interior designInteriorssneak peeks

sneak peek: matthew bird

by anne

it was fun getting the email from matthew bird of the great shop, the curatorium,  and hearing that he had a revelation while putting together everything for his sneak peek:  he LOVES his house! his house and life is all about good things, not necessarily any specific kind of things. i think he summed it up best by saying, “i love being surrounded by objects i love made by people i love.” everything has a story and a history and we’re so glad we can share it with you today (click here for additional images). thanks so much matthew, and don’t miss his shop next time you’re in providence! –anne

[above: The big green painting over the mantle is by my amazing sister. The walls will someday have Pompeian fake frescoes, but ALL of the trim needs stripping and painting first, and that gets overwhelming just thinking about it. So 14 years into this project I have one painted wall, one stripped door frame, and a bunch of gray plaster. I LONG for the ’80s when American craft artists could make a living producing teapots like this amazing elephant. It is now cracked and leaky, but it cannot be replaced and I treasure it, so I just use it and put a big saucer under to catch the drips. And WHO thought Napoleon should get turned into a pitcher? Crazy. The raucous tablecloth came home from a wedding in Finland with me. ]


The sofa was my Great Grandmothers, but it is now covered in an amazing Marc Pollock fabric designed by RISD alumna Rachel Doriss. The large picture is a scarf design by a RISD classmate whose name MIGHT be Betsy Elliott. The blurred man’s face is a LUCKY trash pick. There is a small photograph of a dog’s head by John Ha. I bought it at a RISD student street sale. It is, coincidentally, a picture of my own dog, who had died the week before the sale. I paid more for the picture than I had for the dog! I spent three years aluminum leafing the walls. I love silver, and being in this room in the afternoon light is a magical experience. The house is old (1814), and I have tried to let its age show. The old plaster surface, which looked so sad unpainted and unpapered, is the perfect surface for metal leaf. I am slowly covering the walls with small artwork, which seems counterintuitive considering the time investment in the silver.

I have the world’s smallest bathroom (thus the picture from outside!), so I figured it should at least be a fancy small bathroom. The gothic revival cabinets offer much needed storage in a house with only two closets. The rug is by Meg Little. The black ceramic vase by James Aarons, the glass vase by Tracy Glover. Someday the walls above the cabinet will have a pattern from the walls at Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

I have VERY few large walls, so my freshman year chicken skeleton drawing only really fits over the bed, though it is a strange statement. The lamp is a Josh Owen Tone Know Lamp from Umbra. I WISH they sold replacement bulbs for it, because it is supposed to dim as you turn the lamp, but only with the original bulb.


My south-facing kitchen wall is awash in sunlight all day, and so the only major change I have made to the house was the addition of this boxed-bay window. The fabric is by Ruth Adler Schnee (our last living textile Modernist). The artwork is all from my best friend James: on top is a pastry wrapper from a trip to Paris, in the middle are pages from a phone-call log with 6 funny messages from days I called his office, and the bottom is a poster made for his 40th birthday party. The dog gets a fancy copper food and water stand, but really I made it to keep myself from kicking the water bowl again.


There is a small room next to the dining room which is not big enough for much, but a piano fits perfectly inside. Egyptian revival bookcases line the lower walls. The glamor shot of my dog is by NYC photographer Paul Meleschnig. The wood clock is by Emi Ozawa. I bought it many years ago to give away at the holidays, but then I couldn’t bear to part with it. So there it sits with the artist’s tag still attached, making me feel less self-indulgent because I COULD still give it away…The Victorean sewing box is below two pictures of my grandfather, Junius Bird, who was an archeologist and had amazing adventures (there is a tiny picture next to the clock of both my grandparents in the early 1930’s on a steamship in South America where they were working).


The AMAZING Lisa Smith made the two-headed giraffe/cat/bird sculpture on the mantle. The chair on the left was a student project by Eck Follen (who now teaches in the Department of Furniture Design at RISD), and the coffee table by her partner Charles Swanson. I used to share a studio with them, and anything they made that didn’t find a home seems to have wound up with me, which is amazing. I love being surrounded by objects I love made by people I love. It is impossible to feel lonely. I made the steel three-legged chair in the middle as a student at RISD. It is super comfortable until you lean forward to get another cracker and it dumps you unceremonially on the floor.


