John Bartlett’s Beuys Life

The Kitchen-Office
Bartlett with Tiny Tim, his pit bull– Lab mix. A screen of upholsterer’s strapping separates the kitchen from the office. The foyer has kraft-papered walls.
Photo: David Allee

Just before he decided to try and make another go of it in the fashion business, designer John Bartlett decided to renovate his apartment. The place hadn’t really been decorated before so much as well edited. Now the presiding spirit for the London Terrace one-bedroom is German artist Joseph Beuys, even though Bartlett doesn’t own a single work. “His rooms and vitrines have been things that I always wanted in my home. There’s something about his sensibility that is very masculine but very minimal, very neutral but with a military flavor.”

Beuys—known for his dramatic performance pieces and anti-aesthetic installations—is often seen as a shamanistic figure, grappling with German guilt. But Bartlett and his decorator, Mark Ciolli, chose to interpret him through materials, like his famous felt. The coffee-stained (literally) and kraft-papered walls pay homage to the artist’s obsession with wax, honey, and gold. “I thought of rough wood and primitive metals, rusted metals,” Ciolli says. “Beuys could not have any material he wanted, so he used found objects and industrial materials.”

Bartlett shut down his first line in 2002, having failed to translate good press and two CFDA awards into good-enough sales. He considered not returning to fashion at all, but is now relaunching his business with a menswear collection at Bergdorf Goodman this fall and a sportswear line next spring. And the Beuysian revamp has inspired some of his new designs: “I’m working with a special mill in Tuscany. The fabrics I’m using are much more rustic and humble” than in the past, he says—handwoven linens, stripes like mattress ticking. “They relate to the texture of my apartment.”

“Now I’m doing it for me,” he says about his designs, which have already won him another CFDA nomination, “rather than listening to the chatter in my head about what the clothes should be for different stores and different editors. I’m more clear about what I like: a softer silhouette, not everything so skintight. Sexy but not aggressive.”

Photo: David Allee

(1)The Walls
“They’re not perfectly smooth,” says Ciolli, so he accentuated their unevenness.
Step one: Mixing Benjamin Moore Atrium White with marble dust, and rolling it on.
Two: Applying fresh-brewed coffee and letting it drip down. “It smelled like Starbucks for a day.”

(2) The Hooks
From old cargo liners.

(3) The Console
A felt cover was tacked onto a plywood top.

(4) The Easy Chair
A prototype Bartlett developed for La-Z-Boy, it’s a recliner stripped to its mechanics and upholstered in egg-crate foam.

(5) The Fireplace
To disguise the “fussy” mantel, Ciolli had a rolled-steel surround made. The Tibetan rug echoes the circular motif in the screen.

Photo: David Allee

(1) The Corduroy Bedcover
From Nautica, at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It picks up the geometry of the curtains.

(2) The Love Chair
By Ricardo Fasanello, it’s big enough to seat two, and is olive leather with lacquered fiberglass.

(3) The Bedroom Curtains
Bartlett, who likes his bedroom dark, had put wool blankets over the window. Ciolli improved upon this by designing curtains from quilted nylon Army blankets.

(4) The Camo Rug
From Pottery Barn.

Photo: David Allee

(1) The Plants
They hide the usual ugly pipes, and match Bartlett’s towels. “I like plants in a bathroom,” he says. “It adds life to all that porcelain.”

(2) The Fabric
Ciolli had a suggestive shower curtain and blind made from a Tom of Finland–esque toile.

Photo: David Allee

(1) The Dummy
Bartlett bought the twenties boxing dummy at Paula Rubenstein, and Ciolli installed it as one of the apartment’s slightly surreal Beuysian homages. (One of Beuys’s best-known pieces is a stiff felt suit on a hanger, which suggests an absent man.)

(2) The Lamp
One of two in the living room, it’s a clever example of how to personalize mass-market design: “The base is from Crate & Barrel, and it had beautiful hardware in antique bronze,” says Ciolli. “We had discussed Edison-style lightbulbs, so I designed the shade so that you can see the lightbulbs.” It’s made of perforated stainless steel, and the old-fashioned bulbs are from Just Bulbs ($24 each).

(3) The Sculpture
By Hugo França, it’s a tropical root that’s been polished. All Bartlett’s Brazilian pieces are from Espasso in Long Island City.

John Bartlett’s Beuys Life