See Inside Athena Calderone’s Townhouse in Brooklyn, New York

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ATHENA CALDERONE’S GREEK REVIVAL TOWNHOUSE IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK ILLUSTRATES PERFECTLY HER GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF CONTRAST AND COHESION, PATINA AND POLISH, AND THE JOY OF ANTIQUES HUNTING …

Athena Calderone describes herself as that rare bird who moves every two to three years and enjoys every bit of the process. Over the past 20 years, she has owned and renovated eight homes, ping-ponging around Brooklyn, each time exploring a new style. “Every home has allowed me to strengthen my architecture and design muscles. I love to reinvent a space. I fixate on the problem-solving until I find resolution, and I crave the knowledge these renovations offer me.”

Her appreciation for design and aesthetics was nurtured by her mother, who would rearrange furniture at their home on Long Island on a weekly basis, and later cemented by an interior design degree at Parsons. Shortly thereafter she co-founded Rawlins Calderone Design. “While I learned valuable lessons working for clients, it was within my own homes that I learned to trust my instincts. In each home, I explored a new style. My homes became my design laboratory: Amagansett – rustic modernity, and Cobble Hill, in Brooklyn – sophisticated form.” It was during the renovation of her mid-century modern beach house in the east end of Long Island that her website EyeSwoon was born in 2011.

Calderone acquired her late-1800s Greek Revival townhouse four years ago. The 4,000-square-foot property had been stripped of much of its original detail when it was converted into four apartments. The appeal was its 25-foot-wide girth (larger than average brownstones) on a tree-lined, historic street, with a southern exposure and proximity to Manhattan. Having fantasised about designing a townhouse, Calderone imagined a mix of Italian and French antiques ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s. “I also desired the age and patina of the 18th-century sprinkled in here and there to drive home a sense of history. This became my template.”

She collaborated with Elizabeth Roberts Architecture, the first step being to create a comprehensive list floor-by-floor, room-by-room of her family’s collective and individual needs. This helped determine the ideal location and purpose for every room.

The consensus was to open up the “parlour floor” to bring in as much natural light as possible – imperative for her work photographing and shooting video vignettes. This meant taking down the weight-bearing wall that divided the stairway from the rest of the space. With an odd L-shaped configuration at the back of the house, Calderone also knew she wanted the kitchen to dominate the rear of the home.

To achieve a bright kitchen, a wall of floor-to-ceiling metal casement windows were installed to bring light through the entire space. This open floor plan put the living room, dining room, and kitchen in one long expanse. Without walls to serve as boundaries, Calderone had to find a way to make each area feel intimate and distinct, yet cohesive, and her struggle was to find a lighting solution for the three distinct living areas. She tried and tested various options, from pendants to recessed lights, until she found a Demiurge cylindrical design.

For the family room, she wanted a formal library, but with the comfort to slouch into a plush sofa, watch movies or read as a family. The neutral tones chosen initially for the room didn’t work so instead the walls and ceiling were enveloped in deeply saturated navy plaster, which offered a suede-like quality. To this she added a bespoke Giancarlo Valle-designed sofa and a jewel-toned fringed chair and velvet ottoman. Thus transformed, the room became the cosy nook she had imagined.

On the master bedroom floor, architecture informed the space, while Calderone’s guiding principles informed the décor. “My design philosophy continuously plays with contrast and cohesion. I love to pair objects that oppose each other in some capacity, seen at play in the master bathroom.” Patina – the worn quality that reveals an object’s untold history – is another way to bring friction to any interior. “I constantly strive to find the right balance of patina and polish,” says Calderone. “In the corner of the parlour floor, I paired a tall, square-shaped Swedish plinth stripped of its paint to reveal the wood underneath with a low marble column. Together their composition is odd, interesting, and unexpected. The alchemy is design magic.”

Calderone also relishes the hunt for interesting furniture and lighting. “I am asked a countless number of times where I found something, 99 per cent of the time, the response is: ‘It’s vintage’.” Calderone spent weeks and then years scouring Chairish, 1stdibs, auction sites, eBay, Instagram and estate sales from the Hamptons to Miami. “I obsessively emailed dealers, and I travelled extensively throughout Europe to accumulate pieces I did not know I needed so desperately in my life until I saw them.”

Calderone believes in allowing colour and texture to communicate: the serenity of her bedroom and its neutral palette is a good example. “In contrast, I strategically introduced a duo of vibrant colours – the warm mustard hue of the chair and the wine-red bench – to focus your attention.”

While Calderone approached the renovation with what excited her most – décor – ultimately she says, the townhouse was her education in design. “Studying some of the greats, like Royère, Jean-Michel Frank, Brancusi, and Giacometti, helped me understand what I was drawn to, gave me confidence, and allowed me to define what I love about design, what excites me most, and how I want to live in my spaces.”

