Still Life

A photo stylist and filmmaker fills his home with eloquent objects and images from times past

Arrangements of black-and-white photos in the bedroom and living room.
Ever-changing arrangements of vintage black-and-white photos fill walls in the bedroom and living room. Photo Gallery »
 

The wall behind Jeffrey Moss’s living room sofa is barely visible beneath an avalanche of push-pinned black-and-white photos—vintage portraits, cabinet cards, and casual snapshots he has collected from flea markets and antique stores all over the world. With a few framed pieces and some empty frames making the arrangement even more three-dimensional, the look is closer to art installation than what most of us think of as decorating.

But then Moss is not your typical decorator; he’s an accomplished filmmaker and longtime freelance photo stylist for Pottery Barn, Target, and other companies. Four years ago he was delighted to discover this 2,200-square-foot duplex loft in the East Pilsen arts district. “Old floors, stairways, exposed brick, and then everything else painted white, like an old-school white-box SoHo gallery,” Moss says, describing it. But it’s his dazzling assemblages that are the showstoppers—walking sticks, hats, linen-covered suitcases, and photos, photos, photos, many of them curling and brown with age—organized into almost eerily beautiful tableaux. “I’ve always loved display,” he says, a little unnecessarily.

And who’s in the photos? “Baker, butcher, soldier, doctor. They’re photos of men, part of a collection I started years ago—none taken later than about 1963,” he says. “I move them around and change them out if the mood hits me.” Which is not to say rearranging his collages is a trivial matter. Moss admits he can never resist an opportunity to create a little theatre. “You’d go crazy if I started explaining how I placed these photos,” he says. “Let’s just say it’s not random; they’re telling little stories.”

Friends may describe Moss’s decorating style as “mad scientist,” but there’s plenty of method to his madness. “I have a very disciplined color palette—black and white with shades of gray and wood tones—that relates back to the photos,” he says. “The red sofa is a foil; it activates the neutrals in the room.” A mid-century tufted-leather Ward Bennett sofa sits next to a beat-up antique butcher block Moss uses as a bar, the kind of refined-meets-rustic combination he calls “poetic.”

The poetry continues in the bedroom, where more photos and Empire-style antique furniture make it feel as if the calendar has flipped back a hundred years. That suits Moss just fine. In his office, a century-old Swedish skein-winder rests on the worktable in the firm grip of a salvaged old wooden hand. This is where Moss sits to envision his Pottery Barn shoots and pound away at his movie scripts—maybe the old skein-winder reminds him of all the yarns he’s still to spin.

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Photograph: Nathan Kirkman

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