Deborah Buck

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Deborah Buck in her living room. A 1940s needlepoint hangs by a Belgian artist and a Juliet van Vlasselaer hangs above a teal green console by William Pahlman.

Deborah Buck, owner of the eclectic Madison Avenue store Buck House, as well the adjacent gallery, is gregarious and sunny, a happy person who knows how lucky she is. She started out as a painter and still has a little studio in her apartment, but she also said that she finally gave herself permission to do other things that made her happy, like holding salons, gallery exhibitions and becoming a trained chef, after the birth of her son, Sam, 13 years ago. She travels extensively, hunting down the objects that make up the mix of antiques and contemporary pieces in the store, saying that owning it has been ‘one of the most creative endeavors of my life.’

I was curious as to how you started off as a painter, even though now you do many other things.

Let’s see, I graduated from Trinity College in Hartford with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts and I went to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. I was very, very lucky when I was 16, to meet Clifford Still. (I grew up outside of Baltimore). And Clifford Still didn’t like anybody, he was really a curmudgeon, but my father and he used to have breakfast every morning at the same roadside restaurant … my father had become a farmer.

Anyway, they would talk baseball. At one point my father said ‘I have a daughter who is very interested in the arts, would you meet with her?’ And so he did. Mrs Still did most of the talking and he sat stirring his coffee. When he was ready to speak, he talked about the art world, Rothko … Clement Greenburg … for me as a young person he was like a magical wizard. He really became my mentor. He sent me to Skowhegan in his name. He said ‘You’ll make it. You have stars in your eyes.’ We would meet occasionally and he would talk to me about being an artist. [she makes air quotation marks with her fingers when she says ‘artist’]

Why did you make those quotation marks when you said the word ‘artist’?

Oh because … well …  you know … because it’s part of the travel, it’s part of my journey to learn and it took me ’til my forties to figure out that really no matter what I did, I was an artist, that I wasn’t just a painter, which was what I thought for 35 years.

Then I became a chef and I realized that when I got the glazed carrots just the right color, that that was like getting the magenta next to the cyan, and having it go like that [snaps her fingers] … everything is just form and color and shape and space.

Looking though the foyer to the living room. The Matisse lithograph was a present to Deborah from her husband, Christopher.
An early painting by Deborah hangs above a chaise by Paul McCobb in the corner of the living room
The couches by Jonas were designed by Deborah and are available through Buck House.
A secretary by Paolo Buffa stands between a pair of living room windows covered in Scalamandre fabric.
Another view of the living room.
A painting by Deborah hangs above a console table by John Widdicomb in the front hall. The Aubusson rug is from Hakimian.

When you worked full-time as an artist did you feel guilty all the time you weren’t painting?

Yeah. That’s the problem with having a studio is that if you’re not in your studio, you’re a waste on the planet. What are you doing? You have a studio … the guilt of not going [to work in it] … that’s really like the pain of being an artist, the isolation.

Do you think it’s necessary?

No, I don’t. Christopher [her husband] and I met and I moved to Boston for two years and I painted, painted, painted … and then I had my son, Sam. Children, I think, connect you to the world in a way that you can’t know is going to happen. And all of a sudden I didn’t want to lock myself in my studio anymore and I had to be really burning up to make something, if it was worth not being with him … or working collaboratively in the world of art and design. Christopher said to me, and it was like the most brilliant thing he ever said, was ‘Just give yourself three months, put your studio in storage … I have a feeling things are going to happen in your head that you don’t know. You’ve just been like a dog with a bone.’

In the dining room a group of contemporary Danish ceramics sit below a oil painting by James Nagler. The pair of 1940s cut crystal-and-gilt bronze sconces is from Remains Lighting.
A chandelier by Tommi Parzinger hangs above table and chairs by Gio Ponti.
The kitchen. Plenty of space to ‘eat in.’
The pantry.
A collection of framed tiles by Coral Bourgeois hangs behind a contemporary stainless steel bowl by Michael Graves holding fruit and vegetables.

What did you do in that time?

In that time I went to cooking school and one thing led to the next.

I suppose lots of people think that artists inevitably suffer pain and depression as part of what they do, but I would say that real artists produce their work in spite of whatever suffering they endure, not because of it.

