There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who furnish, and those who decorate. “My apartment is something that has evolved over time,” says New York City interior decorator Sean McNanney, “Ultimately my main inspiration is an Upper East Side classic six transported to Wes Anderson’s take on Old Constantinople – if that makes sense!” It does, and magically so. In a city where time is money – and money is always going towards hiking rent prices – Sean has mastered the art of tending to a life of aesthetic whimsy.
Step inside his railroad apartment, and you feel as if you’ve travelled to a turn-of-the century salon, or a runaway car of the Orient Express. As famously nosy house snoopers ourselves, we couldn’t resist a look inside his Williamsburg home, and the opportunity to pick his decorator’s brain.
The first stop? One deliciously yellow living room…
“Turner Yellow” was the perfect paint choice to backdrop Sean’s ephemera in the living area, a kaleidoscope of international textiles and textures that also finds its way into his store, “Saved.” Be sure to poke your head in, digitally or in the flesh if you should find yourself by Manhattan’s Gramercy Park. On the menu at the moment: throws, blankets and pillows inspired by traditional Mongolian nomads, all designed by Sean, hand-crafted, and sustainably sourced from Mongolian Yaks. But back to Brooklyn…
Above, a 19th century painting of a Matador smoking a cigar, hanging below a frieze Sean drew on his living room walls in Brooklyn. Below, the kitchen and what Sean calls its “3D wallpaper”.
What makes Sean’s space so refreshing is how very lived-in it looks – as if it blossomed in a world apart, where social media and Uber have swapped for letter writing and caravan hopping. In an age of oversaturated social media trends, his world is a welcome return to that of of decorative peacocks like Tony Duquette, and Madeleine Castaing. “Flea markets are a huge source of inspiration,” he says, “all over the world – from what’s left of them here in New York, to Paris, Istanbul and Mongolia.”
He also finds inspiration in Joseph Holtzman, the former publisher of Nest Magazine, and early 20th century Vienna; TV shows like Knots Landing and Dallas, and of course, his mother. “I’ve been interested in design since I was very young,” he says, “I’d go to estate sales with her.”
Of course, he also puts in some serious elbow grease. “There was a lot of trial and error along the way,” he says about the road to building his own business, “I also put in my time working at established design businesses, like Ralph Lauren. I asked a lot of questions and was open to learning […] I want to create something unique and different. I want clients to walk into the shop and feel like they’ve been transported to a shop in Paris or old New York, not in a kitschy way, but in a refreshing and familiar way.” It needed to feel like coming home.
When asked about a few of his most precious objects, Sean gave us a perfectly Wes Anderson-worthy breakdown:
A. One of a pair of Sevres cache pots from the estate of decorator friend.
B. Hand-Painted vintage tiger mask from India given to me by a guru.
C. Pillows made from pieces of my large collection of antique fabrics. Instead of keeping fabric stored away in drawers, having them as pillows allows me to enjoy them on a daily basis.
D. I buy these crackers in Chinatown for the tin. I love the old fashioned packaging.
E. Antique Syrian carved and inlaid folding chair with an embroidered Ottoman pillow, both from travels in Istanbul.
So what can the rest of us New Yorkers (or New Yorkers at heart) do to make our apartments look equal parts cozy and luxurious? “Most important is to buy what you love,” he says, “Buy pieces that are well made, that tell a story. Don’t feel like you have to buy everything at once.” Let the space grow with you, and be patient.
On creating the illusion of space in a small apartment, he suggests “[buying] one large statement piece – one that is functional and beautiful – and then [using] smaller pieces throughout the room. Antique boxes are great for doubling as decorative pieces and storage.” Also, don’t forget to check the Wild Wild West of shopping: the Internet! Auctions, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace are great sources that Sean stands by, although they “require a good eye, time and patience.” We’d say it’s worth it, though – once, Sean found a Picasso plate for $30 that “eventually fetched 10k!”
Then of course, there’s one of the greatest muses of all: New York. “We’re obviously lucky to have some of the best museums and galleries in the world,” he says about making the city his mood board, “The Neue Gallery. The Met. The NY Public Library. Private art galleries. The many annual design, antique and art fairs. You can find inspiration just walking around the city. You just need to take the time and look and see it.”
Discover more of Sean McNanney’s world on his website, and keep your eyes on the horizon for his upcoming work with a new brand called Wintergarden, which will feature the ultimate cozy home accessories from cotton and wool.