|James Iha's Bloomsbury Apartment|
|September 11, 2002, 11:00 pm|
Source: New York Times
From The Remains Of the Day . . .
William L. Hamilton. New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Sep 12, 2002. pg. F.1
The New East Village, Newspaper
Abstract (Document Summary)
[JAMES IHA], above, former guitarist of Smashing Pumpkins, at home in his apartment, inspired by English aesthetes. His collection includes photographs by Lartigue and famous rock images like [Bob Dylan] by [Jerry Schatzberg].; BESPOKE -- Decorative painting includes a vestibule's walls and ceiling, above, and the side of a tub, left. Below, antique doorknobs helped individualize the rooms. (Photographs by Joanne Chan for The New York Times)(pg. F1); BLOOMSBURY ROCKS -- Above, living room walls were frescoed in imitation of treatments at Charleston, in Sussex, England. Far right, a Tiffany lamp's table is a cart. Right, a movie poster offers a view for the kitchen window. Inset, left, Mr. Iha and Smashing Pumpkins.; HEAVY-METAL QUAINT -- Above left, James Iha in a window seat created by new bookshelves. Middle, Mr. Iha's office. Right, the bathroom, gutted and refitted, with English tilework and a glass shower enclosure.; MANORLY -- In the bedroom, stenciled wall paisleys and antique portraits. (Photographs by Joanne Chan for The New York Times; Yelena Yemchuk, far left)(pg. F7)
Full Text (1407 words)
Copyright New York Times Company Sep 12, 2002
JAMES IHA stuck a table lamp on the ceiling of his new apartment in New York to use as an overhead lighting fixture, but that piece of upside-down thinking didn't quite work out.
Mr. Iha had seen it done in a book on Charleston, the Sussex country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the English painters and decorative freethinkers of the Bloomsbury Group, which convened at their colorful, unconventional house early in the 20th century. Mr. Iha, a rock guitarist, is kind of an honorary member and a tenant in absentia.
If eclecticism now rules the day in home design, what Mr. Iha seems interested in is the remains of the day.
With his ochre frescoed walls and amoebic paisley stenciling, his willow-leaf-tapestry sofa and blue and white china doorknobs, the Art Deco ballroom chairs and the baleful gallery of oil portraits of dogs, Mr. Iha in residence could more easily be a quietly unraveling aesthete than the power-chord stroker who took the arena stage for 14 years as the lead guitarist and co-founder, with Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins, the platinum-CD band.
''Aesthetically, I like the whole idea of this group of artists and writers, freethinking, just doing what they did in this eccentric manner,'' said Mr. Iha, 34, sitting in hipbone-hugging jeans in a red leather club chair in his English-donnish living room. ''They created their own interesting utopian world in the countryside. For that time period, it was anti-establishment.'' (Virginia Woolf -- she's a rebel).
Mr. Iha owns an Arts and Crafts house in Chicago, his hometown. He bought the one-bedroom floor-through New York apartment in a 19th-century town house on East 10th Street two years ago, after Smashing Pumpkins disbanded. Parker Posey, the actress, is his upstairs neighbor. Robert Gober, the artist, is his downstairs neighbor.
''I was on the road a lot,'' Mr. Iha said of playing with the Pumpkins. ''I think I've become more of a homebody after all that touring.''
With two other musicians, Mr. Iha operates a recording studio, Stratosphere Sound, in Chelsea, where he also produces for his own label, Scratchie Records.
''This is my year of dabbling,'' he said, ''after being cooped up in the band. I wanted this place to be not so serious as Arts and Crafts, not so rigid. I've liked Bloomsbury, visually -- the colors.''
Mr. Iha worked with Brad Floyd, a New York architect with a predominantly fashion-world clientele, whom he met through Anna Sui, the designer.
''If I thought about it, I could see how someone in his profession might want something more modern,'' Mr. Floyd said, recalling that what Mr. Iha showed him in torn-out magazine pages and books were, without exception, ''old, cluttered, messy, rundown English rooms.''
Mr. Floyd, at the apartment to wrap up the renovation last week, pointed to the line at which the ceiling met the wall, dipping and rising like a rake's eyebrow.
''When we did this job, we left a lot of the imperfections in place,'' he said. ''Ordinarily we'd get rid of all that.''
