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Home Design: A Well-Ordered Approach

Martha Stewart Living, October 2008

Stand in the living room of Jesse James and Kostas Anagnopoulos's New York City apartment and their world seems made of binaries.

An off-white sofa is neatly centered beneath two front windows and flanked by a pair of club chairs, mirror images. Matching wooden bookcases stand along facing walls.

Two vintage amateur paintings -- one a lake scene, the other of a stern-looking family -- hang in opposing spaces. Across the street is an identical building, which can be seen through the windows.

"The outside is symmetrical," says Anagnopoulos (Gus, as he is commonly known), "so you kind of want the inside to be equally symmetrical."

Their apartment is part of the Greystone buildings, a block-long complex in Jackson Heights, Queens. The American Institute of Architecture's guide to New York City calls the 14 structures "dour," but that suits Anagnopoulos, a fan of the Gothic, just fine.

The brick appears overcast, he says, even on sunny days. Built in 1917 -- the year the elevated subway was extended to this Queens neighborhood -- the Greystones were the first "garden apartment" buildings in the United States. Behind each is a cultivated courtyard accessible to all tenants.

James and Anagnopoulos take pleasure in noting that Jackson Heights, transformed in the early 1900s from farmland into a development that once excluded residents based on race and religion, is now one of the country's most diverse communities, with large Colombian, Argentine, Mexican, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, and Bangladeshi populations.

"The day we got to this neighborhood and started walking around, I became a devotee forever," James says.

Their home, where they live with Olympia, their 20-month-old daughter, is on the fifth floor of a walk-up building, which only adds to the charm. "Gus is a poet," James says, "and he had this idea that writers should always live on the top floor."

Of course, the apartment itself -- a "classic six," in New York real estate terminology, consisting of a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a "maid's room -- is not symmetrical at all, which inspired the couple to play with the unconventional and surprising.

Colorful cafe au lait bowls perch on shelves in the master bedroom, below a collection of large scissors.

Gertrude, a stuffed turtledove displayed in a bell jar, was brought home from Paris and named after the writer Gertrude Stein, one of the city's most famous American expatriates. Olympia's bed is an industrially chic vintage hospital crib.

James, a co-owner of Keena, a company that represents designers of decorative home goods as well as art-book publishers, and Anagnopoulos, a salesman for the firm, have always been collectors, but the cross-wiring of their tastes may be what makes their apartment such a harmonious place.

"I might be a little more decorative and go for abundance," James says, "and Gus is a really fine editor."

Their decor was influenced in part by a 2005 visit to the International Arts and Crafts exhibit at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, where they were drawn to the ebonized woods and embrace of nature of the Aesthetic Movement.

The few pieces of dark, heavy furniture in the apartment (including a banker's desk crafted in Boston in the 1850s) are balanced by light, organic motifs, such as the 18 framed illustrations from a vintage handbook on British ferns that occupy a dining room wall.

And while they enjoy the contemporary designs they sell for a living, when it comes to their own home, they're drawn to the singular quality of antiques, which tie all their belongings together.

"Collecting hasn't been so much about rarity or provenance," James says. "It's about a sense of mystery and memory. It's amazing to think about how all of these objects have moved through the world."

Text by Peter Terzian

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Comments (14)

  • MunichMom 16 Feb, 2009

    I think the point here is that interior design is a WAY of organizing. It's a foundation for making choices and the more together your choices stay, the more organized your home looks no matter WHAT. Stacks of paper here and there, corners piled with shoes. My house is visually organized on the large scale and people who visit don't ever seem to notice the piles. Perhaps they seem artful. It's context and martha shows how to give context.

  • Shirl1944 15 Feb, 2009

    Martha is great,I love all her tips.I love her show,I love all she does.You all have to unsestand one thing,anything Martha does,is show case quality. She can take a room that looks like a slob lived in,and turn it into a showcase,thats Martha,I love her for that

  • natandlee 14 Feb, 2009

    I agree with you guys. I stopped watching the martha stewart show about a year ago because nothing was practical anymore. Who is her target audience? It sure isn't me.

  • dockar 14 Feb, 2009

    I'd have to agree with the majority here. Yes, I love Martha's ways and ideas, but I would like "real life" organizing tips here. Eveyone "perceives" things differently and I perceive this as a photo shoot for BH

  • MicheleFolen 14 Feb, 2009

    It all about preception. If your home appears well organized, and the theme is totally symmetrical, it's impressive alway appealing to the eye. This is why I enjoy Martha Stewart and her approach on eveything especially decorating.
    Way to go Martha and thanks for giving us a different, better and more organized way to live that has style and class.

  • dockar 14 Feb, 2009

    Organizing tip? I must have missed it. I was more interested in seeing a picture of this family "threesome" who live in this sterile environement. I could not relate to this. My house is always clean but always a mess with kids, kid's friends, pets, etc. running around and would never look like a magazine spread. I need real life tips.

  • carolynink 14 Feb, 2009

    The articles don't seem to match the pictures! WHAT "bowls perch on shelves in the master bedroom, below a collection of large scissors."? And "Gertrude, a stuffed turtledove displayed in a bell jar, . . ." HUH?

  • susandenton 13 Feb, 2009

    The only part of the room that worked for me was the pitcher of silk flowers on the table in the middle. Everything else looked pedestrian and unimaginative, though clean. I would have to run a reatraigten everything after a delivery truck went by. Stressful.

  • myoriah 13 Feb, 2009

    Sorry you lost me when it comes to organizing with this tip. If this tip was about having things in a symmetry order than no way. I have to agree I would go insane constantly checking also.

  • LizaRaiser 13 Feb, 2009

    Yes, there's a disconnect between the article heading and the picture being on page two. Otherwise I really love your free organizational tips and appreciate them!
    Thanks for this section.

  • gekkolisa 13 Feb, 2009

    I like the lamps towering overhead. The structures in the middle are a bit much.

  • choosycook 13 Feb, 2009

    You have to wade thru all that stuff on page 1 and go to page 2 before it makes any sense, once you finally see a photo of the white sofa. If all future "tips" are going to be old magazine article retreads, please unsubscribe me!

  • Andi07 13 Feb, 2009

    How is this an organizing tip of the day? And I agree with pas_non - the picture used is very confusing when you read the article.

  • pas_non 13 Feb, 2009

    itd be nice to see the things you're talking about. was this a feature in the magazine or something?
    all that symmetry would drive me insane. i'd be like Monk constantly checking things were precisely in their spot - yikes!