Written by Matt Berman • Photographed by Roger Davies • Produced By Anita Sarsidi
It was my worst nightmare. After five years in Europe, I had returned to Manhattan and was pulling my loft together. I asked my mom to stop by and take a look. She walked in, quickly surveyed the place, and announced, “Matt, it looks like my house.” Was it possible that after living in at least eight different apartments in New York and Paris over the past 20 years, I could have ended up creating a replica of my childhood home?
Growing up in Connecticut in the 1970s, I was surrounded by modernism. Clean lines and light were part of daily life—at my Presbyterian nursery school, designed by Wallace Harrison; at the Raymond Loewy–designed Lord & Taylor, where we bought our school clothes; at my uncle George’s house by Huson Jackson. My day camp in New Canaan was located in a valley behind the Philip Johnson Glass House, and every summer, without exception, at least one kid would swear he saw a naked lady inside. Nonetheless, the home I grew up in—with its slate floors, walls of glass, and head-to-toe Knoll decor—was a source of stress. Most of my friends lived in classic Colonials filled with Ethan Allen furniture. Word around town was that the living room at my parents’ place was straight out of The Jetsons.
Then my mom opened a funky antiques shop influenced by the psychedelic, hippie groove that had begun to infiltrate Connecticut’s Ice Storm suburbia. Little by little, things changed at home. Rookwood pottery and tramp-art boxes found their way onto Eero Saarinen Tulip tables. My dad’s crazy collection of 1940s pinball machines overwhelmed the then-edgy amoeba-shaped Noguchi cocktail table (which I broke while showing my rock collection to my uncle Morty). Fortunately my parents began making semiannual treks to sell these quirky collectibles at the giant antiques show in Brimfield, Massachusetts. That’s where I learned the art of collecting. I sometimes think of those days while walking home from my advertising studio, since I often stop at the modernist showroom of my friend Anthony DeLorenzo around the corner. Here, besides decompressing with my pal, I discover rare furniture I didn’t know about, fiddle with lamps I’ve seen only in books, and obsess about what I may need. Of course, I usually end up buying something. Anthony always assures me, “It only hurts for a second, Matt.”
I found my apartment while I was creative director of John Kennedy’s George magazine. John and I had traveled to Los Angeles to photograph Barbra Streisand, and he invited me to a dinner packed with celebrities. I ended up sitting next to rap impresario Russell Simmons. When I told him I was looking for an apartment, he mentioned he was selling one in NoHo. After a little negotiating, and a phone call from John, it was mine. The place was flashy, decorated in dark woods and frosted-glass panels. I stripped it to the bare walls and furnished it simply. I lived there for only two years before John died and my world changed forever. Thinking new scenery would help me deal with the loss, I took a six-month consulting job in Paris and ended up staying for five years.
When I returned to New York, I realized I needed an extra bedroom and bath for all my Paris friends who were planning to visit. I carved out a bedroom and bathroom for myself from the open living area, and converted the original upstairs bedroom and bath into my home office and a Franco crash pad. I called the shipper that was holding the Mathieu Mategot tables I had found in Paris, and the storage company in New Jersey where I’d left my Paul McCobb bedside tables. Then I resumed my standard way of one-room entertaining—roasting a chicken (the only thing I can cook well) and keeping the wine rolling.
I enjoy living with a collection of old and new and changing things all the time. My Bouroullec brothers sofa and chair are set off by a ’70s checkerboard cocktail table I found on eBay. Pop green Magistretti chairs add new life to the beat-up Empire table (my first major purchase, and the biggest and heaviest piece of furniture I’ve ever owned). But who knows if it will all look the same in six months? I often end up decorating friends’ places with some of the stuff I find. But certain pieces will stay, including the wood lamps I bought years ago from Blackman Cruz in L.A. and the Weegee photograph of a stripper that Carolyn Bessette gave me for Christmas one year with the warning, “You better like it, Matt. We almost had to mortgage the loft for that!”