The architect cut existing doors in half, making sets of small French doors that create a cottage-like quality in the apartment. He hung them with vintage hardware and placed doorknobs low on the doors, as though Hobbits lived there. ''It makes them much more quaint,'' said Mr. Iha, a big fan of authors like J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
The wide-plank floors were left untouched. Mr. Floyd built a wall of deep bookshelves across the side of the living room that faces the tree-lined street, allowing nicely sized window seats with cushions where Mr. Iha can sit, as though in a tree. Outside the kitchen window, a blank brick wall, which formed the view, was papered with an Italian movie poster, now peeling, giving the impression of an unseen alley in a hill town, not a tenement's light well. Mr. Floyd added 14-inch baseboards in all rooms, which strengthen, by their scale, an amateur, homemade quality not inappropriate to modest manor houses like Charleston, which dates from the 18th century.
Ricky Clifton as well as Nessa Ryan and John Schumann frescoed and stenciled the apartment's walls in colors that range from a bright British budgie yellow in the living room to ''dead trout,'' a graying flesh-pink that Mr. Iha said he chose for the bedroom.
''I like the space of lofts, but I like having rooms,'' he said. ''They have their own personalities.''
Hand-painted patterns in the vestibule's walls and ceiling and on furniture like a television cabinet and a coffee table were taken from details found in books on Bloomsbury. Working with Todd Nickey, a designer, Mr. Floyd brought in sofas and chairs (supplementing them with fabrics and cushions) that subscribed to the gentle meander of the interiors that Mr. Iha showed him: Turkish kilim upholstery, gilt bergeres, an Indian pineapple-print wallpaper and an old black highboy desk that looks like an organ in a country church. The apartment's intercom panel is housed inside an iron Royal Mail letterbox.
Mr. Iha declined to disclose the budget.
More than a style, things seem to have a life of their own, which Mr. Iha enjoys and encourages with his own collecting.
''I kind of like magical-looking things,'' he said, describing a doll, which he bought in a toy store in Belgium, seated on top of the television cabinet. It is a boy in a bear suit, his face ringed by fur like a child who has been enchanted by a witch. ''It's kind of demented, like out of a bizarre fairy tale,'' he said.
On the living room mantel is a Victorian postcard of a man sticking his head into the mouth of a paper cutout of a lion, a card of a man in a devil's costume with his foot contorted behind his head and a Cecil Beaton photograph of Wallis Simpson wearing a conical hat that looks like a sorcerer's cap.
In a narrow office, next to the living room, Mr. Iha has displayed other parts of his collection of photographs. ''Obviously, because I like rock music, I have a bunch of rock photos,'' he said. There are portraits of Bob Dylan by Jerry Schatzberg, Nick Drake by Julian Lloyd and George Harrison, bearded like Rasputin, by Barry Feinstein.
''They all look a little mad in the pictures,'' he said. ''This is Harrison in his garden-gnome phase, from the inside of 'All Things Must Pass,' his first solo record.''
Mr. Iha's own head-shot photograph of his dog, Bugg, a Weimaraner-husky blend, sits on an end table, framed in velvet, next to an out-of-focus photograph of a squirrel's face, also framed in velvet, like a pair of relatives from a previous era. ''This is Bugg's nemesis,'' he said. ''A squirrel, any squirrel. I got this picture off the Internet.''
Mr. Iha's guitars, of which there are dozens, from an acoustic Martin to a Fender Telecaster, lean against walls in every corner like punting poles. And behind the creweled drapery in his office, stacked on closet shelves, is a monolith of black stereo equipment, silent and lit, like a wizard's tower in a fantasy comic. Wireless speakers begin to appear, when one looks closely, in all Mr. Iha's rooms, like faces materializing in mirrors.
''I had to have rock music,'' he said, hitting play, of his East Village country seat.
ROCK AND ROLLING LAWNS -- James Iha, above, former guitarist of Smashing Pumpkins, at home in his apartment, inspired by English aesthetes. His collection includes photographs by Lartigue and famous rock images like Bob Dylan by Jerry Schatzberg.; BESPOKE -- Decorative painting includes a vestibule's walls and ceiling, above, and the side of a tub, left. Below, antique doorknobs helped individualize the rooms. (Photographs by Joanne Chan for The New York Times)(pg. F1); BLOOMSBURY ROCKS -- Above, living room walls were frescoed in imitation of treatments at Charleston, in Sussex, England. Far right, a Tiffany lamp's table is a cart. Right, a movie poster offers a view for the kitchen window. Inset, left, Mr. Iha and Smashing Pumpkins.; HEAVY-METAL QUAINT -- Above left, James Iha in a window seat created by new bookshelves. Middle, Mr. Iha's office. Right, the bathroom, gutted and refitted, with English tilework and a glass shower enclosure.; MANORLY -- In the bedroom, stenciled wall paisleys and antique portraits. (Photographs by Joanne Chan for The New York Times; Yelena Yemchuk, far left)(pg. F7)
Credit: William L. Hamilton