Well I never believed in the starving and pain part … clearly! For me having Sam was such a joyful thing  … I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to be an artist and a mother. I was released … it wasn’t so interesting to be in the studio anymore picking around in the cobwebs of my mind.

Paul McCobb wall unit holds part of Deborah’s extensive collection of ceramics.
A view from Deborah’s office into the ‘Pool Room.’
A view across Deborah’s desktop. On the rear wall a painting by Eva Stubbel from Lombard-Freid Projects hangs above a pear wood console by the French designer, Leleu.
Deborah’s study.
A coffee table by Gio Ponti sits in front of the Snuggery banquette.
Another view of Deborah’s study.
A whimsical gilt-and-gesso French wall mirror hangs above a couch lined with Fortuny pillows in Deborah’s study.

Are you a very gregarious person anyway?

Yeah! I like people. I love parties. I always felt that I seemed too straight to be an artist. I’ve always been yin and yang, uptown and downtown.

If you had to choose, using the uptown and downtown metaphor, which would it be?

You know, I don’t believe in having to choose … I think one of the best mantras one can have is ‘Who cares?’ That’s the great thing about having the store. It’s my vision and it’s a very eccentric vision I think, but you can come into my store and if you don’t like it, don’t buy anything!

Views of Deborah’s painting studio and husband Christopher’s workshop.

What is your vision for your store?

Well, it’s eclecticism in the extreme. And as a painter and a colorist, I always love to get the most out of any given color. And color is only the color that it is because of the color next to it. And also, [I’m interested in] what it is about disparate things that when you put them together, can make them more interesting.

Where do you buy your stock? I’m buying all the time. I’m one of those people, you know I can go to the dentist and come home with a lamp. The stuff just finds me.

The master bedroom. A Gustavian chest of drawers was purchased at an auction in Sweden.
Deborah cuddles with her son.
A print by Leonora Carrington, the former wife of painter Max Ernst, hangs above the bed in the master bedroom. The curtain fabric is from Pierre Frey.
Christopher’s dressing room.
Peeking into Christopher’s study.
A bookcase from Paris holds family photos and mementos. Deborah covered the Danish chairs in snakeskin.
A bronze eagle head from Paris looks toward Jeffrey Milstein’s photograph from a series on aircrafts. The black lacquer console is by Harvey Prober.
Christopher’s study. The chandelier is American, 1960s.

Who are you reading about at the moment?

I just finished Bergdorf Blondes [by Plum Sykes], which was really fun! [laughs]

I just thought she nailed the ridiculousness of the ‘it’ thing and I thought she had a great sense of humor about chasing after the ‘it’ thing and really how stupid it is. When I read literature, Robert Stone is probably my favorite author.

With your gallery and parties, you seem to have re-starting the salon idea …

That is what the gallery is about. I grew up in Baltimore and there’s the Cone Wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Cone sisters were sort of like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. And [in the museum] there was this small room where they had recreated their apartment and to me, as a kid, it always looked so cozy. It was like oriental carpets on the sofas and fringe and patterned velvet, stuff all over the place. And I remember thinking now that would be a good place to be in a party, that would be some interesting conversation … I think if you get a bunch of creative people in one place that there’s an energy that you can make.

Deborah’s son’s room which features four separate wall colors selected by Sam himself. The books are arranged in a Danish 1960s bookcase purchased on a trip to Copenhagen …

… The carpet is an antique Shiraz. An orange egg chair, upholstered in Scalamandre fabric, sits in front of Deborah’s painting ‘Lemon Drops’. The chandelier is French, purchased at the fleamarket in Paris.

Bamboo wallpaper from Clarence House lines the walls of the vestibule. The color photograph is by Michael Stuetz from the Christopher Henry gallery.
A bronze miniature of a ballerina poises atop a stack of favorite books in the vestibule.
In the media room a painting by Roger Brown from the Adam Baumgold Gallery hangs above the sofa.
Family photos.

Do you still cook?

Yes, a lot.

What’s your idea of a nice meal at the end of the day?

I love to make osso bucco. I love to make braised meals, coq au vin … like peasant food. I love peasant food. I hate baking … it’s much too exact.

Air-drying a light load of laundry.

A western view across Central Park with the Church of the Heavenly Rest (above) in the foreground and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to the lower right (below).

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