Telling Stories: Who Needs Walls to Talk?

Designer Jane Waggoner's Rooms Speak for Themselves

Jane Waggoner has no coffee table  — certainly not a punishable offense, but a rather curious dilemma for someone having her home photographed for publication. “I just sold it to one of my clients who really wanted it,” the interior decorator explains. Of course, this is the same woman who took a sledgehammer to her own black marble fireplace Thanksgiving morning before a house full of guests were expected to arrive, so it’s not the first time she’s presented a work in progress. (“I didn’t want anyone to think I picked out a black marble fireplace,” she clarifies.)

The aforementioned blight was ultimately transformed by scribbled ironwork and glass tile from Waterworks, but not before spending almost a year as a sandpit. Clearly, Waggoner isn’t kidding when she says, “It’s better to have nothing than the wrong thing."

This attitude has served her well professionally and personally, as evidenced by a home filled with carefully curated furniture, art and objets, each with its own tale to tell. Pointing to anything — the hand-printed kitchen wallpaper by upstate NY artist Joanna Rock, the metal bed created by Brooklyn artist Chris Bundy after Waggoner read about him in Women’s Wear Daily, the quarry tile she tracked down from Wales after spying it in an Architectural Digest feature on actor Matthew Modine’s home, the elaborate needlepoint rug that represents five years sitting outside City Ballet while daughter Madeline took lessons — elicits an anecdote as engaging as the owner herself.

Waggoner speculates that her circa-1920s Georgian was renovated at some point in the ’70s. When she moved in during the spring of 2000, she did the cosmetic touches herself, citing The Artist in His Studio — Alexander Liberman’s iconic 1960s book that includes intimate conversations with some of the world’s most influential artists working in France during the 20th century, as well as revealing photography of the surroundings in which they created — as her primary inspiration. “The most common thread in my work is simple: I want everything to have a soul, to show the hand of the artist. It’s important to connect with the person that made the thing.” And if that means waiting patiently for the perfect chair, candlestick or lamp to reveal itself, so be it. “The creative road is never straight, always evolving — it’s part of a journey that can’t be rushed. If a client says ‘I want it now,’ I’m probably not the decorator for him.”

She walks the talk with her three-year-old venture, a line of fine hand-knotted carpets under her own name, available at Forty Five Ten and to the trade through Interior Resources. Each is handmade in Nepal with GoodWeave certification, an exacting program that ensures no child labor is involved. Patterns and colors reflect her travels, a master’s degree in Art History (she wrote her thesis on Constantin Brancusi’s influence on Isamu Noguchi, which the latter refuted when she called him on the phone to verify; Waggoner was vindicated nearly 25 years later during the exhibition “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and his Contemporaries, 1922-1960”) and time spent working at the Museum of Modern Art, The Cleveland Center of Contemporary Art and The Dallas Museum of Art. Made from high-altitude Tibetan sheep — or, in Waggoner’s words, “The Bentley of wool” — with 100 painstaking knots per square inch, each carpet requires an average of five months to complete. The result is a sumptuous, one-of-a-kind heirloom that could make even the most diehard Nicholas Kirkwood addict forswear shoes forever. She’s currently exploring the development of stenciled seagrass rugs using chalky white paint reminiscent of her John Dickinson side table — the prototype now rests between two textured velvet sofas in her living room.

A disdain for mass-produced objects goes hand-in-hand with one of Waggoner’s most endearing traits: a kind of extreme sentimentality most often associated with the Hallmark Channel. She keeps a love poem tucked behind a Milton Avery artist print; her grandfather’s eighth-grade graduation photo sits atop the custom mantle; a wire sculpture created by Madeline’s first boyfriend shares shelf space with scads of important art tomes and a Rusty Scruby photograph. She transformed a vintage bamboo settee and chair belonging to her grandmother with down-filled cushions encased in Gretchen Bellinger velvet from David Sutherland; and, upon walking through the front door, one is greeted by another of Grandmother’s refurbished pieces, an antique chair upholstered in a second needlepoint magnum opus that took three years for Waggoner to complete.

It all adds up to a uniquely personal cocktail of old and new, tension and balance, one-of-a-kind collectibles and humble finds — all with one thing in common: a narrative arc. “If something doesn’t have a story,” she says, “get rid of it.”