

Oh … whatever. I did everything from wrapping packages to writing memos …

Can we hear your description of the business and the showroom and how it started?

So it started out as an accessories business—just accessories. My mother had been an interior designer and she saw this as a real hole in the market because showrooms and accessories didn’t exist then. She started this business, by the way, with two other women, and that was another thing that wasn’t happening in those days, for women to start businesses and travel all over the world.

Peeking into the living room from the dining room.
A sculpture of a stainless steel pig by Richard Jackson stands atop a pedestal in front of the dining room window.
In the dining room, originally the library, tufted leather banquettes were placed in corners and work perfectly as cocktail areas. The walls are covered in a hand-painted Italian wallpaper from Tassels and Trims. A painting, “Miss Kitty” by Sean Landers hangs above the fireplace mantel.
A dramatic vintage chandelier from Paris hangs above cast-glass dining table with a rusted metal base. The dining chairs are upholstered in goatskin and all are from Lorin Marsh.
Looking across the dining table, a photograph by Doug Hall of La Scala hangs above a red goatskin console from Lorin Marsh.

A bronze cougar stands atop a red goatskin console from Lorin Marsh.
Cocktail glass sculptures by Tamar Ettun are displayed atop a small side table in the dining room.
The project designers, Michael Rosenberg and Leonard Kowalski of Michael Rosenberg & Associates created a large eat-in kitchen/family room by incorporating the apartment’s original dining room into the kitchen space. A Lorin Marsh cocktail table is at a comfortable height for casual dining. A photograph by Desiree Dolron hangs above a sofa covered in fabric by Holly Hunt. The carpet is from Beauvais.
Hanging fixtures from Russ Steele hang above the kitchen island. The stainless steel backsplash tiles are from Urban Archeology.
A photo of life-size eggs in a miniature set by an unknown artist adds a bit of color to the kitchen pantry door.

What was it like working with your mother?

Everyone always asks me that. I loved it. It took our relationship to a whole other dimension. It gave us something to talk about all the time, something of substance; it gave us an opportunity to travel together.

Had you always been close?

No, not at all. We were not close at all when I was growing up but then we started to work together and we found this connection about the business and other things. My mother was wonderful, interesting, dynamic and funny.

Karen’s husband, David’s downstairs study. The painting is by Sean Landers. The fabric and embroidery wall covering is from Maya Romanoff; the rug is from Beauvais and the sofa fabric is from Donghia.

A photo collage, “Lips,” by Hans Peter Feldman hangs in the powder room. The kaleidoscope wallpaper is from Studio Four.
A dramatic bronze sink with a nickel inset is tucked into the corner of the downstairs powder room.

So you saw all these things through more adult eyes.

Yes, and that’s very different.  She was very young-spirited also. She loved to party, she loved her friends—she would hang out with me and my friends.

What did you like about the work?

I think I liked that it was always different; there are so many different elements to it.

Do you still like the same things now about it that you liked then? What about the influence of the Internet pitted against the physical presence of the place like the D&D building?

For a very long time I was like, “Why do we need a website? Who is going to buy a very expensive piece without coming in and touching it or sitting in it or knowing the quality?” But over the years, people do [buy online].

Looking towards the main staircase from the foyer.
A red urn by artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster stands on a pedestal next to the main staircase. Ink drawings by artist Allan McCollum fill the wall of the apartment stairwell.
A photograph by Walead Beshty covers a wall of the upstairs bedroom hallway. Hanging on the far wall is a collage by Francis Starck.
“Paint Cans,” a sculpture by artist Guyton Walker is on display in a corner of the bedroom hallway.

What kind of house did you grow up in? Was your mother, like a bored housewife who wanted to do something more?

It was house in the suburbs, beautifully decorated by my mother. I think she started as an art teacher and was always itching to do something … she had that suburban thing with the golf club and so on … I think she was bored. This is a funny story: When I was maybe in fifth grade, my mother had my art teacher come to our house and make a full size life plaster of me. So in the basement was me and my very strange male art teacher, who wore a wig … and I was probably 11 and he would be plastering, like a cast, my entire body from head to toe … I mean no one could ever do that now!

That is creepy!

But I had this [piece] for the longest time, me at 11 sitting like this [she perches on the edge of her chair] but you know as a kid you don’t know what is going to be of value to you. I left it at a friend’s house and one day they sold their house so I told them to get rid of it.

