Great Art and Other Things That Inspire This Internationally-Known Designer and Author
Published in Klaffs, Winter 2018
By Christina Roughan, Roughan Interiors Photographs by Karen Fuchs
In this column, I am pleased to introduce you to James Aman, partner in the world-renowned interior design firm Aman & Meeks. The firm’s classic designs can be seen in such prominent shelter publications as Architectural Digest, Elle Décor and others. James is also the author of, “The New Formal: Interiors by James Aman” a design book that features handpicked selections of Aman & Meeks Interiors. According to its synopsis on amazon.com, the book focuses on, “…creating settings where great art can live in harmony with the style of the interiors and provide an elegant and inviting living space for the collectors… the hallmark of James Aman’s design.”
James and his partner John Meeks are true visionaries. Their work is crafted to create livable, curated interiors that are timeless. For example, throughout Aman’s book, each project, whether completed ten years ago or today, looks as if it were just shot for an Architectural Digest spread. This is an extraordinary feat in and of itself and why the two are known for interiors that endure beyond momentary trends. From Palm Beach to Los Angeles to Europe and over their careers they report that their work always remains engaging and fun. Each new project is a truly new experience.
At the time of this interview, John was shopping for a Palm Beach client. I was able to catch up with James at their busy Manhattan office.
There are so many inspirational aspects to design, I thought it would be rather fun to ask James some questions to learn about his influences, aspirations and thoughts – and what motivates his creativity. Enjoy this journey of design with Aman & Meeks’ James Aman!
15 Questions for James Aman of Aman & Meeks
1. When you were a child did you know that your career would be in the arts? If not, what did you think you would do?
I loved theatre, how sets moved around, and I excelled in that aspect of design as a child.
2. How has your past influenced your design aesthetic today?
I have been working for 26 years with clients who have major art collections. That has affected how they view interiors and how they will approach things. They go for good bones and neutral color palates which makes things more livable. As John was a clothing designer before we started our firm, we both agree that we love a great Pucci dress but do not want to look at that piece every day. Common sensibility: go for livable and timeless.
3. What is one of your favorite films?
I draw a lot of inspiration from movie and theatre sets. One of my favorites is “Leave Her to Heaven” with Gene Tierney. Much of the action takes place in an amazing country house with interiors were built on a soundstage at 20th Century Fox studio in Los Angeles. Interior Design needs to be personal as well as dramatic. It’s a background for life.
4. What was your first job?
My first job out of Pratt School of Design was as a designer for Ralph Lauren. I was there for 12 years.
5. What music are you currently listening to?
Anthony and the Johnsons, Beautiful South, Snow Patrol and The Motels.
6. Who is your favorite musician?
Debbie Harry of Blondie fame. Her music is consistently good. I caught her show at the Café Carlyle.
7. Who is your favorite photographer?
The softer period of Robert Mapplethorpe is appealing. Also Horst P Horst whose style was a direct response to the major avant-garde art movements of the 1920s including Bauhaus and Art Deco. He has a neo-classic feeling that I find inspiring.
8. Who is your favorite Interior designer?
Billy Baldwin. He was innovative and still very much relevant today.
9. What is or was your favorite time period for design?
The 1920’s as exemplified by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and, of course, the 1950’s as interpreted by Billy Baldwin in his work.
10. Who is your favorite film director?
Alfred Hitchcock, hands down. Everything was so story-board stylized. Psycho was treated and executed as an art film — truly amazing for its time.
11. What’s your favorite personal design element, the one you can’t live without?
Vintage Kieselstein-Cord cuff links that I wear every single day.
12. What is your design trademark?
Timeless, livable glamour.
13. What’s your favorite travel destination?
John and I loved Amsterdam. The people are delightful, and the food is amazing. For us, the architecture there is wonderful to behold and we immersed ourselves in the museums. The Van Gogh museum and Rembrandt House are musts for design inspiration.
14. What is your favorite project to date?
For us, it’s all about the moment, so the project we are working on is always our favorite. We love projects with architecture and good bones that enable great design. Our clients move around or have multiple homes with substantial art collections that are always evolving. Our interiors allow our clients to change their art and it always looks good.
