Rio Hamilton

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Rio Hamilton is a man of our times. He braids a number of skills into a self-employment and those skills are really of our time too. He has developed a social media presence through his blog “Mon Oncle” where he chronicles parties, launches and events within the design world and he has also leveraged his previous sales and marketing experience into working part-time on brand promotion for the Luxury Living Group whose clients include Fendi Casa and Trussardi. Trained as a furniture designer, he works on his own interior design projects when the opportunities come his way. All of this means heroically attending a lot of parties but he takes the night off on New Year’s Eve. “It seems like it’s one of those party nights for amateurs.”

Um … there is a question I wanted to ask you because there’s this thing and this thing and this thing on the web … what do you actually do?

I love that! You know I have changed my career. I actually studied to be a furniture designer and I did that for many years in Los Angeles. After moving to New York, I started to work for a company called Niedemaier. I was director of marketing and sales for fourteen years.

You really keep up with your blog—I once tried to keep one up and it felt like housework only with words, a chore, really.

You’re absolutely right. There is a pattern and a habit and something you really have to stick to [in order] to keep it going. I have been pretty diligent.

A custom daybed is covered with a fox fur throw. The sundial was a gift from a close friend and the diamond-shaped mirrors are from the 26th Street flea market.

Looking towards the front of Rio’s West Broadway loft. French gilt lamps flank a sundial, a gift from a close friend.
A wooden sphere by Travis James for May Company is placed next to stacks of books on art and fashion. Rio camouflaged a window air conditioner with wallpaper by Tracy Kendall.
A painting of a detail of a window in Portugal by D. Christo hangs near the front windows of the loft.

And you seem pretty adept with social media in general.

I had decided that I wanted to cover events of the interior and fashion industries, so [using social media] was a wonderful kind of welcome into that community with camera in hand, taking pictures of people, the social scene thing.

It sounds a bit like what we do.

It is. I think of Editor at Large as like, People magazine; you guys are like Vanity Fair and I think of myself as more like In Style.

A 19th century Jugendstil sideboard discovered in an antiques store in Vienna dominates the south wall of the main living space.

In the main seating area, Mies van der Rohe chairs face a round coffee table and curved sofa designed by Gary Lee.
A tin ceiling and oversized skylight are original touches, now rarities, in the transformed Soho neighborhood.
An iron-and-fiberglass lamp from a nearby Soho design store illuminates the main seating area. The fur pillows and throw arranged atop the sofa are by Fendi.

I’m sorry, I’m a little confused. I showed up at Holiday House and you had a room there … I thought, oh, he’s an interior designer.

And I have done that. I have a new interior design client now and that came from Holiday House. Iris Dankner had worked out such a nice opportunity for me—she knew I wanted to launch my PR and marketing company, and she was like, why don’t you take this route? It was pretty much friends who said. “Go big. Make this a statement.”

This is pretty interesting because it seems like being able to support yourself and move on in this current world, means doing many things at once. It’s like you have to spin yourself into a multi-tasking, multi-media person … or product.

It goes back to what I’ve always said. You have to find your passion and really love what you do.

A lithograph of Greta Garbo by a former Andy Warhol apprentice, Rupert J. Smith, hangs above a brushed stainless steel fireplace designed and installed by Rio.
Rio created a tablescape with an hourglass, crystal balls, a candle snuffer and casually arranged books and magazines.
A carved box from India and an illuminated globe stand atop a console table with laser-cut fret designed by Judy Niedermaier.
An oversized print by Léger displayed in a plexiglass frame hangs above the dining area.
Leather-and-chrome dining chairs by Mies van der Rohe surround a macassar ebony dining table from Interior Crafts.

Rio brings touches of glamour into the original industrial elements of his Soho loft.

You mean you love PR and marketing? What do you love about it?

I love working with people and taking their ideas and helping them spread the word.

So … a preacher of some kind?

Sure, I can go with that.

A lot of people we talk to want to avoid the self-promotion aspect but they do it even though they don’t like it. Do you feel like you’re born to that in some way or do you think, I’ve got to do it so I might as well do it well.

I think I’ve got to do it and I’ll do it well. I seem to be more adept to helping other people. The self-promotion aspect, I find a little difficult.

