Marcy Masterson

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Poor Marcy Masterson had a bad throat when we interviewed her and a lesser soul would have canceled on us—she bravely croaked her way through. She lives in an apartment full of lovely antiques—we are still championing brown furniture at the HOUSE column. We’re also championing dogs—in fact we could probably do a companion column called DOG HOUSE or something because we feature designers’ dogs sometimes more prominently than we feature the designers themselves … inevitably we started talking about Schnitzel, learning in the process which high-end Italian store offers the best dog treats.

This address [just off Madison] must be a dangerous place to live with regards to all the temptations on offer in every store window.

Well … Valentino used to be a temptation but not so much any more. Etro has good treats … it has the best dog treats. Once you give a dog a treat, they never forget.

Have you always had a dog?

We always had dogs growing up—German Shepherds—but I [when] I worked for Jed Johnson, he had a Wire-haired Dachsund so I that’s what I fell in love with—and small dogs, small walks.

Do you take him with you when you travel?

He’s never been to Europe … he’s been invited. The dog was raised on Madison Avenue and he really likes the streets—except when we visit my siblings. He loves to go hunting.

An oil painting by artist, Claudia Aronow hangs in a corner of the chocolate brown foyer. Nearby, a glazed ceramic lamp by Eve Kaplan from Gerald Bland stands atop a 19th-century Italian chest of drawers. The parcel-paint and gilt mirror is by artist Karen Sinapi.
A view into the dining room from the foyer. The photograph, ‘Mud Lovers’ is by Keith Carter.
Two ‘Piranesi Collages’ by James Lamantia from Gerald Bland hang above a 19th-century Russian mahogany and brass desk from St. Petersburg. The Regency style bronze lamp is from Christopher Hodsell in London.
Flanking the opening to the foyer is a pair of 19th-century ceramic urns from Niall Smith. They are standing atop a pair of 19th century Italian Levanto Rosso marble pedestals purchased from Axel Vervoodt.

Where did you grow up?

Buffalo, New York.

So whenever I Google someone before an interview, I always find these doppelgangers—did you know that you have one who is a comic book heroine – Marci Masterson Steele? She’s married to Thunderstrike.

I know about this comic character! I think it’s very funny. [Laughs]

Barbara Moore [the Brooklyn-based designer] had a playboy centerfold as a doppelganger.

I love the playboy centerfold! That’s my favorite. [Still laughing]

A pair of ebonized brass-inlaid armchairs after a Thomas Hope design from Carlton Hobbs stand near the entrance to Marcy’s dining room.
Clockwise from above: The light fixture is made from tortoiseshell-tinted alabaster dish and hangs over an early 19th-century English dining table and chairs from Carlton Hobbs; Dining chair details (2).
On the far wall of the dining room a 19th-century turned religious object from Axel Vervoodt stands atop a lacquer console from Ciancimino.
A view into the living room from the dining area. The turn-of-the-century tortoiseshell-tinted alabaster dish is from Ciancimino.
A 19th century Italian slant-front desk fills a corner of the living room.

So I wanted to ask you about your apartment because what I find about your apartment that is absolutely stunning, not the architecture to be quite frank, is that when you walk in here you don’t notice that—because the furniture is so beautiful. But there’s a lot of brown furniture in here—and as you know people don’t want this anymore.

I’m not buying any brown wood furniture now. I shouldn’t say I’m not buying any—well I’m not buying for myself, I don’t need any more—but no, I’m not buying for clients.

It’s a shame.

For me it’s not a shame. It’s a fabulous time to buy if you’re a collector but everybody wants what everyone else has and, Mid-century Modern …[she shrugs] I don’t love all of it. I love new avant-garde limited edition furniture.

What were your days working with Jed Johnson like?

They were different times. I was going to Europe every forty-five days it seemed and I would buy all these amazing things. As soon as we found something it was sold. It was a question of do I give it to you or do I give it to you? The budgets were vast and the projects were vast. It definitely was not the real world—and I knew that.

Did you ever find it excessive?

Hell no!

