You will not find any bubbling lava lamps, fluffy flokati rugs, or Led Zeppelin black-light posters here. Maximilian Sinsteden’s dorm room, a tiny box in Hoyt-Bowne Hall on the bucolic campus of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, looks more like a space fit for Thurston Howell III. But it is in fact a perfectly authentic expression of the 21-year-old college senior who was voted “preppiest in the class” at Choate Rosemary Hall and has a sincere love for Stubbs & Wootton slipper shoes and melon-colored pants. “I can’t live in a minimalist world,” says Sinsteden, who is majoring in French and art history. “For me, it’s all about eclecticism.”
Layers of oriental carpets mask the linoleum floor. The walls—from the chair rails to the picture rails—are painted Ralph Lauren’s Tapestry Green, a color he fell in love with last summer while working with his mentor, interior designer Charlotte Moss. “We used it in a powder room,” he says. “I was mad for it.”
The standard-issue dorm furniture went immediately into storage, replaced by a vintage dresser ($80 from a local thrift shop). Inside, his many cable-knit sweaters are perfectly folded and arranged from light to dark. “I am pretty tidy,” he says. “And, you know, anything for cashmere!”
He picked up a brass chandelier at the same thrift store; as a nighttime project he and his friend Margaret screwed it into the ceiling, with the chain artfully rigged so it drapes down into an unassuming corner. Chinoiserie paper lampshades and paisley bolsters (which turn his lumpy twin bed into an elegant chaise longue for frequent cocktail parties) are from Moss’s shop. It’s not unusual to find twenty friends crammed into Sinsteden’s room, enjoying the contents of his well-stocked bar. Shockingly, perhaps, Sinsteden has no formal design training. It’s all, as he says, “inherent and experience.” He grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, in a family of doctors who traveled often and spent summers in Ireland and Germany. His father, now retired, became an expert in Georgian Irish silver. “He’s been very involved with auction houses and museums and antiques my whole life,” says Sinsteden. “So that’s sort of where it stemmed from.”
By the time Sinsteden was 12 years old, he’d redecorated most of the rooms in his parents’ house a few times, and had started in on the guest bedrooms of family friends. He had a precocious understanding of the perfect detail.
When a friend’s mom enlisted his styling services for a local historic house tour, he built a scale replica of her home out of gingerbread and displayed it in the kitchen as a prop.
When other 15-year-olds were going to lacrosse camp, Sinsteden worked for David Easton, a neoclassical decorator in the Albert Hadley/Bunny Williams school. After his first year of college, he interned for Moss and still works for her one day a week. “I finish her sentences,” he says. “And she reads my mind.”
“Max has a gift and a great eye, combined with raw energy and enthusiasm,” Moss says. Last fall, Sinsteden officially started his own interior-design company—and completed his first solo commission, the interior of a 78-foot motor yacht. The set-perfect dorm room is, of course, evanescent; when the semester’s over, it goes away (and Sinsteden will be in London this summer for a stint at the Victoria and Albert Museum, followed by a semester in Rome). Which in some ways gives him more freedom to change. “Since they took that photo,” he says, referring to the picture seen here, “I’ve already changed it three times.”
The Drew campus in Madison, New Jersey.
All photographs by Dean Kaufman
The tie-backs are repurposed ascots.
He keeps the bathroom caddy affixed to the mirror with suction cups.
The standing lamp is Ikea. The wall is covered with artwork by him and his friends; paintings and documents from Jaipur and Bombay; a model from Charlotte Moss; and pieces collected from “tag sales, thrift and consignment stores.”
The tie rack is by Sinsteden’s father, with finials from P.E. Guerin. The chest of drawers is an $80 thrift-store find.