Tour a Greenwich Home that Beautifully Combines Art and Design

Art of Design FireplaceThe prevailing fashion about artworks in interiors is the idea that those paintings and sculpture need to exist amid white walls for full effect. It is thought, by many interior designers and art collectors, that the colors, patterns, forms and textures in the artworks shouldn’t have to compete with anything else in the room.

Fashions change. “One thing the clients and I agreed on right away is that there were not going to be just beige or white walls,” says Joe Nahem, who designed the interiors of this venerable, five-bedroom home in Greenwich. “The wife is very fashionable, she loves good clothes, so she understood right away that having elements like patterned carpeting or sinuous sofas or pink cushions would only add to the art and not detract from it.”

Nahem points out the grid-like rug in the living room. “While we’re not going to put a lot of texture or pattern on sofas or curtains in a room filled with important art, when something is underfoot, that’s a good place to introduce more color and pattern.” He makes the distinction, too, between the clients’ desire to include artisanal furnishings in their rooms, so long as those things don’t look like art. “Many rugs now look like art, as if there’s a painting put on the floor,” notes the designer. “What I chose isn’t that, but it does have great presence.”

Many of Nahem’s clients, such as this couple who have two teenage daughters, are art collectors. “The moment we started, their art and their collecting habits were important parts of our conversation,” he says. Prior to configuring the rooms of the home, Nahem made copies of the extant artworks in the couple’s collection, then positioned those images in rooms to see the effects. “The biggest challenge of putting lots of artworks in a room is how to make it seem not like a gallery, but rather a room that still functions for a family—a place to eat, sit, watch TV. There’s a fine balance that exists between the everyday things in a room and the art.”

Art of Design Overlay

While he typically doesn’t go shopping with his clients, Nahem does undertake a deliberate approach to each commission. “We do presentations, make renderings, show photos and bring a palette, playing with colors and patterns together,” he explains. With most design decisions agreed upon in advance, few surprises happen along the way. In this project, however, one area of the house presented a particular challenge. The main staircase features a curving wall with a vaulting center expanse. For both illumination and sculptural effects, Nahem chose a contemporary chandelier marked by columns of glass baubles that appear to be effervescing, set amid an armature of delicate spokes, as well as a vigorously patterned wallpaper.

“The clients weren’t so sure about those choices,” he says. “This was a moment when I had to pull out my ‘trust me’ card. They were afraid the paper pattern and light source would detract from the large art piece. But when everything was in place, we all agreed that it was a complete success.”

Because the rooms of the circa-1930 house are so rectilinear in form, Nahem chose furnishings that countered such straight lines. He designed a sinuous living room sofa that undulates along a wall, brought in curvaceous armchairs, and dining chairs with arcing back legs. “We wanted something sexy and curvy,” he says. “These shapes and furnishings helped rooms break out of their very standard dimensions.”

Since much contemporary art is scaled large, Nahem had to ensure sightlines were never compromised and that furniture complemented, in size, an adjacent artwork. When working with art collectors, an even bigger challenge is that of acquisition. “Even as we were moving in the furniture, the couple would announce, ‘We’ve bought another work,’” notes Nahem. “But that’s part of the ongoing challenge and fun of working with people like this.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2018 issue of CT&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: The Art of Design.