This exclusive interview with James Swan was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Maine during February 2011.
You have authored a highly unique book soon to be released, titled “101 Things I Hate About Your House,” please describe the inspiration behind the project.
My new book, “101 Things I Hate About Your House” took it’s shape from my feeling that the last thing the world needed was one more glossy, four-color, over-sized design book. Nothing against the great design books of the world, many of which I’ve collected over the years, but I had no desire to add to the fray. It had been done. Then it occurred to me that something that had not been done was to take a humorous look at the foibles, follies and gigantic decorating mistakes made in homes today. A majority of home-makers will never work with a design professional and yet, they aspire for their homes to be as beautiful as possible. It occurred to me that a bit of laughter might encourage people’s defenses to drop, allowing learning to take place, hopefully followed by positive change. I think it was Mark Twain who said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand”. I believe this includes bad taste.
How would you describe your personal style?
In my homes or manner of dress my personal style is a combination of strong, classic elements mixed with visceral comfort; a bit like favorite jeans worn with a bespoke cashmere blazer. The elegance is in combining the best of opposing worlds.
Do you have a particularly favorite designer, item or room from the past that inspires you to this day?
Years ago I saw Horst’s photographs of Cy Twombly’s apartment in a Roman Palazzo. To me these images represent a perfect blending of high style, fine art and relaxed elegance. I’ve never forgotten these images and draw inspiration from them regularly.
As a designer, what is the single most irritating issue you encounter on a regular basis in bad design?
I love rooms filled with pools of gentle, painterly light. Sadly, lighting is badly mishandled in most homes today. Exposed bulbs, unflattering positioning, randomly punctured ceilings and poorly selected fixtures make interior illumination a frightening prospect. In chapter four of “101 Things..” I ask why everyone looks so lovely in Merchant Ivory’s films. It’s the candlelight; an effect rendered impossible to duplicate with 100 watt bulbs blazing in every lamp, sconce, chandelier, and recessed can in sight! My kingdom for dimmers on everything!
It is 1970 and we are meeting up at a party that Luchino Visconti is having in Rome. What are you wearing? In addition, whom do we want to meet?
For a party hosted by Luchino Visconti I would select a charcoal colored wool, two button, double vent suit with a black cashmere v-neck sweater. I would pass on socks but would wear my favorite black suede Gucci loafers. A stainless steel Rolex would be on my wrist. I am on the look out for Marisa Berenson, Ingrid Thulin and Nicky Haslam.
The above interview with James Swan 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission.