Interiorssneak peeks

At Home with Maira Kalman

by Grace Bonney

Walking into the New York City home of author and illustrator Maira Kalman is like stepping into the pages of one of her beautiful books. Small, curated groups of eclectic objects with fascinating histories fill every corner, and there are enough books and artwork to fill a NYC gallery and library several times over. Hers is the type of home that cannot be replicated or produced overnight – this sort of magical, but very relatable, space takes both time and experience to build. When Max, Amy and I met with Maira, we were blown away by how many stories this
one space held. From treasured collections (books, boxes, buttons and more) to unbelievable objects (like conductor Arturo Toscanini’s suit) and family paintings, Maira’s home is like a living, breathing museum curated by someone who finds beauty in the everyday as much as the world of fine art.

Maira has called this West Village apartment (which is actually two apartments combined) home for over 32 years. Originally built in the early 1920s, her home has gone through several transformations with the help of architect Ross Anderson. By keeping the space neat, organized and all white, Maira has created the perfect backdrop for displaying (and living with) a lifetime’s worth of meaningful art, furniture and objects. What struck me most about Maira’s home (aside from the fact that we were actually standing next to – and talking with – one of our community’s most inspiring artists) was the sense of appreciation for all objects. From laundry drop-off tickets and shopping bags to old shoes and paintings, Maira’s home is a welcoming space where all things loved – and lovingly made – can be on equal footing. To say that it was an honor to step into her home would be a great understatement – it is truly a day I know none of us will ever forget. I hope you will enjoy this tour as much as we did. Also, be sure to check out both of Maira’s fantastic new books, My Favorite Things and Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum – both are celebrations of her favorite objects and focus on telling the stories behind incredible objects and artwork. xo, grace

Maira Kalman's NYC home on Design*Sponge
The Living Room: Despite the room's many collections and groups of small, beautiful objects on display, Maira's living room has a bright and airy feel. An Eames La Chaise chair sits below a collection of Vitra miniatures and next to an old wooden ironing board used as a table. Maira likes to have fresh flowers, "As often as possible."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
A black and white striped rug creates the illusion of a wider room.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
The living room's coffee table has a beautiful worn-in patina and a simple linen tablecloth adds softness to the space. Maira has clean white upholstery throughout the apartment and likes how bright it makes her home feel.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
An antique wooden sewing table acts as a table, where a book about Gertrude Stein is on display.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
One of Maira's favorite possessions, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini's suit, hangs next to the living room fireplace. Maira bought it at an auction and says it marks, "a great moment in my life." She explains, "He was an extraordinary figure in the music world and an ardent anti-fascist in the years leading up to World War II. He lived in Riverdale in the Bronx, as did I."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
The collection of dolls on top of Maira's mantle was a gift from Michael Maharam, CEO of one of the leading textile design and manufacturing companies. The dolls were made by nuns in Mexico in the 1930s and Maira says she's, "delighted and amazed at the fashion sense of the nuns. Why wouldn't they have fashion sense?"
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
One of Maira's many paintings. She has them simply displayed on photo ledges installed on almost every wall of her apartment.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
William Klein's photo of a girl dancing in Brooklyn rests below hot pink Montessori building blocks from the early 1900s. The two statues are fertility symbols from Africa.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Maira attended a party for Wes Anderson's film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. This box was one of the originals made as a prop for the film's fictional bakery.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Charles and Ray Eames' iconic La Chaise chair provides elegant seating in Maira's living room, right next to miniature chair sculptures from Vitra's collection.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Vitra miniatures rest on shelves along with a funnel Maira brought home from a trip to India, and wooden construction made by one of her children when they were little. Maira loves the Vitra miniatures because they, "Are so precise; they're a lesson in taking care to do everything the best that it can be."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Maira's living room console table holds a collection of treasured objects, like hats (this one was handmade in the 1930s for a British aristocrat and reminds Maira of Dr. Seuss) and her collection of mosses and lichens.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
A detail from Maira's lichen and moss collection, gathered from across the United States.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
These red shoes were designed by Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons. Maira bought them years ago but has never worn them. She thinks of them as artifacts. She explained, "They cost a fortune, but I have included them in many paintings. They have earned back their price many times over. Every time I walk into the living room they make me think about design and fashion and humor."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
One of Maira's many black-and-white photographs displayed in the living room.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
The Hallway: Maira's hallway connects the front door and her living room and displays another expertly curated series of objects, from shoes and artwork to ceramics. The black-and-white photo is by Diane Arbus and the painting above was painted by Maira's "almost blind" neighbor, Mr. Wertheimer. The portrait and dog photo were gifts from Maira's sister.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
More hallway details.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Another angle of the hallway between the front door and living room.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Maira refers to the hallway between her living room and bedroom as, "the hall of knowledge." To keep her impressive library of books in order, she worked with architect Ross Anderson to create this huge wall of shelving, which continues out at an angle that draws attention to the lines of the apartment (which is actually two apartments joined together).
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
The Bedroom: Maira's love of clean lines and neatly organized collections continues in the bedroom where she combines a small writing space with her bed. Her writing desk was made by her son Alex and rests on a Tulu rug from Turkey. The table next to her desk was made by her daughter Lulu. A Bruno Mathsson chair sits in front of a poster for a Jacques Tati film, Mon Oncle - one of Maira's favorites. She adds, "I like opening my eyes and seeing the mix of color and texture. Happiness."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Our team couldn't stop admiring this incredible photograph above Maira's desk. It is a photo of Maira's mother, Sara Berman, taken on the family's terrace when they were living in Rome. Maira explained, "She always wore white. She was beautiful inside and out."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
A drawing by Elliott Greene, a Queen Elizabeth cookie tin (given to Maira by Alexandra Eaton) and a collection of Royal plates rest on the bedroom mantel.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
An electric typewriter, used exclusively for letter writing, sits on an old manicure table next to Maira's desk. She explains, "I write a lot of letters and postcards with the typewriter. Then I go to the post office and stand on line for a long time waiting to post the letter. Very satisfying - it stops time."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Detail from Maira's bedroom shelves: A prototype for an M&Co clock stands next to stuffed dogs handmade made by Phoebe Wahl.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
More details from the bedroom shelves: A photo of Maira's son Alex on his first day of school and a handwritten dinner place card, both from many years ago.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Maira keeps a fake cell phone from her son's childhood. "When Alex was in high school, all of his friends had cell phones. I was reluctant to get him one, so I made him a cardboard one that he could carry around. He actually liked it."
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
Maira's collection of white buttons.
Maira Kalman's home on Design*Sponge
The bedroom continues the apartment's clean, simple feel.