Oh! Maybe one day you’ll be in a flea market or somewhere and suddenly be faced with your 11-year-old self sitting right there!

Yes, maybe I’ll see it again!

Designers Michael Rosenberg and Leonard Kowalski carved an upstairs study out of a closet and part of the existing hallway.
In the upstairs study/guest room a painting by an unknown artist hangs above a custom sofa bed from Avery Boardman. The telescoping tables are from Lorin Marsh. The striped rug is from Beauvais.
Work by Israeli artist Eliad Lassry is hung creatively around the study’s flat screen TV.
Peeking into daughter Sophia’s room. The bubble gum colored rug is from Beauvais.
Sophia’s study area. The desk is from Lorin Marsh; the chair is Knoll.

An oversized clock is surrounded by favorite photos, all of which Sophia can easily rearrange or remove from the room’s magnetic wall paint.
Sophia’s bureau is filled with photos, jewelry and special ‘friends’.
Bold wallpaper from Studio Printworks covers a wall of Sophia’s room. Bunk beds work well for sleepovers.

Now that this business is getting tougher, in order for designers to survive and differentiate themselves, don’t they have to do custom?

Well that’s what we do but the problem with custom is that it’s not so easy. When a designer is doing a full scheme and they have the wall covering and the carpet and the furniture and the lighting, it’s not so easy to say, “Let me make a dining table too.” That dining table, at least the way we do it, is intricate and involved and requires so much expertise and follow-up—how much can one person really do? It would be almost impossible for a designer to do every single piece custom rather than going shopping and saying to their client, “Do you like this? Yes? Okay let’s buy it.” It’s not practical for every single piece to be custom.

In what way would you say that your tastes have changed from when you were younger?

I think your tastes change all the time but with experience your tastes change faster. I never liked fussy things—I more or less always liked straighter lines.

But you started in the 1980s when there was lots of gilt and lavish window treatments and so forth.

That was how I entered the world of design, when there was rococo and gold leaf and carving …  the more the better. I didn’t like that and I never liked it. The first thing my mother taught me was that you don’t have to like it.

Michael Rosenberg and Leonard Kowalski chose a palette of gray and purple shades to create a soothing atmosphere in the master bedroom. The custom headboard is out of Romo fabric. The silk–and-embroidered wall covering is from Fromental.
A photograph by Michal Rovner hangs above the master bed. Silver-coin lamps by Roberto Rida stand atop custom goatskin-and-silver leaf bedside tables from Lorin Marsh.
A recessed flat-screen TV hangs above a sleek chrome fireplace mantel.
A French 1940s chandelier is reflected in a bronze and antiqued “Orbital” mirror from Lorin Marsh. The chest of drawers is Italian, 1950s.

A glass sculpture by Frances Goodman is a play on a molecular study for the sleeping pill Ambien.
A drawing by George Condo (top) and Rachel Howard hangs near the “Waterfall” desk from Lorin Marsh. The curtains by La Regence are out of a Loro Piana fabric.

It’s not my style either but when I look back now, I have a sort of nostalgia for the exuberance of it.

I understand that. I agree. And I’m so happy when I go around other showrooms that I started when I did because it gave me a background that people starting today will never have. Those [1980s] things are hard to make and it’s not happening anymore.
The whole industry has shrunk at the higher level and expanded at the CB2 or Restoration Hardware level.

Yes, someone we were talking to said the whole of New Jersey is furnished by Restoration Hardware—why do you think it has such a grip on everyone’s imagination?

Price. Scale. And they sort of marketed it in a very smart way by bringing in these European designers who created the whole panache. It’s not rustic but it is laid back. It’s comfortable and it isn’t overly decorated.

The dressing area. Mirror-front closets reflect photographs by Lynn Geesaman and Robert Dine.
Geometric patterned tile from Studium makes a statement in the master bath.
A photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt finds an appropriate home in the master bath.
The walls of the master bath are a mix of white statuary marble with inset absolute-black inlay.
Looking west over the Park Avenue Armory.

What’s your prediction for Mid-century Modern? Is it ever going to go away?

You sound like you’re ready for it to. I think it will. I think people are starting to move towards something else …

Towards what?

If only I knew!

And what do you do when you’re not working?

Well then I spend my time with my [ten-year-old] daughter … although I don’t know how many more times I can watch “Frozen”.

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