15. What is an element of your life that you can’t live without?
Come join Designers-In-Residence, Roughan Interiors and Last Detail Design create curated vignettes February 8th from 6 until 9 to celebrate Sip & Shop at the Fairfield Arts & Antiques Center. A portion of the evening proceeds will go to the American Heart Association. Lets help save a heart. xo Chris
Design Hall-of-Famer Sets Style Trends in Interiors and Home Furnishings
Charlotte Barnes, founder/owner of Charlotte Barnes Design & Decoration, LLC, is the doyenne of Connecticut design. Her work is not only beautiful and well curated, it also speaks to her clients’ lifestyles and represents who they are. Charlotte’s interiors have taken her all over the world, designing city townhouses, pied-a- terres, residential apartments and special commercial spaces. She was inducted into the New England Design Hall of Fame in 2015.
I met Charlotte for the first time at her quaintly chic interiors shop in Greenwich. I immediately fell in love with her graceful, “not so traditional” style. Every detail was perfected — from the colored pillows placed carefully next to the caramel sisal floor, to the 4” custom collars on her tailored, white button-down cotton shirts, a “Charlotte” signature.
I’m excited to share her fascinating creative journey with KLAFFStyle readers. Charlotte spent most of her childhood in Philadelphia and upstate New York, often traveling to and from New York City to visit family. The city was part of her young vernacular, greatly influenced by an aunt who was an interior designer and a grandmother who was very social and wore gloves until the day she passed. These women and their senses of style are evident in her aesthetic to this day.
Early on she knew she would be working in the arts. As a teenager she painted her room multiple times to create different visions and developed a love of fashion. She integrated these youthful sensibilities into her future careers.
Upon graduating from school, Charlotte moved to New York City. Unsure of where to start her career, she took the advice of her father who said, “Get your real estate license.” Showing Manhattan apartments to a fashion executive—the president of Ralph Lauren—proved to be serendipitous. This client was a licensee for Ralph Lauren at a time when the company was growing and had a need for talented young people with taste. Charlotte shared her passion for style and fashion with this client. Their conversations led to an opportunity at Lauren and a job offer.
Charlotte became a Ralph Lauren merchandise coordinator at Bloomingdales and began to make a name for herself. As the company continued to expand, a licensee from Canada decided to take Ralph Lauren to London and recruited Charlotte for Head of Womenswear at the first office overseas.
Although she worked with Ralph Lauren design on womenswear, her main focus at that time was on merchandising, product design, working with factories in Italy, and creating womenswear that represented the brand. During this phase she developed a meticulous attention to detail. For example, merchandising a Polo shirt wall could take hours to get the look just right. Her commitment to seeking perfection paid off.
While in London, Charlotte met Anne Hardy, an American editor at British House & Garden who just loved her style and asked to feature her flat in a story. The response was so positive that it led Charlotte into Interiors as her next career.
When she returned to the States she settled in Greenwich, Conn., where she opened her eponymous boutique and design firm Charlotte Barnes Interior Design & Decoration, LLC. The boutique features select items from her 30-piece furniture collection, which she created and launched in 2014, as well as an array of curated antiques from her travels.
She loves tradition and her interiors clearly tell a timeless story tailored to each project. Sixty percent of her clients have worked with her more than once as their lives and lifestyles have evolved. Through hard work, honesty and integrity, her clients trust her implicitly with their homes. “In Charlotte we trust,” is a phrase she hears often when a client is not quite sure of a particular item. She always tells them, “Buy what you love, and you will always find a place for It.”
She’s attracted a loyal clientele in New York City, Greenwich, East Hampton, Watch Hill, Newport, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Palm Beach, John’s Island, London, Turkey and many other locations around the globe.
10 Questions for Charlotte Barnes
1. How would you describe your aesthetic? Traditional but not. Clean elegant lines, timeless with a blend of tradition and modern. I love collections and the stories behind them.
2. What is the best advice you have ever been given? Be honest and maintain your integrity.
3. How has travel influenced your design work? Every place that I travel inspires me when creating my next project.
4. Most challenging experience? When I first started I had a fashion background so I had to teach myself scale and proportion.
5. Most fun Job? There are so many projects, especially the little jewel box ones. One that stands out is a beach house in Amaganset, a fab A-frame home with exposed beams I painted all white with accents of color. It was beach chic.
6. What is your favorite color? White
7. What is your favorite word? Swanky and swoon
8. Who is your favorite musical artist? George Michael
9. What is your favorite vacation spot? Bahamas
10. What is your most coveted accessory? My custom white cotton buttoned down shirts with a 4″ collar and my collection of sneakers
Contact information: www.charlottebarnes.com
Charlotte Barnes Interior Design & Decoration, LLC
173 Davis Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830
t 203.622.6953 | f 203.552.1160