Get Thomas O’Brien’s Brilliant Decorating Tips
Thomas O’Brien’s home store, Aero Ltd., has been a fixture in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood for two decades, and his interior design services have been in demand for even longer. Which is to say, this is a man who knows what he’s talking about when he talks about decorating. Known for effortlessly mixing traditional and modern elements, using neutrals as a background for layered spaces and prioritizing functionality, Thomas was recently in Toronto to participate in Elte’s brand new Design Talks speaker series, where H&H got a chance to chat with him — and get his best decorating advice!
“My approach has to do with the space and the people living in it. At my store, I find I get some clients who have lived in a really modern way, but are exhausted by it and are drawn to antique things, while the clients who are more traditional love the Lucite table. I think we’re interested in what we don’t have. This apartment is actually a great example of that — this is a loft, but when you walk in it feels like you’re in a London townhouse. The clients had previously lived in a modern space downtown and wanted a change, so there’s all these Georgian details and antique furniture. But isn’t it intriguing that it actually comes from a very modern inclination?”
“There’s always a way. I’m a big advocate of dining tables with the chairs pulled away, so that it feels like a big library table. That’s what I did in my Long Island home. It was built in the 1830s and used to be a schoolhouse; this living room was actually the classroom. But it doesn’t have to be that one great piece that anchors the room. It could be adding millwork in, or even applied moldings — in my first apartment in New York, I did applied moldings in big, open frames after seeing an apartment in Rome with a similar look. You have to think about the one big gesture, even in a studio apartment. In a way, it’s, ‘What’s the biggest thing I can do?'”
“If you’re making drapery, the yardage is the thing that will add up — you can make draperies that are really expensive. But it’s a place you can also be really inventive. There are tons of wonderful, more inexpensive fabrics that do make beautiful curtains. But I always tell people that it’s really, really important to buy better upholstery — it’s like better shoes. It’s the thing that you’re literally sitting in, so it’s also about comfort and how something’s made. This sofa is in the foyer of one of my favorite clients — it used to belong to Doris Duke!”
“How it flows and how easy it feels to be in it. A lot of that comes from the plan. I spend a lot of time on the basics, putting the plan together and also being in the room getting things arranged the right way. Not just put together in a logical chair-meets-sofa equation, but how it actually feels. I like to make things feel restful. This room is a poolhouse at a client’s country house in Connecticut. There are lots of antiques that in and of themselves aren’t so unique, but I love how the space came together. It has a farmhouse, stable-like feel, all creamy and sleek and warm. It’s just a lovely room to be in.”
“I love movies — when I watch a movie, I’m taking in all the small details, zoning in on millwork or a particular image or whatever. And I’m always drawn to that vintage modern aesthetic. I love old New York and Paris and London, these times that are modern, but very romantic. This bathroom really gets to the core of that — it’s pared down, sleek and modern, but in a vintage way. It’s in a wonderful, large-scale loft we did for a bachelor, and in a turn-of-the century building. But the bathrooms were kind of a disappointment and needed some kind of grand gesture. I came up with a look that’s all black and white marble with nickel banding throughout.”