In the kitchen Calderone wanted heavily marbled walls and a free floating shelf. She also chose to eliminate upper cabinets to maintain the minimal look. “Use pale textured plaster or paint as a canvas on which decorative items can pop and functional items such as the hood, disappear. Dark lower cabinets will also recede, focusing the gaze on the pieces displayed.”

“My living room, which isn’t stuffed with things, feels rich and layered. I achieved this by uniting furniture and objects that are all at different heights. The low sofa, two-tiered triangular coffee table, sculptural standard lamp and Prouvé stool draw your eyes around the room, bouncing from point to point, lending it a playful allure.”

Athena Calderone, who lives with her husband Victor and son Jivan.

Hallways are rooms too in Calderone’s opinion which she believes are often wasted design opportunities.

Calderone believes in creating vignettes, such as this corner of the parlour floor, which combines differentiation in height but also colour, texture, form and age.

Calderone had the Jacques Adnet sideboard stripped back to suit her colour scheme and the classic Niels O Møller chairs dyed black.

In the family room, the walls and ceiling were enveloped in deeply saturated navy plaster, which offered a suede-like quality. To this she added a bespoke Giancarlo Valle-designed sofa and a jewel-toned fringed chair and velvet ottoman. 

For Calderone, bookshelves should be like curiosity cabinets, filled with books and objects meaningful to the owner. Her advice is to stack books in uneven parallel and perpendicular lines, clustered by subject and spine colour. Orient each shelf differently from the one adjacent to it and add something offbeat.

“My bedroom envelops you in serenity with its neutral palette. In contrast, I strategically introduced a duo of vibrant colours – the warm mustard hue of the chair and the wine-red bench – to focus your attention.” Her favourite bedlinen is Coyuchi’s organic range.

The master bathroom channels old European charm and a yin yang aesthetic. Feminine pink-veined marble, a 1930s Murano chandelier and a romantic freestanding bathtub are intentionally juxtaposed with black elements – window frames and vanity mirrors – as well as sculptural forms, a male torso and sconces.

In Calderone’s walk-in wardrobe on the master bedroom floor, the custom shelving is painted Farrow & Ball’s Wevet.

From: Live Beautiful, by Athena Calderone, Abrams, €33; www.eye-swoon.com.

Photographs by Sarah Elliot

In the kitchen Calderone wanted heavily marbled walls and a free floating shelf. She also chose to eliminate upper cabinets to maintain the minimal look. “Use pale textured plaster or paint as a canvas on which decorative items can pop and functional items such as the hood, disappear. Dark lower cabinets will also recede, focusing the gaze on the pieces displayed.”

“My living room, which isn’t stuffed with things, feels rich and layered. I achieved this by uniting furniture and objects that are all at different heights. The low sofa, two-tiered triangular coffee table, sculptural standard lamp and Prouvé stool draw your eyes around the room, bouncing from point to point, lending it a playful allure.”

Athena Calderone, who lives with her husband Victor and son Jivan.

Hallways are rooms too in Calderone’s opinion which she believes are often wasted design opportunities.

Calderone believes in creating vignettes, such as this corner of the parlour floor, which combines differentiation in height but also colour, texture, form and age.

Calderone had the Jacques Adnet sideboard stripped back to suit her colour scheme and the classic Niels O Møller chairs dyed black.

In the family room, the walls and ceiling were enveloped in deeply saturated navy plaster, which offered a suede-like quality. To this she added a bespoke Giancarlo Valle-designed sofa and a jewel-toned fringed chair and velvet ottoman.

For Calderone, bookshelves should be like curiosity cabinets, filled with books and objects meaningful to the owner. Her advice is to stack books in uneven parallel and perpendicular lines, clustered by subject and spine colour. Orient each shelf differently from the one adjacent to it and add something offbeat.

“My bedroom envelops you in serenity with its neutral palette. In contrast, I strategically introduced a duo of vibrant colours – the warm mustard hue of the chair and the wine-red bench – to focus your attention.” Her favourite bedlinen is Coyuchi’s organic range.

The master bathroom channels old European charm and a yin yang aesthetic. Feminine pink-veined marble, a 1930s Murano chandelier and a romantic freestanding bathtub are intentionally juxtaposed with black elements – window frames and vanity mirrors – as well as sculptural forms, a male torso and sconces.

In Calderone’s walk-in wardrobe on the master bedroom floor, the custom shelving is painted Farrow & Ball’s Wevet.

From: Live Beautiful, by Athena Calderone, Abrams, €33; www.eye-swoon.com.

Photographs by Sarah Elliot.

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