My Grandparents Left Me a Sign That Influenced My Whole Design Style

published Apr 19, 2023
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Modern living room with beige leather sofa, graphic black and white accents

One of my favorite design tips for the notoriously indecisive is to use one special or sentimental piece of decor to inform the entire theme or color scheme of a living space. Whether it’s a family heirloom with an unusual palette, an investment sofa with uniquely weathered fabric, or even an antique dresser that caught your eye at a flea market, practically anything can be your primary source of inspiration.

I first appreciated this concept after staying at Pittsburgh’s Kimpton Hotel Monaco. I admired how an oversized birdcage lamp became a focal and jumping-off point for all kinds of bird-forward motifs, like feather-patterned wallpaper and quail-printed pillows. Everything in my hotel room blended so effortlessly — all while anchored by one playful, repurposed item — and that visual cohesion made an impression that has stuck with me. So I wanted to use this method to kick off my next decorating project. 

After a somewhat recent move to Brooklyn, I knew I would be inheriting a piece that would serve as my apartment’s statement maker: a store logo from my grandparents’ New York-based clothing store, Paraphernalia, from the ‘60s. Not only was the black-and-white infinity spiral timeless in shape, color, and design, but it also brought a wealth of history that I didn’t realize until I pressed my grandpa for more information and followed up with some research online. 

“Paraphernalia was the first to market must-have trends to a young audience at relatively low prices,” reveals a profile of the appropriately nicknamed “House of Mod” in New York Magazine. “In the first two weeks Paraphernalia was open, the [flagship] store sold completely out of merchandise and had to close until the owners could produce enough inventory to keep going.” 

In fact, my grandparents’ store was home to early designs from icons like Betsey Johnson, who, along with several other tastemakers of that generation, manufactured cutting-edge (and affordable!) clothing that set the tone on fads like mini skirts, cut-out dresses, and garments with unconventional materials like gel, lights, and paper. While franchises fizzled in the ‘70s (including my grandparents’ store, which was in New Rochelle), they held onto the logo they had custom-made and upcycled it as wall art in my mother’s childhood home. Since acquiring the lucite emblem, it’s been fun to play a game of “Where’s Waldo” ever since, as I occasionally spot it on display in the background of old family photos. 

After my grandparents’ divorce, my grandma kept it under her bed, move after move, for no apparent reason other than to possibly pass it on to someone who would cherish it in the generations that followed. That first person would be me. I wanted the meaningful artwork to be front and center in my apartment, so I put it above my entry table right when you enter the door — seen above. Black-and-white is obviously a classic, easy color combo to carry through a home, but as someone who would describe their style as “organized chaos,” limiting my palette to neutral shades prohibited me from collecting quirky, sometimes conflicting items “just because.” This logo provides me with a baseline; with everything I add to my place, I aim for it to be streamlined, balanced, and flow effortlessly, much like the piece itself. Of course, outlier decor has found its way into my home, but the logo has set the tone for some much-needed creative restraint.

Specifically, a Jonathan Adler Ruggable runner, which almost looks like it was designed in tandem with the logo, carries this black-and-white striped theme into my living area, where other similar accents can be found in storage boxes, vases, Crate & Barrel pillows, and my second favorite piece: an oversized velvet striped chair from Overstock I affectionately call my “Beetlejuice throne.” My entire bedroom decor, which you can see above, is also entirely black-and-white. I find this to be an appropriate finishing note, if you will, to this heirloom piece that sets the design tone in my entrance.

While I’ve always enjoyed thrifting and coming across treasures with unique backstories (either told to me at time of purchase or fabricated in my own head), I never thought my best find would be something that not only embodied my grandparents’ entrepreneurial spirit, but also that of modern fashion in the ‘60s. Seeing it brings me happiness, not only in my ability to carry this tradition onward, but also to remind myself of the creativity my grandparents and their store’s designers displayed during a time where thinking outside-of-the-box was celebrated. And although trends come and go, both in interior and clothing design, Paraphernalia’s logo is a testament to the basic-yet-unique and historical items that will never go out of style.