A lithograph purchased on a trip to Spain hangs above a vintage chrome-and-glass half round table.
To introduce a sense of separateness and create additional display space Rio stacked display cubes and shelves on either side or the opening to the kitchen area.
Peeking into Rio’s bedroom.
A drawing by Rio, inspired by Cy Twombly, hangs above a vintage faux-wood, painted metal desk. A cozy fur throw is draped over a side bench.
A birdcage suspended over Rio’s bed—the birds aren’t real!
Floor to ceiling drapes camouflage Rio’s wardrobe.
Wire wall sculptures are also candle sconces.
A drawing of Rio’s glamorous mother hangs on the side of the mirrored bedroom closet. She lives in New Mexico where the image was sketched.

How about not necessarily having a steady income? What is your attitude towards money?

You know, it’s interesting because now I’m realizing, especially now that I’m out on my own like this, time is money. Whatever is taking up my time, I’ve got to make sure that I get paid for it. One of the things that my parents taught me was that you need different sources of income. Don’t depend on just one thing and I never have.

Are you driven by money?

Money is extremely important to me these days but am I driven by it? I’ve had some opportunities to take full-time positions with really nice pay and have decided that if I’m not going to make this leap, so let’s just try it.

The walls of the main bath are plastered with images of Rio’s favorite fashion designers, actors, models and people who have been inspirations to him over the years, including Tom Ford, Liz Smith, Sophia Loren and many others.

So you’re this extraordinary mix to ethnicities, Irish, Sioux and Nutabe … what is that?

Nutabe is Argentina. My mother was born in Argentina. And the Sioux and the Irish are a combination of my mother and my father. My father has Irish blood and African-American. The Sioux is from my mom.

I love that you add: “and that equals American.” I also saw that your first job was mixing paint in a hardware store in New Mexico. That seems to me a perfect start to a career in design.

It is hard to mix paint. And when I was doing that it was just basics. There was no Benjamin Moore and Farrow & Ball.

I don’t know anything about New Mexico except what I’ve seen on “Breaking Bad”. I didn’t realize how beautiful it is.

It’s really, really a pretty state. So many people have said that about “Breaking Bad”. I can remember from before “Breaking Bad” telling people that I was from New Mexico and having to explain that it was a state.

Peeking into the kitchen.
Rio made clever use of more display cubes to create additional storage space in the kitchen.
An enlarged image of a Da Vinci drawing of an Italian warrior dominates a kitchen wall.
Wallpaper images of stacked plates by Tracy Kendall camouflage the kitchen cabinets.
Rio served us delicious pizza.

Did you go out into the desert and do things? What was it like growing up there?

Oh you know … you do the normal things. Snakes don’t bother me because I’m used to seeing so many. Toads and lizards are readily available.

You say as part of your profile that you don’t like going out on New Year’s Eve and I so agree with that. What do you do instead?

Let’s see. This past New Year’s I have neighbors who live on Wooster Street. They had a dinner party, which started at 9:30. I got there at 11, stayed until 12:15 and walked back. [laughs]

That’s the most efficient New Year’s Eve I’ve ever heard of. What is it about New Year’s Eve you want to avoid?

It seems like it’s like one of those party nights for amateurs.

A second front bedroom was styled by Rio’s partner. The photo behind the bed is of singer Adam Levine.
A closer look at Ben Riggot’s photo of Adam Levine.
Fashion sketches from a client are being mulled over for a future meeting.
Evening fashion choices.

Sewing machine patterns and a fashion sketch are arranged next to other favorite objects.
Tools of the trade.

You always ask your interview subjects what they’re reading. What are you reading?

I’ve just started again, “Winchell” about Walter Winchell. I read it about six or seven years ago so it’s a re-read … powerful man, gifted with words. I thought I’d take a few notes.

Why did you call your blog “Mon Oncle”?

That’s one of my favorite movies. I was trying to decipher a name for the blog and it was “Rio Hamilton Design” and all of these words that meant design or style and each time you Googled it, somebody else had it. There was a point in time where I was just simply thinking of using my own name and wouldn’t you know it, there’s this fourteen-year-old girl in Chicago whose name is Rio Hamilton! I can’t wait for her to get married! She wants to be friends and everything … we are not friends!!

Rio is a very cool name. 

Thank you. I have been very lucky. It’s my grandfather’s name.

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