For Manhattan-based interior designer Thomas Jayne, who was named to ELLE DECOR’s A-List for the second year in a row this June, historical architecture and antiques have been a lifelong passion – so much so that he’s signed on to be the Design Chair for the 2018 Winter Antiques Show in New York. We caught up with Jayne and fellow designer William Cullum, who joined Jayne’s practice 5 years ago, to get their thoughts on designing and living with antiques. Period pieces, often juxtaposed with contemporary pieces as counterpoints, play a big role in Jayne Design Studio projects. This approach has won them undertakings like the recent restoration of Crichel House, one of the finest Georgian homes in England. Here, we get a glimpse into the designers’ own collecting habits and learn about their most beloved possessions.
You both practice what you preach, in terms of living with antiques. Tell us a little bit about your own collections.
Thomas Jayne: My husband, Rick Ellis, and I have a very large library dedicated to American food—it dominates our apartment, which was recently published in Garden & Gun magazine. The rest of our furnishings are a combination of objects that we like for their history and/or style. We have everything from medieval pilgrim badges to contemporary decorative art, like studio pottery and a gilded-metal wing that doubles as a tray. I think it’s safe to say that few people have such a diverse collection that is presented in a decorative whole! Many of our choicest objects were auction finds, such as our bust of George Washington and our 18th-century painted fancy chairs.
William Cullum: I really respond to objects that have a sense of humor. If I’m going to devote room to an object in my apartment, it has to make me smile. My favorite recent purchase is a Chinese export boar with purple hooves and a body decorated with quince blossoms. I love the mid-19th century, too, and have an affinity for the amusing decorative arts that the period produced. I have a great group of bronze Gothic Revival items I bought at Doyle from the estate of the Lee B. Anderson, a pioneer American art collector. All of the pieces have architectural elements borrowed from great Gothic churches employed as supports for letter holders and calling card stands. Antiques offer depth and texture in a way nothing else really can. Without them, an interior can feel shallow and artificial. I’ve always loved old frames for photographs—there’s nothing more personal. I have a beautiful Victorian frame with a photograph of my boyfriend and myself which sits next to a smaller Georgian belt buckle with paste diamonds, repurposed as a frame for a tiny portrait of our cat.
Aside from the cat in the Georgian buckle, what are some of your most treasured possessions?
WC: I found a great 18th-century Venetian console with a support in the form of a mermaid, with a wonderful crusty finish. She sits in a room overlooking the ocean, against a backdrop of hand-blocked wallpaper with starfish and seaweed.
TJ: For me, it’s a wonderful pair of turquoise blue Persian storage jars that belonged to Henry Francis du Pont. I’m a graduate of the Winterthur Program of American Material Culture, which he founded. They aren’t of huge value but I imagine he had them for their beautiful color. He was a decorator by nature and I suspect we share the same delight in them.
Are you seeing a resurgence of any particular period at the moment?
WC: I see a freshness in the Aesthetic Movement—a period full of proto-modern designs by Christopher Dresser and E. W. Godwin. These pieces are extremely versatile as they can be the most elaborate piece of furniture in a room or, just as easily, the plainest. We just installed an Aesthetic Movement copper-and-brass light fixture by W.A.S. Benson in the form of a large flower with exposed bulbs. It feels overtly modern but has the patina of use that can’t be replicated.
TJ: One client of ours is asking for high-style Empire furniture. There is little competition for it right now, so he’s able to buy wonderful things. It’s always better to collect outside competition.
Thomas, tell us a little bit about your online pop-up shop.
TJ: It’s curated by me and offers an eclectic assortment of occasional furniture, fine art, and books, in addition to antique objets and vintage lamps. There are one-of-a-kind pillows too, like the Wallis Pillow, whose design mirrors a cushion belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It’s handcrafted in Madagascar by a local weaving and embroidery cooperative, Lamba SARL. Other highlights include whimsical handmade crowns by Brooklyn artist Elaine Greenstein and exclusive works from photographer Geoff Spear and painter Christopher Tanner. A portion of the proceeds from every sale is donated to the Washington Square Association, benefiting their holiday tree lighting at the historic Washington Arch in Greenwich Village.
And a last question that we like to ask everyone: What’s your most vivid or favorite memory of buying at auction?
TJ: Early in my career, I remember flying from New York to London to bid on a group of 18th-century Chinese wallpaper. It was held at Christie’s in a saleroom featuring early 19th-century architecture and a podium designed by Chippendale. I knew I was in the big leagues then! The competition was acute but we had the winning bid and the wallpaper ended up in one of the most beautiful rooms we’ve ever created.
WC: Growing up in South Carolina, my parents would bring me with them to almost every Charlton Hall auction—our local auction gallery, and one represented on Invaluable—where I would sit and record prices of lots sold. Every so often there would be some funny Victorian thing they would let me bid on, like a glove box, and I remember the nervous excitement as I raised the paddle to bid. Those days primed me for my career as a decorator, and although our bids are largely done online or over the phone now, the excitement is ever present.
About Jayne Design Studio
For the past 25 years, Thomas Jayne has designed rooms that reflect a strong connection to history and place. He draws upon their past for inspiration, seeking details that will deepen and enhance their decoration. Whether the site is a SoHo loft in a late-19th-century industrial building or a historic Federal house built by a New England whaling merchant, the settings become part of the narrative, their history providing the impetus for the design.
Thomas Jayne’s academic training greatly influenced his design philosophy. A graduate of the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts, he studied with the noted architectural historian Marian Card Donnelly. Trained in American material culture and the decorative arts at Winterthur, Jayne earned his master’s degree from the University of Delaware and pursued advanced fellowships at the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Historic Deerfield, and the J. Paul Getty Museum before moving on to a position at Christie’s estates and appraisal department. His interest in architecture and the decorative arts eventually lead him to pursue a career in interior design. He was fortunate to work in two of the most influential design studios in America–Parish-Hadley & Associates and Kevin McNamara, Inc.–before opening Jayne Design Studio in 1990.