Interiors and product designer and head of New York-based Aero Studios Thomas O’Brien gave a great talk last Friday at the Merchandise Mart promoting his new book, American Modern. Jan Parr and I (along with one of our contributors, Tate Gunnerson who wrote a nice synopsis of the lecture here were all very taken with one line in particular: “Everything was modern in its own time.” This sort of historical perspective is what makes O’Brien such an interesting designer—and person. He talked a lot about contextualization, or thinking about a home’s age when decorating it. In his Long Island house, a converted boys’ academy that was built in the 1830s, he tried to create a kitchen that felt like it could have been around during the home’s younger years (say, in the ’20s) and he consciously collects artifacts from that era as well, such as books published the year the house was built. I also liked seeing how his personal decorating style has evolved. At one point, his Manhattan condo was pristine, cream, and rather minimal. Very sophisticated, but not particularly daring. Then, he decided to embrace clutter and non-conformity, moving his bed into the living room and covering every surface with art and memorabilia. It’s refreshing to see that designers, too, sometimes need time to come out of their shells and live in a way that feels true to them.

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