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  • Love everything about this space. I am very envious of the Mendl’s box, as I adored the movie. Nice collections and well-placed. Funny, I have the same collection of white shell buttons. I even have the same jar. I never thought to display it, but I will now. To coincidence. Cheers!

  • Lovely. I actually wish I could see more of that giant bookshelf!

    FYI: I subscribe via feedly to designsponge.com/feed and it seems to be broken – last thing I see is the Thanksgiving post, not these new posts.

  • Just wanted to give you a heads-up to a typo in the opener (name is Maria in one place).

    Thanks, she has been a favorite of mine for such a long time and I’m super excited to see the tour!

  • Thank you Grace and team! What a treat – paging through these photos you can see the references for so many Kalman paintings – those red shoes! I love everything about Maira Kalman, she’s a huge inspiration for work, for keeping at it – articulate and accomplished. And congratulations to D*S for wonderful new layout! Seems so clean – almost like a Kalman room, lots of fascinating stuff well curated on white! I, too, have lost my subscription link in the changeover, but hope those glitches soon gone. Again, thank you for this tour – and for D*S!

  • I love getting to see into her apartment!

    Her name shows up as Maria on slide 20.

  • Lovely, just lovely! Also, it’s exciting that Maira Kalman may love mosses and lichens as much as I do…and books…and art….

  • Great stuff. How fun would it be if everyone pulled out cardboard cell phones and started fake-texting on them?

  • Grace, this is a truly inspirational tour! In my own little world I’m imagining that Maira is inspired by all the shapes and textures of the objects in her home (As I’m sure she is). The Mendl’s box is precious. I would definitely have that displayed in my home, loved the movie and was inspired by it as well! And the typewriter? Amazing. Wonderful post! Thank you!

  • So funny, after reading her books and seeing her exhibit at the Jewish Museum a few years back I am familiar with so many of the collections in her home already, sort of feel like I’ve been there/ seen it though of course I have not… Until now! Thank you for a great tour.

  • This has been up since December?! Don’t know how I missed it–it’s wonderful! Thank you! Beautiful space filled with beautiful & interesting objects. Loved hearing Maira’s comments, too.

  • I think I recognize that dog (basset hound?) from Ms. Kalman’s illustrated edition of The Elements of Style! It’s fun to see how closely her living space relates to her work. Thanks for this!

  • Lovely,beautiful space,this posting was a treat,wonderful post thank you!!

  • Amazing place! I can’t believe it is in the city, it looks light and spacious. I like paintings, fabrics, colors and those little decorations, really nice and inspiring home.

  • a great post that I’m revisiting because it showed up in the sidebar. I love looking at these tours more than once and spotting something new. for example, I just noticed that in slide 22 it looks like grace’s visage has been captured in the broken mirror propped up on the mantle. a little home tour easter egg. :)

  • Love seeing the little collection of moss from Asheville, my beautiful home! Such an amazing space!

  • Lovely space and wonderful lighiting…I was hoping you could tell me about how you took the photograph. What equipment you used and specifically what lens?

  • I love Maira’s work…and her home. Does anyone know where to get the photo ledges that she has in every room?

  • I loved the line of mannequins she created for Ralph Pucci. They were so unique – collector’s items.

  • What a beautiful home! I love how bright and spacious the living room is. P.S. The mini furniture decor is absolutely adorable. I’ve got to get some for myself.

  • Nice home ..beautiful decoration…. i like it. i love t decorate home with wallpaper. but wallpaper should be unique and attractive..i always change my home and office wallpaper too.