We confess that we got a bit giggly in this apartment … a sense of the absurd quickly took over as we sidled in and then realized that the tiny, crammed spaces just couldn’t accommodate us with our handbags: we had to leave them outside the front door. Actually, it couldn’t really accommodate us without our handbags and, as we bumped and shuffled around we kept knocking things over and surreptitiously replacing them, hence the schoolgirl giggling which only intensified when we realized there was, literally, no place to sit and that, book collector and “biblio-decorator” Thomas Cary did not intend to sit anyway, since he never does – or so he said, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Did our clumsy presence have him flustered? We think so. We did persuade him to perch on the edge of the (tiny) bed for a bit, but it didn’t last and most of the interview was conducted with him standing up, surrounded by the extraordinary array of precisely and intricately arranged objets that Thomas refers to as “product.” Although he lives with it, it’s all for sale to the right buyer (click to view a small selection of product or contact firstname.lastname@example.org). His main business is dealing in rare and vintage books but he also deals in a certain kind of preppy, glamorous memorabilia as atmosphere-creating props to various retail spaces—so now you know where all those old polo mallets and cocktail glasses in Ralph Lauren come from.
Why are you so stressed?
Well I run my business without any assistants, because I’m somewhat of a control freak …
Oh! Gosh what a surprise …
Right! Well, I’m not sure I want to delegate. A lot of this requires precision. I’ve been doing this for a long time. My background is in specialty retail menswear, both as a buyer and in selling. I’ve branched out and this now is my full time business.
Objets and rare books. I have 15,000 rare books … I have four warehouses across the 59th Street Bridge. I have quite a global following for my books and I sell to museums. I sold a Diana Vreeland book that was never intended for distribution from an exhibition in Kyoto and I sold it to the Beinecke Library at Yale University where they were developing a fashion archive.
How do you know where anything is in here?
Oh I do. I have a visual memory basically. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
So tell us how you live in this space.
Very carefully. I don’t cook – I just have nibbles and cocktails and then I’ll go to Swifty’s where I have a table. I don’t do much for breakfast – I’m more of a nocturnal person.
How do you get dressed?
I don’t know … I mean …
Where do you keep your socks and your underwear?
Oh … well anyway – we don’t need to hear about that.
Oh, but we do!
Who needs to know?
Where do you sit, on the rare occasion that you do sit that is?
Well, I’ll sit in this director’s chair and then I’ll conduct my business on my iPad.
Do you read in bed?
When I have a chance to read. I don’t read too much.
Oh no! Well … anyway …
What do you watch on TV?
I love some of those collectors shows. There’s one called Pawn Stars … I think that’s great fun because they restore product and I have that in common with them. I can find a diamond in the rough and dress it up and put it in a smart location.
Do you ever get the idea that the world is full of objects and they’re all in some grand rotation plan?
Well mine are.
What lies behind the collecting impulse?
Fortunately I have a good marketing eye. If [all this] were just for myself, it would be a bit brash and hoardish. I’ve made this kind of product, dare I say it, sexy. I’m sort of a biblio-decorator so to speak.
I always find that concept of decorating with books a bit annoying. Books are there to be read.
Well they are but sadly books are also objets … so it’s good for me.
And do you think that’s all they’ll ever be from here onwards?
No because these books will never be ‘Kindle-ized’. It’s about the visual not just the content text.
What do you think of the Kindle?
I’m not concerning myself with that because I’ll be long gone by the time they Kindle-ize these type of books.
“Kindle-ize” – I didn’t realize it was a verb.
I guess I’ve created it [Laughs]. But seriously many of my clients have fabulous residences and multiple properties and they’ve got huge interiors that need filling with product, so they’re not going to have just a Kindle on a shelf.
This is a lot of work that you do.
And it’s a lot of dollars too. I’ve forsaken a lot. I could have a few multiple properties myself for what I’ve invested in books.
Why do you like being surrounded by so many objects?
I don’t know … why not? I love objects. And if you don’t have children … after you leave I’ve got a client taking a ton of product out of here.
You seem to have a special fondness for James Bond.
As most men do …
Okay, I want to know how you grew up?
I grew up in East Aurora, New York. We had a 100-acre horse farm and my father was a seven-goal polo player. He was class of ’39 at Harvard. I have three older brothers, so it was a great place to raise sons.
Are you a rider?
I’m not a rider but I collect a lot of equestriana. I think once I was on a horse on our farm and it started charging into the apple groves … that was it. I love horse racing. I went to the last race Secretariat ever ran at Woodbine Racecourse and I remember as a precocious 15-year-old going up to [the owner] Mrs. Penny Chenery and saying, “Why aren’t your children here to see your great horse in it’s last race?” and she said, “They’re in school. Shouldn’t you be?”
Who did the dusting at home?
Well, back then you could get great help.
Who does the dusting in here?
Well, I do actually … it’s only this room that gets a little bit dusty.