Stuff: The Deep Dish on Porcelain, Among Other Things
Interior designer Carey Maloney, also known to Rural Intelligence readers as The Wandering Eye, has the enviable gift of making his interests, be they erudite or off-the-wall, compelling and entertaining to others. In his first book, Stuff, recently published by Pointed Leaf Press, and lavishly illustrated, mostly with examples of the work of his firm, M (Group), Maloney uses erudition, anecdote, and telling detail to convey his passion for the things he puts in rooms. This Saturday evening from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m., Stair Galleries in Hudson will host a reception to celebrate the book’s publication, with Maloney on hand to sign copies. The public is welcome to attend. Meanwhile, RI‘s Mariyn Bethany chatted with Carey Maloney about the stuff in STUFF.
RI: Yours is the only decorating book I’ve ever seen that made me laugh. And that was even before I got to the title page. The full-page photo of Cary Grant, wearing an apron and dusting off the painting he’s showing to… is that Ethel Barrymore?
CM: That question makes me laugh because I debated including the photo since Cary looks like he is scamming poor Ethel. That is not the message I wanted to send… The film is None But the Lonely Heart, and it’s sort of a bummer. Now the shot from You Can’t Take it With You that I used for the Contents page, that one sums up the book.
RI: Yours is not the usual interior designer’s monograph. Yes, it is a compendium of the wonderful work you and Hermes [Mallea, the architect who is CM’s business partner and spouse] have done for nearly 30 years (such as this kitchen in a Greenwich Village penthouse), but it’s also a Cliff’s Notes on the things in those rooms—their history, why you, Hermes, and your clients value them, and what they contribute not just to a space, but to a life. It’s a tremendous undertaking, all that information crammed onto the page in tiny type; virtually every item identified—a far cry from the typical “a table graces the corner” caption floating in a sea of white space. What made you decide to go to all this trouble?
CM: There are plenty of “beautiful” books on the market these days with bright, glossy photos, snappy graphic design—and zero information. Not even captions. So the concept of writing about the wonderful things we’ve worked with was more interesting to me than describing why we chose a rosy beige over a green-y beige. The idea of doing “Topics” let me focus on the things and explore areas I was interested in.
RI: And as if all that small type weren’t enough, the information literally overflows the page onto your own website and beyond. By downloading the Digimarc app onto a smart phone, then aiming it at a symbol on the page, the reader is transported directly to the complimentary page on the Stuff site. How did you get that idea? [Note to reader: OS 5 is required, so you may have to upgrade, which is said to be easy. If you find it otherwise, as I did, make an appointment at an Apple store, and they’ll do it for you for free. Or go directly to the site: mgroupstuff.com]
CM: From Day One, when I was proposing the book to publishers, I knew there had to be an interactive aspect. I didn’t know how, on Day One, how it would manifest itself, so I was thrilled to discover Digimarc via House Beautiful. What I couldn’t cram onto a Topics page in that tiny font (sorry about that!), I could link to via mgroupstuff.com. My plan was to send the book to the printers, then spend the summer calmly working on the interactive part. Easy, right? Simply find lots of fun links to films and books, museums and dealers. The work must have been 80% done, right? Wrong.
Well, the interactive morphed into another stand-alone project. There are over 500 links for the 40 Topics, and each needed a caption and an image. Happily, for me, this is fun. But, indeed, it was a lot of work.
RI: When you first moved to New York, before becoming a designer, you worked at a top auction house. What difference do you think that made to your outlook and your approach to interior design?
CM: My couple of years in the Christie’s Estates Department gave me incredible exposure to wildly divergent collections. Seeing great stuff, whether it was cowboy art in Arizona or American furniture at 1 Sutton Place South, put “things” into perspective.
The Christie’s gig was one big learning opportunity. We saw it all—decorative arts, fine arts, junk, and treasure. In those days, it all came past the Front Counter at Delmonico’s at 59th and Park. An unexpected perk of working there was a crash course in fur. I was surrounded by rich glamorous Front Counter blondes. All these unsuspecting women ascended the stairs past our gauntlet. Within weeks, I could spot a bad mink, a good sable, and a knock-off Hermes bag.
RI: If a reader could gain “taste” just by ogling pictures of beautiful rooms, every design magazine-and-book junky would be transformed willy-nilly into a professional-grade decorator. Instead, I’m afraid we amateurs stare at a photograph and mutter, “I love that,” without knowing why or how to get from where we are to there. By breaking down the pictures, as you do, and identifying each element, you coax people like me into a deeper reading of the picture and give us a list of ingredients, so we can at least understand what’s going on, if not replicate it.
CM: That’s nice. I’ll go with that!
RI: You and Hermes have been staunch supporters of the New York Public Library since I first met you, when you were practically kids. How did that happen?
CM: As babies in New York, we decided to choose a cause and work on it together. The library was our first idea, so we made a $100 donation, called the volunteer office, and sat in a room with nonagenarians addressing and stamping benefit invitations. That was 30 years ago. Thankfully, we were discovered, like Lana Turner at Scwab’s Drugstore, and the head of the NYPL Special Events Office asked us to rustle up some young people to come to a big dinner. We did that and soon we were working to create the Young Friends of the NYPL. Then we segued to the Library Cubs programs for children, and a few years ago we became co-chairmen of the Library’s LGBT initiative. That group has raised almost $3 million to support the world’s greatest collection of archival and literary materials related to LGBT’s. We are most proud of the programming the Library provides for youth—the Anti Prom, which this year had over 500 crazy kids dancing in Astor Hall. Kids who may not be safe or even visible in their schools and neighborhoods are welcomed, honored, and given safe haven at the Library.
And volunteering at the Library as a couple has been the best. I always say, put us in a bag and shake it up, and you’ll have something… The Library got two of us and together we make one very good volunteer!
RI: Did this close relationship with one of the world’s great research facilities and repositories of printed matter impact the way you did this book? I suppose what I’m asking is, do they let people like you, who are practically family, into the stacks?
CM: Our library is all about information, freely and graciously disseminated to anyone who wants it. Ask for a book on, say, colonial residential architecture in the Congo, published in 1911, and half an hour later, there it is, in a box because it is falling apart. Amazingly efficient. So there was never a need (not that I ever would!) to ask for something en famille.
I did a lot of the research digitally from the comfort of my apartment—the digital image collections are vast. But no, I would not be allowed to wander the stacks. And if I had been, I would never admit it….
RI: You should get a wallpaper company to reproduce your book’s endpaper, the close-up photograph of a chock-a-block bulletin board; yours, I assume? I’d love to have it reproduced for my powder room.
CM: LOL It isn’t an “inspiration board”—if I had gone to design school, I might know what that really is. It’s just bits of paper I keep layering on. You might want to look at it closer. One friend must have used a magnifying glass to read the New Yorker cartoon. He texted me that he’d been laughing for half an hour and that his wife saw nothing funny in it. Bingo!