Eddie Ross has a thing for old stuff. In fact, he’s made a career out of giving new life to vintage and flea-market finds, from furniture to fine art and kitschy accessories. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a former food editor, he honed his decorating and entertaining skills as a design director on culinary TV shows and as a private caterer. He made the leap to full-time design as the Associate Decorating Editor for House Beautiful, where his “Weekend Shopper” column introduced fellow décor lovers to flea markets all over the U.S. He also worked as the Senior Style Editor of Martha Stewart Living, and took on decorating and entertaining gigs for clients as diverse as Ralph Lauren, Bloomingdales, Lowe’s, Pottern Barn, Gracious Home, and Calico Corners.
Now the East Coast Producing Editor for Better Homes & Garden, Eddie continues to bring his mix of high-end aesthetic and budget-friendly finds to readers—and Instagram junkies; check out his feed, and you’ll become an instant addict. A self-described “unabashed hoarder of all things beautiful,” he’ll expand on this personal approach to decorating this spring with his first book, Modern Mix: Curating Personal Style with Chic & Accessible Finds (available for preorder now. Did we mention that no less an authority than Bunny Williams wrote the foreword?).
In the book, Eddie walks us through the process of discovering materials, combining disparate elements, and pro styling to create exciting, color-splashed interiors; original table settings; and festive party setups. We can’t wait to try his tips (and drool over the photos of his New York City apartment and Connecticut home, which he co-owns with partner Jaithan Kochar), but for now, we’re sitting down with Eddie to talk old stuff, new stuff, and all things design.
Fresh American: What’s your earliest memory of being interested in design?
Eddie Ross: My grandfather was a landscape designer, and I remember him working on this one estate in Greenwich, where I grew up. It was fairly minimalist and clean. Then, when I was 15, I worked at Waston’s Catering as a dishwasher. One day, Sue [Watson Scully, the owner] needed someone to help with a catering job at a private home in Rye. It was the most beautiful house, a traditional colonial with a spiral swoop staircase, right on the water. It had been designed by Ruth Cushing, very much in the Mario Buatta style—English inspired, with lots of chintz and an amazing view of Long Island Sound. It was the first time I really realized good interior design.
FA: What has been the biggest change in your design approach or aesthetic over the years?
ER: Adding color and pattern. When I worked at Martha Stewart, I felt like I was living in a grey cloud. White, ironstone, slate—it’s tonally pretty, but not very lively and happy and colorful. I was going to the flea market and seeing all these beautiful colors and patterns, and I wanted to use them. Now I’ve totally embraced color in both my New York City apartment and house in Connecticut.
FA: What’s your greatest challenge as a designer?
ER: Budget! [Laughs] I always want it to be perfect and beautiful, but budget is a big factor. And when it comes to interior design, I want to reupholster everything. [Laughs]
FA: Which design rule or idea do you refer back to over and over? Which have you tossed out the window?
ER: Decorating is not forever. I buy beautiful things. I find them at flea markets, thrift shops, antique stores, tag sales, Goodwill—I’m not spending $4,000 on a pair of lamps. This way I can switch things out and not feel bad. It’s about constant change in a home. I always keep our cream sectional, teal Danish modern Knoll chairs—which I found at the Salvation Army for $50. Plus a white coffee table from Ikea that I put campaign brass corners on—it looks high-end. Those items will always be in my home, but I appreciate variety everywhere else.
I don’t feel like there are really design rules. We always hear you can’t paint a small room dark, but it’s not true. If you paint it dark, you can always use small furniture to make it look larger. I’m so not a fan of wall-to-wall carpet. And furniture doesn’t have to be placed around the edges of the room; you can pull it toward the center to create more space around the perimeter.
FA: What are your go-to sources for inspiration?
ER: Flea markets and vintage magazines, especially Flair’s old holiday issues, vintage Architectural Digest, and Better Homes & Gardens from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. I’m fortunate that I get to go in the archive rooms at BHG! Design was so on the edge back then. I also like coffee-table design books, especially vintage.
For more modern inspiration, I love Mary McDonald’s rooms; they have something of John Johnson’s look from the past. And Miles Redd—he’s like Rose Cumming with color. We’re all looking for inspiration from the past, and to put personal spin on it.
FA: Describe a project that didn’t go quite as planned, and how you turned it around.
ER: It was our first apartment in New York City, and it was going to be in Domino. I painted it this Ralph Lauren grey. I painted it at night, after work. When I got up in the morning, it was “greenge”—not a pretty color at all. But I didn’t have a choice; the photo shoot was already scheduled for a day and a half later, so we had to go with it. We changed out the art and some furniture to better work with the wall color. But we fixed it later. [Laughs]
RA: Which design trend or idea do you wish would go away? Which design trend or idea are you loving right now?
ER: I’m loving all the marble-ization of fabrics. And I think I’m in love with needlepoint, brass, and gold. I really wish that chevron and lattice patterns would disappear. Whenever you go to the gift shows, everything is still chevron and lattice.
I like that it’s not just about minimal decorating anymore. I’m a maximalist! I like to mix time periods, eras, styles. Right now in our dining room, I have an octagonal travertine coffee table with Knoll dining chairs on chrome casters, and a waterfall 1970s Lucite chandelier. The wall is lined with Ikea bookcases that serve as my butler pantry.
FA: Which designers or blogs can you not get enough of?
FA: In your opinion, what’s one thing that will never go out of style?
ER: Modern art will work no matter where I am, and it will never got out of style. It instantly adds chicness to a traditional room—like what Billy Baldwin used to do.
FA: What’s the one item in your home you couldn’t live without?
ER: My vintage mahogany pharmaceutical cabinet lined with zinc and brass fixtures. It was painted yellow, and my grandfather stripped it down and I refinished it. It’s had so many purposes; I’ve had it in a long hallway as a “linen closet”; it was a butler’s pantry in the kitchen; in was a shelf in the living room filled with books and tchotchkes. Right now it’s holding my magazine collection in my Connecticut house.
In my living room, I also have a bedroom dresser that I use as a sideboard for my TV and electronics. The key is to find pieces that you can make work for you and your needs at the time.
FA: If you were to chuck designing for another career, what would it be?
ER: An archaeologist. I feel like I’m an old soul in a way. I love old things, and I love finding them. As a kid, I used to go bottle digging with my friend Brian, and all the things we would find. . . . I love discarded things. I’m like a treasure hunter.
FA: Which book is on your nightstand, and which movie is tops in your Netflix queue right now?
ER: Price Check with Parker Posey is the movie I just watched—so funny. I’m not a big reader, but I have a coffee-table book from 1958 on twentieth-century painters that I just love. It was a flea-market find. And Happy Times, about [photographer] Jerome Zerbe, and a Warhol book. I also have a 1986 first edition from Bergdorf Goodman. It’s a biography on Cher and was a gift from Jaithan.