By Jean Horne
Monday, July 25, 2005
What makes a house a home• Personal taste -- those unique touches and influences that reflect one's personality. For some, it's over-the-top opulence. For others, elegant simplicity. We traveled to the homes of designers Evelyn Wedner and James Checkeye, whose spaces are as personal -- and as diverse -- as they come.
For 14 years, Evelyn and Jim worked side by side at Arthur Moser Interiors. When the venerable Squirrel Hill firm closed, the young, innovative team moved lock, stock and swatches across the street to Evelyn James Interiors, a charming studio on Forbes. And their clients followed.
Evelyn and her husband, Bill (owner of the popular Smallman Street Deli) raised their three children in Squirrel Hill. "There was nothing fun about this house," Evelyn allowed about the Arts and Crafts abode. "I felt I had to introduce it to a new life."
With glam and elan, she wrapped the living room walls in a bold animal print, then created symmetry where there was none. She balanced the off-center fireplace by placing an oversized burled wood cocktail table off-center in the long, narrow space that's anchored at one end with a contemporary sofa and at the other by a pair of Henredon chairs and an ottoman. A sleek dolphin chair, lacquered in a malachite finish, catches the sunlight streaming through a woven Roman shade that unifies a wall of windows.
Rooms embrace color, texture and pattern in an exuberant mix of periods and wonderful family treasures. An early 19th-century American, marble-topped washstand is now an end table in the living room, while a 1920s gas lamp was converted into a chandelier for the dining room. "Life is too serious. We all need a little levity in our lives," she smiled as we entered the dining room that's lined with palm trees dancing ona black-matte wall covering. Above a splendid 18th-century Spanish polychrome sideboard is a pair of carved hands framing a Gorman print.
Rich terra cotta is the dominant color in the well lived-in family room that was added in 1989. And it's contrasted by the teal blue leather sectional sofa and the carved-and-tufted cocoa leather chairs whose backs she upholstered in Southwest tapestries. Kilim rugs were lashed together with leather bindings to fashion a pair of ottomans and, for pizzazz, she added a framed Gucci silk animal print scarf above the sofa.
After removing the paved patch that covered the original garden, Bill and his son dug up the floors of his restaurant. They used the slabs of limestone and slate to construct a charming urban oasis with an Asian arbor, blooming containers, raised flower beds and trees that attract a chorus of singing birds.
There's also space in the entryway for Napoleon, a black miniature poodle, to run circles when they come home at night. "Never name your pet after a dictator," Evelyn warns. "They rule the roost."
Decorating, like love, can be a long-term commitment. Such is the case for Jim Checkeye and clients with whom he has worked for many years and whose interiors have been featured in Architectural Digest. "Often when I revisit a client, the furniture and accessories are exactly as I left them 10 years earlier," he says.
Jim brought a decidedly uptown gloss to his Edgewood condominium. He used an elegant neutral palette in the entry, living room and dining area "where I wanted the walls and carpet to read the same ... and the grass-cloth-covered walls are great at hiding nail holes." That's a good thing, since the entire apartment is a showcase for his striking collection of contemporary art. To name but a few, canvases by Michael Lotenero and Burton Morris share wall space with works by Alex Katz, Gene Davis and Mark Mentzer.
"The Puppy," a whimsical white porcelain sculpture by Jeff Koons, stands in stark contrast to the chocolate velvet drapery panel that separates the entry from the living room and frames the view.
The Italian modern sofa is covered in soft chenille, and the Art Deco-style side chairs are upholstered in taupe. Being in this room is like visiting a three-dimensional painting. An oversized glass-topped cocktail table with a woven leather base by Henredon and end tables illuminated by Frederick Cooper lamps are merely pedestals for a Murano glass sculpture, an acrylic cube by Vasarely and other treasures. Then, there's his vast collection of crystal objects gleaming from a breakfront.
You should also know that the glorious bouquets in both homes were done by Carmel Vandale of Mt. Lebanon Floral.
"Crash," a large canvas by Vito Acconci, dominates the dining area with its glass-topped Baker table and E.J. Victor rattan chairs cushioned in mohair. In one corner rests a large DayGlo wheel form, a flea-market find, and in another is nestled a small brass cricket for luck. Art-filled countertops in the galley kitchen even hold an Andy Warhol soup tureen.
The appeal of these inviting bachelor digs is that one wishes to linger and examine absolutely everything. But there's more to come because, as Jim sighs, "it's a work in progress."