L. to r.: Peeking into Marcy’s bedroom from the living room. The 19th-century German urn is from Niall Smith. An 18th century Neopolitan parcel-paint and gilt chair, covered in a Claremont fabric, fills a corner of the master bedroom. ; Marcy’s dressing table.

The bedroom is painted in a restful cornflower blue. A custom bed and corner chair are covered in a fabric from Quadrille.

A pair of custom designed marbleized ceramic lamps made in Apt, France stand atop 19th-century Gustavian bedside tables.
Family photos and some favorite objects are arranged atop a 19th century English table in front of the bedroom window.
More family photos fill the Gustavian bedside table.
A view across the bedroom. The Swedish armoire is from Laserow antiques.

What then would you say have been the major changes that you’ve seen in interior design—not just fashions, but interior designs as a business?

Well I think the Internet has changed the business tremendously. And then for design it went from really opulent, over-the-top “Bonfire of the Vanities”, high, high English to minimalism. In my opinion, great minimalism is far more expensive than any George III project. It’s all about finishes, fine, fine finishes. It’s incredibly subtle.

But now we’ve got a kind of debased version of it, which is just cold and boring.

At least we’re going back to some color. My website doesn’t show much color because a lot of my clients don’t like color.

An acrylic on paper by artist John Rosis bought from Gerald Bland hangs above a painted Swedish chair in Marcy’s bedroom.

The neutral tones and clean lines of Gustavian furniture give the bedroom a soothing feeling.

The bedroom bulletin board is filled with family photos, invitations, and a 2011 calendar.

A lot of the artwork supplies the color these days but they don’t seem to want colored textiles.

No, no they don’t. Like that ikat from Uzbekistan … I’ve got the Russian thing going over here [indicates to her Russian 19th furniture]. I just loved it. It was just such a riot of color.

Why are people so scared of color?

I don’t know—but look at us, we’re all in black. I don’t think people realize the power of color, the psychological effects, what it can do to one’s psyche.

Are you a shopper?

I’m a shopaholic but I don’t shop for clothing.

Marcy’s living room is a mix of English and Russian antiques that she has acquired over the years.

In the living room, a 19th century Italian walnut settee is covered in a fabric from Rogers and Goffigan. The window is framed with curtains out of a yellow/red silk stripe fabric from Travers.
An oil painting by Gabriel Godard from Gerald Bland hangs above a sofa covered in Quadrille fabric.
A richly colored, oversized Heriz carpet spans the living room floor.
A unique Chinese root hardwood coffee is topped with some favorite objects including a pair of bronze neoclassical candlesticks from Niall Smith, an English Regency tooled leather box and a 19th century bronze lobster.

Why not?

Because I can’t really pull it all together. I don’t have the …um … I don’t have the patience. I’ve been told by many of my clients that I don’t look the part.

Oh, really? How do you respond to that?

I know!

So what I want to know is when you eat dinner in your apartment, do you use fancy china?

I use china—every night. Different china every night.

Looking across the living room towards the foyer. On the right, a 19th century French mahogany and brass, half-round table is topped with a flower-filled black urn.

L. to r.: A trio of English 19th-century black lacquer chinoiserie tables is positioned next to a comfortable linen upholstered chair in the living room seating area. ; A 19th-century Russian mahogany and brass secretary from St. Petersburg dominates the east wall of Marcy’s living room.
The Neoclassical chairs flanking the secretary are also 19th century Russian.
Mother-of-pearl objects and a collection of shells are arranged atop 19th century Chinese bamboo and lacquer table from William Lipton.
Silver framed family photos and carefully chosen objects fill a fabric covered sofa table.

One of a pair of blue and white Chinese ginger jar lamps illuminates a 19th century Russian mahogany center table with a leather top.

Do you cook yourself?

Yes. I don’t feel I’m such a proficient cook—I have a limited repertoire. I’ve taken to pie making. I had my niece living with me this summer and she bought me these pie cut outs and you make things for the top, so you can design the tops—all I’m interested in is designing the tops!

What do you do with them once you’ve finished with them? Do you sit down and eat the whole thing?

No! I give them to someone who thinks my pies are amazing—a very smart man … a dealer friend. He’s very smart!

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