Designer Crush: How to Decorate Like Thomas O'Brien
Earlier this season Architectural Digest named Thomas O’Brien’s Aero Studios one of its top 100 design firms (AD100) for 2012. If O’Brien’s name seems familiar, chances are you’ve come across his collection for Target, Thomas O’Brien Vintage Modern. He also recently launched an eponymous line with the international carpet company Safavieh.
What makes O’Brien so special? He does the seemingly impossible by creating high modernism comfortable and livable. The O’Brien aesthetic is well defined: bright, airy rooms with a clean but lived-in feel. He is known for his outstanding eye for antiques that give a space just the right appearance. His book American Modern started with this announcement:”Practicality, industry, boldness, scale. Simplicity and sincerity. Innovation. These are the ingredients of American modern style.” Bold words from a true tastemaker. Read on to learn how to add the O’Brien touch to your home.
Mix classics from different time periods. A Han Dynasty horse mingles having a tubular chrome seat, a state neoclassical seat, along with a Saarinen side table in O’Brien’s Long Island, New York, home. Despite being of different styles and time periods, their shades of brown and tan repeat every other. Along with the neutral color of the walls, ceiling and floors provides a canvas against which their ageless beauty can be admired. “Highlight good arrangement and accurate details,” O’Brien advises.
Whoever owns the West Village, New York, loft had a significant assortment of French furniture, but O’Brien blended in other classics to create the room feel like a home rather than a museum. He paired the Jean Prouve dining table, an important piece in the group, with Eames chairs along with also a Noguchi lamp, American classics from the exact same time period. The mix of textures and materials — fiberglass, wood, paper — gives this space life.
Use antiques to soften modern lines. Achieve the O’Brien look using a pale palette. Paint walls, ceiling and trim cream or white. For floors, utilize light-colored marble, wood like pine or bamboo, or wood painted white or cream. This is a classic modernist trick to enhance the size or light in a space. To counteract the white-box effect, decorate with well-worn and well-loved pieces. Here, O’Brien picked an antique Swedish settee to soften the starkness of the formal hallway.
Suggestion: O’Brien is a master at layering tasteful, muted colours. When decorating white, employ various shades to create depth. By way of example, use a slightly creamier color for trim than what’s on the walls to create visual attention. The same is applicable to furniture.
Magnify scale. The living area of O’Brien’s Manhattan apartment includes 20-foot ceilings but a small footprint. He humanized this potentially cold space by producing symmetry. Taking his cue from the area’s double windows, he also populated the space with pairs of furniture. Matched pieces enabled him to present fewer overall shapes, which improved the scale of the space.
Hint: In little spaces, be rigorous about selecting furniture. For every decision, O’Brien proposes that you ask:”This piece, why this location?”
When using dark colours, go for high gloss. When O’Brien uses dark colours, he moves for optimum impact. To add a muscular touch to his neutral colour, he occasionally injects dashes of black, especially a shiny black. He does this with doors and stair banisters, and when decorating with midcentury-modern furniture, as seen here.
TIp: Stand convention on its mind. When placing tile or brick, place the bits on end to get an ultracontemporary appearance.
After dark, blue is O’Brien’s next accent color of selection. In the bathroom of his flat, O’Brien clad the walls using a high-shine ceramic tile in midnight blue. He didn’t stop there; the medicine cabinet is mirrored inside and out and takes up an whole wall. In effect, the little space becomes doubly intimate.
Don’t sacrifice comfort. In designing personal rooms, O’Brien reminds us to surround ourselves with the things we love. In his Long Island home studio, O’Brien’s spare aesthetic is current, but a worn desk, mementos from his youth and work tools are there also.
Casualness, says O’Brien, a former Ralph Lauren Home designer,”is an American idea, and it is the human dimension that I bring to even my most formal insides — allowing people to unwind in their area with relaxation.”
American Modern – $50
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