The ring-necked pheasant came to me  from the Norton Flee Market in 1987. The green grid painting is by my amazing sister (same one as above). The chair-on-a-rock painting by Robert Brinkerhoff, who teaches in the RISD Illustration Department. The rabbit, the giraffe, the ostrich, and a few other pictures are ALL by Kelly Murphy. I bought something from her every year she was a student at RISD, but didn’t know she was the same person each time.

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  • It is so great to read all of this feedback. I have just been collaging together a life lived mostly by default. To find that my choices have resonance for other people is reassuring indeed! Many thanks!

  • I just LOVE everything about this home- it is fun and warm and the love is evident of all things cool. Love the sofa-the memo pad messages framed…just wonderful!

  • Mat,
    You are an inspiration that collection doen’t mean clutter.
    How do you pull that off?

  • FINALLY a home that is unique and looks loved and lived in by its owner. PERSONALITY!!

    I am really so tired of all the “Design Within Reach meets Flea Market” apartments we usually see on this blog…

  • He does a great job of tying together a lot of disparate elements. I tend to accumulate things like that, and I always wonder how I’ll make it all work together – now i’ve got a perfect example!

  • Marion Christ made that lovely teapot. I couldn’t remember her name (don’t tell her!!!) when I wrote the notes, but it came to me in a flash. She had the nerve to move away from Providence, and I have no idea where she landed. But she is a lovely person, so go find her!

  • Matt, I read all of the above comments, & I second them, one & all, wholeheartedly! I’m tempted to say, as you may have guessed, that the little piano room off the dining room is my favorite. But I can’t, because ALL the rooms are my favorites. Love from your endlessly proud cousin, Margie

  • To say this house resonated with me is an understatement! I have always loved the palette in your living room, but I haven’t done in here in Israel, partly because my space doesn’t have enough atural light. Now,I am going to try some silver technique on the walls. I love its luminescent quality that gives a patina and depth to the already complex quality of the room. Kudos.

  • Definitely one of the best sneak peeks ever. I too surround myself with art made by friends and acquaintances. And while I find the DS commenters who like to complain about everyone having “the same print” in their house tiresome, I will admit that your lovingingly assembled collection of original and beautiful art is a an inspiration. I also love that so much of it came from students. People, go to the MFA shows or open studio tours if you live near a school with an art department. It’s a great way to buy art that you love, on a budget.

  • Just back on Facebook…first act opening Nicky’s post! Somebody said it best’ Mathew you are my hero’!

  • Hey Matt – I just saw this link on Kelvy’s Facebook (we recently tracked each other down!) and couldn’t resist! What a cool house – reminds me of some English homes I know but even better! It’s great that you have so many friends things around you – i try to do the same – it means so much! we just bought an old Victorian place here and i sympathise with the painting/stripping of woodwork – layers upon layers of memories embedded in paint! would love to see you guys sometimes! come to london!

  • Jasmine-
    That wallpaper is actually just (don’t tell anyone) fabric that was brutally stapled up with a staple gun!. I found a fabric that allowed the pattern to work horizontally, and built the bookcases tall enough to avoid seams. Then I just covered the staples with strips of wood. ANYTHING to avoid fixing the crappy walls beneath!

  • A father could be no prouder of his son. I have watched (and sometimes participated) in the evolution of this home and have many times been a bit startled at how well a seemingly odd collage of things coalesce into a unique and beautiful setting. Thank you, Matt, for being such a large and wonderful piece of my life.

  • I love your home! I just discovered I have plaster walls under my horrid painted-paneled walls. I have always been afraid of plaster-but seeing your house makes me think I should rip down those paneled walls and live with plaster!

  • Wow, I love your witty, eclectic sense of style! I live just outside of Providece and have been in your shop many time so I can see where the styles tie together! I love how you have so many pieces that come from places you love and have been re-purposed! I would love if you would share some of the before and afters photos of pieces you’ve done on picklee.com, my furniture revival blog! You have some incredibly inspiring pieces in your home :)

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