Photo Gallery: Designer Thomas O’Brien’s Apartment
See his vintage-modern style.
Simple, identical and whitewashed poplar frames focus attention on the movement of the art figures.
“Sometimes I come across sets of images — prints, drawings, or plates in an old book — that I will frame and divide, thematically or by date through a house,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. He adds, “Together they have the effect of panelizing the hall.”
A velvet-upholstered chair pops against neutral white walls and natural objects.
“Adopting a vintage studio style allowed me to have more creativity in my home, surrounded by things that inspire me,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. Later, he says, “The point of making a home with so much to look at was to relax into the whole collection as something unfolding. I didn’t acquire these things overnight. It took time to study and source and wait for the right examples of favorite works. And I have enjoyed each piece as it comes, observing how it settles in my space.”
A mirror and gilded light add lustre to an otherwise simple space.
“In the hall leading to my den, two Willem de Kooning oil wash sketches on paper catch the light,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. “In the entry, more ink wash and quick
line figure drawings and a place to put my keys. The gilded beehive lamp has a twin in the master bedroom of one of my other projects.”
Textures and shades mix with a plywood chair, burled oak cabinet and shapely cream side table.
“Art and comfort in the den,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. “Most striking here is the collection of genetic self-portrait photographs by my neighbor and good friend Gary Schneider. I love the modernism and the intensity of the jet black backgrounds in these pictures. Above the sofa, his pair of magnified nineteenth-century plant slides reminds me of the fantastical scale of constellations.”
Baccarat crystal and pyrex mix with a 19th-century Chinese scholar’s rock and vintage sawfish mandibles.
"On top of my living room armoire, another mixed collection," O'Brien says. "The pieces have changed, but the same set of materials — glass and pottery, light and dark — always remains in this location."
Shelves layered on cabinets offer storage, display space and a grounding grid for miscellaneous artwork.
“One of the first things I did in this renovation was to build a huge 8 x 15 foot bulletin board as an image bank for varied pictures and inspirations,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. “It would be a place for a wider range of mediums to hang together—tear sheets from magazines and outtakes from photo shoots, personal mementos, architectural images, all peppered through with smaller pieces of framed art.” He adds, “I custom made this board as part of the basic furniture configuration of my room, and added low cabinets to create a whole system for the wall.”
Wood, chrome and plexiglass mix masterfully together on this desktop.
“Art can tell a story about who you are, what you were interested in at the time, and where you are headed,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. “This circa 1950 Francis Bacon painting study marks a moment when I was moving into a more serious level of collecting, buying work by modern masters. I bought the worn first edition of Berenice Abbott’s book
Changing New York in a junk shop years ago, when I was just starting out. To me, the book is just as meaningful as the painting.”
A vibrant Japanese maple frames a view into the designer’s studio living room.
“The terrace has its original balustrade and carved urns from the 1930s,” says designer Thomas O’Brien in his new book, American Modern. “In ways I think the Timidity colour of the apartment [from Pratt & Lambert] echoes the pale brick and limestone colors of the building.”