Interior designer Eric Cohler, was a bit frazzled when he opened the door of his apartment. Two beautiful Standard Poodle puppies had arrived the previous day and he had spent much of the night getting them used to their new home. Mind you, he bounced back so quickly that I realized this is a man who relishes change. A self described Bedouin, Cohler reinvents himself and his surroundings by moving every couple of years. His latest project (as of this interview) is a Beekman area, 1980’s rental that is chock-full of art and sculpture, a rare constant in his life. No doubt, he’ll move on. And if his next work-in-progress doesn’t keep him busy enough he’s always got his unending pile of client’s projects, his frequent travels and his two energetic puppies to fill up the day, and night.
You’re one of the few decorators …
Designers … who …
There’s a big difference.
… who have grown up in Manhattan. There definitely is a difference to those bred here—you know it very quickly. Do you feel you have leg-up in a way, by growing up here?
Not necessarily. I think that the people with the freshest take on New York are the people who have arrived here later on. They come from somewhere else and re-invent themselves as a New Yorker.
That is something about America—you can re-invent yourself.
That’s because of the commonality of our country.
You have a Masters in historic preservation from Columbia …
And an undergraduate degree in art history and English. I have two undergraduate degrees. And I think what really formed my view of the world, as it were, was the way I grew up. I was very blessed to grow up in the kind of household that embraced new ideas and contemporary art and fantastic antique furniture because my family has had a history of collecting. Now some people could have just turned off to that … for me I actually embraced that … my paternal grandmother probably had the best taste of anyone I have ever met.
That’s interesting. I had read that you feel most comfortable staying in hotels—is that right?
That’s right. That’s where I am now. It’s easy. I don’t worry about anything. I travel so much … too much.
So, what is it about hotel rooms that you like?
What I like a about hotel rooms is that you check in, go to sleep and you don’t have to obsess about everything being perfect the way I do at home.
But it’s so anonymous. And it’s the polar opposite of how you decorate, with your very … your homes are filled.
Right. Hotels are a respite from that.
And you also move house a lot. When you do settle down, will you feel as though you belong?
If it’s my laboratory, it’s my experiment. I get to try it on myself before I try it on my clients. They benefit from me moving around. I’ve had 20 apartments since college … I’m beginning to get a little tired of doing it—just beginning.
And yet your apartments create a sense of coziness.
I want to feel enveloped and cosseted. To me that’s the ultimate luxury: to feel not only secure in my own space but enveloped, with wonderful things around me.
So do you have a place in mind, a place where you want to be?
I do. It’s a 1937 Bauhaus [building]. It’s been derelict for 20 years. I’ve been restoring it very slowly. It should be done in about six months. That’ll be my home.
Both your parents were psychiatrists?
That must have been an interesting childhood.
Well my mother was originally an interior decorator. I think that was where my sister and I actually got this from.
Did they practice on you as patients?
I certainly hope not – but I’m sure they did.
Did you ever consider becoming a psychoanalyst yourself?
For two seconds. I’m very patient with people. And I get to do a little of that every day [with clients].
Interior design is a very demanding profession.
People do not realize how demanding it is. They think you just go out to lunch and then you go look at some pretty fabrics. Not at all. If we eat lunch it’s in a cab or in an elevator. And the rest of the time we’re in the workroom or with a client or on the road. And we work until ten o’clock at night.
How many projects do you usually have going at once?
We do, I guess, somewhere between 20 to 25 projects a year.
Do you have time to do something that’s not work-oriented?
Not really. My life is work and work is my life. I’m happiest when I’m working. On my own time I read—that’s late at night. I read voraciously.
What are you reading now?
What am I not reading is more to the point. I like to read fiction, classical fiction. I’m reading a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton and Henry James—the expatriate writers—because I’m giving a lecture in Charleston about the Grand Tour so I wanted to get Americans take on it as well as the English take on it. I have over 10,000 books in my library.
Wow. Where is your library?
In Queens—in a warehouse. I tend not to throw any book away. My brother just gave me a Kindle as a present and I’ve downloaded about 10 books on that. It’s great when you travel except you get on a plane and they say turn off all electronic devices as well as Kindles—so you can’t read. If you had a book, you could read! So I’m very ambivalent about it. I like to hold a book in my hand.
Did I read somewhere that you love watching old episodes of I Love Lucy.
What’s your favorite I Love Lucy episode?
Probably when she’s redecorating her house in Westport, Connecticut … she doesn’t understand the price codes. Ricky gives her a thousand dollars and she ends up spending $10,000.