A Victorian Home With a Twist

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The New York Sun

When Tonin MacCallum was growing up, her mother loved decorating the large Victorian houses the family inhabited in Englewood, N.J. Now Ms. Mac-Callum spends her days designing other peoples’ homes, but her own apartment on East 90th Street is perhaps the strongest testament to her mother’s influence and love for Victorian interiors.”I think you’re unconsciously affected by what you grow up in,” she said. “You either react with it or against it, and I reacted with it.”

Ms. MacCallum first aspired to be a set designer,but when she found out women were not allowed in the union, she decided to do something similar. Lester Kingsley, the head of the now defunct department store B. Altman & Co., offered Ms. MacCallum an interior design apprenticeship in 1959. (Mario Buatta – now well known for his chintz designs – apprenticed at B. Altman’s at the same time.) Ms. MacCallum has designed a show room at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House off and on since the early 1980s and runs an interior design business out of her home.

Ms. MacCallum describes her taste as eclectic. In her apartment, a tiny Christmas tree perches year round on top of an Asian lacquer table in the foyer, and two Chinese lanterns stand on the floor. The first thing that pops out, however, is the antique English fabric with a scenic Asian print covering the foyer walls. Ms. MacCallum said fabrics hold the walls together much better than wallpaper.

The rest of the apartment, in a pre-war building that Ms. MacCallum has lived in for 30 years, feels much more Victorian, although Asian art and artifacts are sprinkled throughout it. A dark green hallway with velvet green carpeting connects the two bedrooms. The master bedroom has been transformed into Ms. MacCallum’s office, which she shares with her two assistants. The room also holds her large wooden dining room table, since the original dining room has been turned into a sitting room.

Ms. MacCallum’s bedroom is perhaps the most Victorian in the apartment. Her 19th-century Spanish brass bed used to be her parents’, though she has updated it by adding a small canopy. Green English floral chintz print fabric covers the walls, and the balloon shades, bed canopy, and some pillows on the bed are made of the same fabric in pink. A vanity table near the bed is lined with antique silver brushes that used to belong to Ms. MacCallum’s aunt. The one window in the bedroom gives her a narrow view of Central Park.

On the other side of the apartment is the country-style kitchen. Blue cotton toile fabric by Brunschwig & Fils covers the kitchen wall and cabinets. Staffordshire blue and white plates hanging on the wall blend into the fabric, and at the end of the room by the window there is a table filled with plants. Framed pictures from a Russian children’s book are hung on the alcove walls. But Ms. MacCallum’s favorite purchase for her kitchen was the refrigerator. “The best thing I ever bought was my Sub-Zero fridge. It fits everything,” she said.

In the living and sitting rooms the same multicolored large-scale toile print covers the couches and most of the chairs. Both the balloon shades in the living room and the drapes in the sitting room are made of the same striped silk fabric. Over the fireplace in the living room hangs a portrait of a young woman that Ms. MacCallum bought by mistake at a Sotheby’s auction – she handed in the wrong bid number, but luckily loves the painting anyway. On the other side of the room is a large 18th-century French commode covered with Portuguese-French candleholders, 18th-century Chinese plates, a silver Tibetan letter carrier, and a papier-mache lacquer lamp from Kashmir.

The sitting room has an 18th century English oak drop-leaf table that also displays objects Ms. MacCallum has gathered in her travels, including a tribal Indian hat, a Tibetan prayer wheel, and a Victorian punch bowl. The rest of the room has a mixed international flavor as well. There are Japanese prints on the walls and there is a Chinese screen, which Ms. Mac-Callum bought at a yard sale, that hangs over the couch. “There is good stuff mixed with complete junk,” Ms. MacCallum said. The table in the center of the room is covered with a copper tray from Mexico, and two 19th-century Chinese pots sit above an 18th-century walnut bonnetiere. “I mix it up,” Ms. MacCallum said. “I’m not loyal to anybody – I am loyal to everybody.”

Ms. MacCallum says that there is no rhyme or reason to her design choices, except that she buys whatever she likes and makes everything work together. “I’m a very good putter-togetherer and space planner,” Ms. MacCallum said. This work method also applies to her clients.”I put all their stuff together and it tells a story – their story.” She likes to work with what her clients already have and want to use. “I don’t think it’s very fair to say to someone, ‘Throw it all out and start from scratch.'”


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