Design Q&A with Thomas Callaway

Design Q&A with Thomas Callaway

Abby Stone
May 9, 2014
(Image credit: Thomas Callaway)

Interior designer Thomas Callaway, whose window design can be seen at Harbinger, is the final chapter in this year's series of interviews with the designers participating in The Legends of La Cienega Event: Novel Interiors. I'll be sharing the afterword, the photos of the windows, once they are shot so, if you're not in Los Angeles May 7-9, you'll still have a chance to see how each designer has interpreted their chosen novel.

Tom Callaway and his team have designed and renovated over 100 projects across the country, from Malibu to Miami to New York. Based out of Santa Monica since 1988, his firm, Thomas Callaway Associates, has grown to encompass architectural design and planning, construction supervision, landscape design, interior decoration, as well as a line of furniture and of fabric.

Callaway's been included in House Beautiful’s list of “Top 100 designers in America” numerous times, and frequently pops up on HGTV. In 2012, Callaway opened an art and antiques gallery called “Stuff Tom Likes,” which is open by appointment and can also be viewed online on 1st Dibs.

What inspired you to choose the novel/book you have selected for this year’s LCDQ Legends of La Cienega event?
In my early twenties, I studied art, painting and printmaking in Paris and Amsterdam. In fact, I recently designed a line of textiles, wall coverings and rugs for Holland and Sherry based on the artists and places I came to cherish as a young man. These artists, Picasso, Braque. Matisse, and others, were also admired and collected by Gertrude Stein. Their work covered the walls of the Left Bank apartment where she hosted her legendary salon that gathered together artists and writers in the 1920's. Ernest Hemingway was one of these visitors. His book, A Moveable Feast, verbally sketches his time in Paris and at Miss Stein's salon.

I chose to illustrate this book title for my window design at the Harbinger Showroom as a peek into Stein's legendary salon. I used the fabrics I designed for Holland and Sherry, Thomas Callaway Pattern Works' "The Left Bank Collection", which are being shown to the public for the first time, as the raw material and focal point of my window design. Here's a sketch of my design:

(Image credit:

What novel to movie adaptation got the production design/set design right? Please give an example of one that got it wrong, too!
To Kill A Mockingbird is a wonderful example of a film set that perfectly represents the imagery as the book describes it. Another is The Grapes of Wrath.

I can't think of many books I've read that have become movies... in any case, not enough to comment on sets that have disappointed me, although I can say that almost every Hollywood Western ever made has disappointed my idea of appropriate costumes, especially men's hats, which are often so incorrect in style and size that they ruin the entire production for me.

Designers love to feature fashion, art and design books in their finished rooms. What are some of the best hardcover novels to display?
I seldom use novels in my photo shoots, only because I seldom read fiction. I'd be more apt to use Sea Biscuit or John Adams if I wanted to put a book to use in a photo shoot.

Everyone loves a great deal. Tell us a quick story about the best bargain you’ve ever found at a vintage store or flea market.
I've collected many things throughout my life and of course, a bargain is always a goal! I began collecting Native American arts way back in high school. In the mid 70's I came across a Navajo weaving in an old resale shop in Buffalo, NY. Clearly the shop keepers had no idea what this weaving was, because they were using it for the background fabric for a pin up board with notes and other stuff pinned to it. I bought it for $35 and had it restored for an additional $600. My $635 investment is now valued at $8500!

Excluding fresh flowers in abundance, what is your favorite styling trick?
The simple act of editing is my number one styling practice. After being away from a completed project, sometimes for months, or even years, it's not uncommon to return for a photo shoot to find scores of photos, toys, pillows, and various pieces of art and travel purchases that have been added to the interior scheme I originally created. Removing many, if not all, of these acquisitions "edits" the space back to a focused design of balanced color, scale, and point of view. It's a remedy I try to use on my own residences as well. We all have a tendency to accumulate more than is visually cohesive and aesthetically pleasing.

Sometimes even the clients with the biggest budgets fall in love with an affordable item from a popular catalog or online store - what is one of your best affordable finds?
I recently needed a pair of sterling candlesticks for a client's dining room table. We looked online to find a vast assortment of vintage sets, from expensive to inexpensive. We settled on a pair of sterling silver ones from the 20s for $400. They were even monogrammed with the same first letter as my client's surname. They are stunning and, given the quality, design and craftsmanship, relatively affordable.

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