In her new book, Live Beautiful, the hyphenate offers impeccable design insights for others to bring joy.
It’s fitting that Athena Calderone, domestic goddess for the modern age, began her career from home, the very place she has championed—and helps her 375,000 Instagram followers do the same. Her talent and passion for sharing it is more valuable than ever, as our homes become truly sacred spaces in the midst of a global health crisis.
“I ended up having a baby quite young in my 20s, and I hadn’t quite figured out my career yet,” Calderone says. “I was home alone with my newborn, and my husband traveled a lot. Most people at my age were discovering who they are through their careers and being out in the city. I was essentially the polar opposite in that I found my passion and creativity and who I am in my home while isolated.”
At the time, Calderone was living in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, which was a far cry from the trendy, thriving community we know it as today. She and her husband began investing in real estate and moved around the borough every couple of years as their needs kept changing. Calderone says this helped her discover her eye for design as she made each of these homes their own. A friend who also happened to be an interior designer encouraged her to go back to school to study interior design, and the pair started a firm together.
“Between clients and my own homes, I became more educated and started refining my eye, discovering what periods I like, seeking vintage furniture,” Calderone says. “I felt as though I was learning on the job and really began trusting my eye. I found I was approaching design in the same way I approached fashion and recipe development, in that I loved the friction that contrast creates, whether it's on someone’s plate or in a space. I loved that polarizing tension of light and dark or different periods or combining masculine and feminine pieces. That union and clash that created unexpected beauty was what really made design sing for me.” Soon after, EyeSwoon was born, and the rest is history.
Calderone says everything she’s doing now, from her design work to recipe development, in some ways is not so different as when she first started exploring ways to spark creativity and expand her breadth of knowledge within her own four walls. She can credit her wildly popular blog and James Beard Foundation Award–winning cookbook, Cook Beautiful, to these solitary years she spent in self-discovery, developing her passions and sharpening her skills, which has more than earned her distinction as a hyphenate. And her latest book, Live Beautiful, highlights her interior design prowess and her innate ability to help others cultivate their own.
“I don’t have a firm anymore or take on clients, but I have become this expert in dissecting why a room works,” she says. “This book has these larger-than-life designers, and I help distill to the reader why their spaces work, explaining composition, union, and alchemy. That’s the whole concept of the book: dissecting a designer’s creative process and how it evolves, then making it digestible for people to understand design—not in a way to copy anyone, but rather, to find their own design sense.”
The first home featured in Live Beautiful is Calderone’s own swoon-worthy 1800s Greek Revival townhouse in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. Calderone says in her book that this townhouse allowed her to live out her dreams of uniting her love for old-world architecture and design with modern, functional living into one incredible space. Read on to learn more about her creative process, sustainable design tips, and how she outfitted her home with nearly all vintage pieces.