Sean McNanney

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Sean McNanney, designer and interior decorator, owns the tiny store SAVED on Irving Place from which he sells his wonderful and unusual cashmere blankets, all enlivened by his own edgy designs. A family connection takes him to Mongolia every year where he oversees the production of his work at first hand, observing the cashmere harvest and working with his step-cousins on navigating Mongolian society. “Basically everyone is related … my cousin is like, “If we need a color we’ll call other people and trade colors. We’ll give them some of our yellow if we can have some of your blue.”

So you’ve been here in Williamsburg since 2004 and I was wondering if you still get the same pleasure from living in this area as you perhaps did back then?

Sometimes … like today, walking to Whole Foods—it was nice to go to Whole Foods and I’m glad it’s here and although today it was kind of quiet. I didn’t see [the usual] tourists or people who come here for six months from Europe, but I miss the old ladies. Once in a while I see them.

[Sian] Yeah—I saw a couple of old ladies on the way here and I thought, “That’s nice. They have old people here!”

Most of them [when I first came] were in their late 70s or early 80s and every morning they came out in their housedresses on their little block. This wider area is Polish, but this little pocket was more Ukranian.

Left: In the entry, a painted glass mosque lamp from Turkey, handmade animal masks and a collection of caps and hats.
Right: Sean designed the doors separating the bedroom area from the kitchen with colored glass. “I wanted something with an eastern feel.” The bronze candelabras are French. The antique painted plates are Persian.

[Lesley] I live just up the street—have you seen that lady on North 11th? She collects bottles every day and feeds a huge flock of pigeons each morning. But she actually owns the whole block, including The Bedford restaurant.

There’s one here! She also collects cans and bottles and you would think she’s having a really hard time but she owns that whole block over there! I think it’s having survived a war—nothing can go to waste. And my neighbor keeps pigeons on the roof here. They do it with their friends for gambling—they race them. I’m still surprised by how much this neighborhood has changed and it’s still not done. It looks like Las Vegas or Miami.

So talking of the past, everything you have in here is pretty much from the past—are you very nostalgic?

I like … things that are different and unique and well made. It’s a better value because antiques are not that in.

In the kitchen of Sean’s Williamsburg apartment the windows are decorated with garlands from India and glass evil eyes from Istanbul. Hanging on wall behind the slate glass chandelier is a Berlin Iron shield with the bear and crest of Berlin and a portrait of Amy Sedaris as Jerry Blank. The kitchen table is by Thonet.
Left: A punch bowl, which belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy, stands on the top of a hutch that is original to the building, circa 1900. It is filled with Italian blown glass fruit and flanked by  porcelain parrots from China.
Right: In the kitchen, a painting of a model by Jesse Siminski hangs near a carved phallic picture light. The large 19th century print is of The Child Jesus of Prague.
Standing on top of the fridge is a Victorian diorama filled with seashells, an oil lamp from Iznik and a 19th century silver Austro-Hungarian serving dish.
In an alcove in the kitchen sits the sink; the surrounding walls are covered with over 200 small paintings, objects, ceramics and photographs.
Sean’s 3D wallpapered walls in the kitchen are filled with mementos, including an invitation from artist Wolfgang Tillmans, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and a 1920s still-life painting of a lemon in a glass.

Well, you’re young and we’re not—we wonder what your friends make of this style. We keep saying we think antiques, color and maximalism are coming back but what do your friends like?

They’re like, “Oh, it’s European!” or, “This feels like somewhere else!” or “How do you clean it?” It interesting because with the article in The New York Times, which they posted on their Instagram, some people were like, “It’s horrible! Ugly! So much stuff!” But all my inspiration is here.

I think a polarized reaction is bound to happen if it’s on Instagram. You spent some time in Tokyo—what were you doing there?

I really like Japanese culture and then I was offered a job in modeling. It was in 1999 when you could make a lot of money doing that in Japan. But a year was plenty.

Apothecary jars are filled with spices above the stove on a retro shelf with a feeling of an old NY diner. Madonnas hang next to a small painting by a friend.
Hup Seng crackers from Chinatown.
Sean’s great grandmother’s “pink dishes” are arranged in an early American plate rack.
A vintage plastic owl piggy bank sits in the window. The cups are from eastern Turkey and used for drinking ayran, a yogurt type drink.

What do you like about Japanese culture?

I like how they’re so in the future but also in the past. They just take everything in the world and make it a little bit better.

Tell us about working for Ralph Lauren Home.

That was my first corporate job so it was an experience. Going into the elevator at 625 Madison every morning and everyone is perfect. I got a good education in where to get everything made and where to get the best. We built sets because it’s cheaper than going on location so we built Downton Abbey at the Starrett-Lehigh building. We would break down the set and send all the props to the stores around the country. I was sourcing it all. And there’s a huge, huge warehouse full of props. The warehouse sale is really good!

In the living room, the favorite pieces from Sean’s textile collection made into pillows on the sofa; the mirror is 18th century Italian. Displayed on the wall is a collection 16th – 17th century Ottoman plates alongside a Moorish painted plaster bust. The paint is inspired by Nancy Lancaster, “butter yellow” living room.
Looking into a corner of Sean’s yellow living room. A Thebes stool is topped with a collection of 18th century embroideries.
In another corner of the living room an Aesthetic Movement lamps stands next to a Biedermeier armchair upholstered in fabric that Sean printed by hand. A SAVED cashmere hand-embroidered pillow is a sample from the forthcoming collection, available Spring 2020.  The paper geraniums were made by The Green Vase.
The art and object-filled living room. The wall frieze is by Sean.

It’s sounds like a lot fun but I guess it stopped being fun after a while.

You do get to do all these crazy sets but then it has to be “Ralph Lauren.” And I’m not Ralph Lauren and I didn’t want to get trained to that. It’s very specific and everyone wants to work there for 30 years and to look the part and you really want the house in the Hamptons and a classic six on the Upper East Side.

I’m also really curious about the textiles and going so regularly to Mongolia. Can you tell us about how you got going with all of that?

I used to have shop downstairs called Sage—it’s now Hotel Delmano. The store was kind of like this apartment and we had a clothing line and lots of jewelry and all the big buyers came—it was still when Williamsburg was “undiscovered.” Julianne Moore was a big customer. Then my father married a woman from Mongolia whose family is in the cashmere business. Some members of her family raise cashmere goats as well as camels and yaks. Anyway, they were raising the rent of the shop so we closed and I thought I should just start a line of blankets. What I like about blankets is that you don’t have to follow the fashion calendar.

So did you go to Mongolia with your designs?

Yes. They had a whole workshop but they were making very simple things. We started to work with them. I had to like, convince them to do what I wanted to do. I really had to be there.

A bookcase that Sean had built for the living room displays a Roman stone bust and a piece of Arabic calligraphy.
Arranged on a living room table is a portrait of Sean in Mongolian costume, a ceramic ink well by Gio Ponti, a painted blown glass lamp and a marble candle by Bully.
A silver pitcher by Hermès and a ceramic vase by Christopher Dresser are arranged on a brass Meiji tray.

What is Mongolia like?

It took a while for me to really enjoy it because it’s just … there’s really nothing. The city is from the Soviet era but it is growing. There are areas where the streets have no names because they’re building and building. There’s a lot of money there, too. They have a lot of gold and minerals that are used in medicine or in computers. 

Have you stayed in the yurts and things like that?

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. At first I found it difficult to relax because of coming from New York and then all, of a sudden, there’s nothing, just two thousand goats and a little house. It reminds me of a car commercial—nothing and mountains. The people are very nice and they eat a lot of meat but it’s very delicious because it’s all grass-fed.

How do get along with your stepmother’s family?

Basically everyone is related … my cousin is like, “If we need a color we’ll call other people and trade colors. We’ll give them some of our yellow if we can have some of your blue.” It is like $25 000 to dye one vat of product.

Suspended from the bedroom ceiling is a colorful 1920s Egyptian chandelier. In the far corner Native American baskets are arranged on top of a faux bamboo wardrobe.
A pair of 18th century painted sconces, a Syrian corner sconce and an Ottoman carving from Istanbul hang above a comfy bed outfitted with a pillow of a Sultan.
Peeking from the bedroom towards the kitchen. On the bedroom floor is a Tibetan tiger strip rug. The bed is made up of a Yorgon quilt from Istanbul and a SAVED Mongolian cashmere blanket on the bed.
In partner, Sinan’s study, a paper model of a flower made by Wintergarden, an Iznik pottery vase and 18th / 19th century paintings.
A close up of favorite objects behind the daybed including a 19th century Grand Tour bronze, a paper serpent form box, French Taza and an 18th century gold thread Judaica embroidery found in Paris.
More objects include a pair of ceramic obelisks by Sean, a 19th century Meissen figurine and a French art deco ceramic sculpture of a guinea pig.
A Donald Deskey day bed is filled with pillows made from found fabric and an antique Egyptian-themed velvet coverlet. The mirror is French, partially covered with an 18th century embroidered vestment. The turn of the century French chandelier has silk shades embroidered by Sean; the drawings on the wall are for a mural still in progress.

Can you tell us some more about the process?

I’ll go at cashmere harvest time, which is end of May, beginning of June. That’s when they comb all the cashmere goats. It’s like a dog comb they use. You have to hold the goat down and comb it. 

What do they call it—the hair?

It’s called “down.” The best cashmere is ten times warmer than wool. The best part is the down from under the jaw and Mongolian cashmere is the best quality.

Is social media completely key now to sales and keeping a business going?

Instagram really is—and it’s great for meeting people. I was in a little shop in Paris and they said, “Oh, we follow you on Instagram!”

SAVED on Irving Place.
A peek inside SAVED NY, Sean’s shop located at 72 Irving Place, chock full of his fabulous blankets, pillows, scarves, socks and gloves.

This is a strange era for retail—how do feel about the threat to bricks and mortar from online shopping?

I always like having a store. [The store is called SAVED and is located at 72 Irving Place in Gramercy] I still think people want a store. I like buying all the extra things to display the blankets and the environment and the story. My store is very tiny, like a little jewel box. It’s kind of like a destination store but surprisingly people just walk by. It’s a little posh pocket—and there’s also the best pre-school nearby so all the moms walk by. 

Who doesn’t want a cashmere blanket from Mongolia for Christmas?

Yes, exactly!

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