We immediately christened designer Garrow Kedigian’s Upper East Side apartment ‘Garrow’s Garret’, and, apparently like everyone else who visits, said how Parisian it looks. Garrow himself says he was going for ‘the abandoned mansion’ look and says that the French influence on his work is an unconscious channeling of his summer visits to Paris where his grandmother lives. He himself grew up in Montreal where he studied architecture at McGill University but he’s far from the dour monkish-intellectual type that seems to so often characterize architects – he’s charming, intelligent and appealing – he reminded of us of some delicate creature, perhaps a very beautiful little marmoset – and a very hard-working one, at that.
I guess what I find fascinating about this apartment is that it’s not the new hip at all. I personally find this very appealing but … why have we come to this airline lounge minimalism?
It’s funny because, first of all, I’m from Canada, from Montreal. My mother is Parisian and when I was growing up we spent the month of August in Paris—my grandmother has a fabulous apartment there—and a lot of the work I have come to do has been very influenced by childhood exposure to French design, in a very subtle way … like I don’t even try to do it but everyone who that comes to my apartment has always said: ‘Oh it’s so French in here.’
How do Canadians view Americans, would you say?
You know, it’s kind of like … we consider ourselves to be more of a streamlined, sophisticated version of [the US.] We’re a lot more educated, in general. The population in general has more common knowledge, more geographical information.
When you said earlier that New York intimidated you, what was it that intimidated you?
Well, Canada has 25 million people! The irony is that I worked in Boston for six years, but Boston has such a great reputation for being such an international city, so sophisticated, so social – it’s really a small town. It’s extraordinarily segregated. But in the last two years when I worked for William Hodgins all my jobs were in New York, so I would come down for a week at a time and sort of acclimated to it. Then I would go back to Boston and I would be like ‘Oh my God, I need to get to New York!’
Did you ever consider working in Paris?
I did, but you know, the Parisians are very insular … and very, you know, so it’s very hard to make contacts there. It’s very hard for a Canadian – even my grandmother doesn’t consider us to be true French. In America you get tons of referrals, everybody’s happy. Your name propagates. I’ve never had to advertise once.
There’s always someone looking down on someone. But to get back to your apartment, the way it is done is so suggestive of some kind of narrative, and we seem to be ironing that out in these very sleek rooms with no possessions …
Or when you go into a room and everything is brand new. And even an upholstered chair that’s an antique has been re-covered to the point where it’s so new that you don’t even recognize it. It’s a very competitive New York thing.
[Sian] I’m Jewish and to me it’s more of a Jewish thing …
I think my Jewish clients are the ones who spend the most money on decorating …
[Sian] They want new. They would die if you gave them that chair [points to an antique armchair with worn upholstery]
Oh, I know they would die … they would die.
[Sian] I mean if a WASP had that chair, they would say ‘Oh, it’ll be fine for a few more years.’ That’s the difference.
Exactly. That’s also a really important element in my decorating. That fabric on that chair, it’s the original 18th century velvet. Original! Any other person would have ripped this [fabric] off, and for me, I’m like, no that’s where the beauty is.
How did you grow up, in the city or the countryside?
I grew up in Montreal, right in the city.
What did your parents do?
My father is a doctor, a pediatrician actually. And my mother is an anthropologist. Both my parents are of Armenian descent. My mother’s family moved to France early-early, before the Armenian genocide and all that stuff, and they’re actually Petrossian, you know the caviar. So they were established gentry. My father’s family on the other side is a contrast. His parents were children of the Armenian genocide – his father was picked up by the Greek army aged four, and they asked him where was he from. And he said ‘I’m from the river’ – ‘Ked’, the first part of our name means ‘river’. My grandparents met each other in an orphanage in Greece. And they eloped, aged 13 and 14 to Egypt, where they worked very hard and raised my father and sent him to medical school. And my mother was raised in Paris, very luxuriously and she wanted to explore the world and went to Egypt. She stayed with friends of her parents whose son was in medical school and his best friend was my father.
Do you look back on all that, the Armenian genocide, and wonder how it might have affected you through the generations?
My grandmother was very stern, if you ever complained about something stupid, she was like, ‘Look …’
Having brought that piano up five floors, when do you play it?
Sundays, I play it on Sundays. I’ve been learning Claire de Lune forever. I played piano for 12 years and when I moved, my parents said take the piano. I was four years old and they said, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ and I said [puts on a spoiled-child voice] ‘I wanna a piano,’ … you know, little decorating queen that I was …