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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