Photo-Illustration: Lined. Photos: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter and Jill Singer;
When Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov launched their online magazine Sight Unseen in 2009, they wanted to avoid the “difficult sense of anonymity” that permeated the coverage of home decor in books and magazines, as they write in the introduction of How to Live with Objects: A Modern Guide to Meaningful Interiors, released November 15: “You get the same feeling looking at them as flipping through the catalog of a big-box furniture store. You wondered, Who, exactly, lives here?“While Sight Unseen has helped set a number of trends – the Memphis revival, choppy graphics and ceramics, to name a few – their view is anti-trend and anti-decoration: Singer and Khemsurov believe that interiors should reflect “your personality and obsessions, experiences and memories, desires and intentions. How to live with objects asks people with a very well-defined sense of taste – including gallery owners, dealers and artists – to share how their collections have come together. We referred the question to Singer, who shares the stories behind three particularly meaningful items in her home, from her first big purchase to a custom desk she eventually commissioned from a friend.
Photo: Courtesy of Jill Singer
“Almost every designer I know has created a vase because it’s like a little canvas. Moreover, it is linked to the resurgence of workshop objects, which are discussed in the book, and of ceramics and glass. A vase is such an obvious thing to do when working with these two materials. I now have a collection of 20 or 30 vases, most of which are gifts from designer friends. They are purely decorative. I never even thought of desecrating them by putting anything in them.
I got this vase in 2010. One of my best friends from college was moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and asked me to go on a road trip with her. It was that very special time in my life. We started Sight Unseen the year before, but I didn’t have kids yet, so it felt like nothing but freedom. We stopped in six cities and when we got to Santa Fe near the end of this trip, I wanted to buy something to remember the trip. I don’t remember why I needed this piece so badly. He was talking to me for some reason. It’s really beautiful and the touches of turquoise went with what was going on in my living room at the time. I paid $300 for it and hadn’t spent that much on anything in my life before that point. It doesn’t fit with what’s going on in my house now, and I think I’d get rid of it if it didn’t have such sentimental value to me.
Photo: Courtesy of Jill Singer
“I needed a lot of things when I moved into my apartment in Greenpoint a few years ago, and I worked with my friend Keren Richter from white arrow on finding furniture. For my bedroom – slash – home office she suggested a vintage desk – I would have bought a Wendell Castle if I could have afforded it! — or a custom piece. I thought ordering something would be a way to make a statement. I always wanted a piece of furniture from Jonah Takagi, who is one of my best friends. I didn’t have anything from him other than, like, a random wall hook from Hem. I had pestered him to sell me a vase of his recent residence in France, but it never materialized. He doesn’t usually work directly with clients, and I thought it would be fun to do that once.
I had used a rickety table that was never intended to be a desk, and there were all these scratches in the paint. I’m turning 45 next year so I wanted a real one boss-female dog office – almost an executive style office but fresher. I needed lots of drawers, but wanted it to be sculptural and beautiful. I sent Jonah a bunch of pictures for a moodboard, from a Jean-Michel Frank desk to this crazy desk I found with a half-moon top, but because he knows me and my house , he thought a rectilinear design would work best. It has these really cool details: it looks like it’s floating above the floor, it has these soft closing rails that make opening and closing a drawer really sexy, and it has graduated drawers that are sized for an iPad or reporter’s notebooks on top, and the bottom one fits all my podcasting gear. It’s made of whitewashed maple – I needed something neutral that wouldn’t compete with all the other wooden furniture in my bedroom – and because the lines are traditional, I bought this furniture slightly lumpy bronze handles by Ramsey Condor of the perfect future. I spent a lot of money on all this, but it makes me happy every day.
Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter and Jill Singer
“In 2019 we hosted a party for Sight Unseen to celebrate our rug collaboration with Kasthall, the first product we designed for the home, and it took place at the Swedish Residence, which is this incredible Beaux Arts single family home on the Upper East Side that dates back to 1910. When I went to scout the locations, I couldn’t stop photographing everything I saw. I looked in the pantry and found all these stacked glass candlesticks. They were all different colors: small short yellows, medium purples and tall blues. I saw Kosta Boda stamped on the bottom (I go back all the time to find out who did something) and I didn’t know him, but Monica told me it was like a CB2 from Europe – not very expensive . They were designed by Kjell Engman in 1989. I got home and immediately went to Etsy and eBay and saved a search for them. (Despite what we preach in the book, I had virtually no search alerts at the time.) I ended up buying a green pair, which is featured in How to live with objects on page 222, a larger pair in blue and a single green. I keep them in the middle of my dining table with a green jug I found on Live Auctioneers. I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to Shabbat candlesticks, so I use them often.