1stdibs Introspective - Style Compass - Kerry Joyce
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“Every Halloween from early childhood I would trick or treat at all the homes I coveted,” says William Diamond of his Long Island neighborhood.  “I would charm my way in with the owners to see the interiors of their homes.  This was long before I had any idea I would become a designer.” Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Anthony Baratta was gleaning his design education via the crowded back seat of a station wagon with his four siblings as his family visited every American attraction from the Grand Canyon to New Orleans. “This was not the ‘fly-over’ kind of travel one is used to today,” says Baratta. “This was roadside America and I never stopped looking out those car windows. I learned so much about American design: the kitsch and the colorful, Neo-classic, Victorian and modernist architecture – all would be huge influences on my work.” For Diamond, influence and inspiration came under one roof when he was just seventeen and visiting decorator Pauline Feldman’s house in Long Island: “I had never been subjected to greatness. This was genius decorating. I just stood there studying it. I couldn’t move.” Feldman’s gift proved a catalyst to Diamond while at Carnegie Mellon University, where he was studying painting. “At night I poured over architecture and decorating books in the library and became obsessed.”

The two met when Baratta – who was just about to graduate with a degree in Art History from Fordham University and was working at The Museum of Modern Art – personally toured Diamond around a Picasso retrospective, compliments of the urging of a mutual friend. “Bill was wearing a purple cable knit sweater!” recalls Tony. “He was so preppy! And as always, neat as a pin, handsome and nice as could be to me.” While Diamond can’t recall Baratta’s outfit with the same clarity, Baratta’s personality made a huge impression, one which remains an inspiration to Diamond to this day. “Tony had the most incredible manners and he was always smiling. You could tell his laughter from five rooms away. His great sense of humor informs so much of our work,” says Diamond who went on to hire Baratta as his apprentice. “I really knew very little about decorating,” says Baratta. “But little by little, Bill and Pauline Feldman – who had become his business partner – exposed me to all that was great in design. Every book, every magazine, we would pour through together. They taught me to be discriminating, but to be open to changing tastes in design. I was present at all the installations, which is where all the decorating magic happens. There were projects where antique Victorian furniture mixed with the likes of Le Corbusier. I cannot stress how, in 1981, this was so radically different and exciting to me.”

“For the first year” Diamond recalls with a smile, “Tony didn't say a word. Now of course I can not get him to stop talking!” When Diamond went out of his own, Baratta followed and the two men soon forged the firm of Diamond Baratta Design. And while Baratta’s crash course in interior design proved helpful, it is ironic that what initially fueled their design passion: the love of art, is what they pair rely upon more than on any of their other skills and resources. “In many ways art still informs our perspective more than design,” says Baratta. The duo’s thirty-year collaboration is a stylish testament to not only their roots but also their ability to embrace change as much as creativity. “One of the reasons we are amazing partners is that Tony is the only person in the world who can unstick me,” says Diamond. “If a client doesn’t like something, I can mourn over the problem for days but Tony is great at moving us to find the best solution.” For Baratta, the successful enduring Ying Yang of their partnership can be explained simply by his reliance on not what gets put into a room but by what is left out: “Every designer needs an editor,” he says. “And Bill is mine.”

From California to New York, the pair continues to dazzle, amuse and intrigue with work that touts influences as far-ranging as Damien Hirst, Charlie Brown’s striped jersey, and weather vanes – as they rely on an international team of expert craftsman who embrace the possibility of “what if” as much as they do. “For the past 25 years we have been employing on a full time basis, the most amazing weaver who can indulge us in our wildest ideas,” says Diamond. “Instead of using the traditional blue and white stripe theme on a piece of furniture, we had her get rid of the symmetry and create a divine mismatched take on the traditional.” And sometimes it’s just the Xerox machine that brings an epiphany to life: “ When we’ve wanted to reinvent the basic hounds tooth, glen plaid or argyle,” says Baratta. “We just kept enlarging the basic pattern on the copier until we got the size we imagined.”
“Our take, whether it’s French or English, has always been American,” says Baratta, “But with fresh eyes.” Their recently published book, All-American: The Exuberant Style of William Diamond and Anthony Baratta, highlights not only a wealth of projects over the prolific pair’s past three years, but also offers insight into their own design DNA, from glossy spreads of Baratta’s Miami bedroom with its over-sized butterfly wallpaper to an eight-foot-long painting of an imaginary room Diamond drew while still at Carnegie Mellon. With its explosive dance of pattern with pattern, modern with traditional, it aptly foreshadows the real-life rooms to come.
Omnipresent are the bold re-interpretations of the classic plaids Diamond and Baratta have single-handedly brought back to the forefront of design consciousness. “I have never loved anything more than tartan,” says Diamond, who firmly believes it should express itself in hues of pink and green or across the floor of a Gulfstream 400. “Michael Taylor, the great California decorator, is probably where we get our sense of scale from,” says Baratta. “He was fearless, would take a room to the limits of chic and was also was as inventive and clever as can be.” No matter how complex the muse or the creator, for Diamond and Baratta, longevity of a room or a relationship can be attributed to understanding spontaneity as much as predetermination. “When Sister Parish designed a house, she did all the upholstered furniture first, and when it came time to install it, invariably it ended up in completely different places,” says Diamond. “And she understood that adapting to the moment is sometimes the smartest thing a designer can do. And that’s always one of our goals. That and always asking: ‘Where are we focusing and where are we looking?”’
“We like to direct people’s eyes.” says Baratta, finishing Diamond’s thought seamlessly.

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