We recently found an article we clipped from the 2013 Spring Design Issue of New York Magazine, in which artist Maira Kalman talks to longtime neighbor and friend Isaac Mizrahi about how Tel Aviv has influenced her New York apartment. The two images of Kalman’s apartment shows a loose, warm, personal, comfortable, space, very different from the stark interiors of so many other designer’s homes. Kalman calls her apartment a “cabinet of curiosities” and indeed it appears to be. The suit hanging in the picture above was worn by Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini.  Mizrahi likened Kalman’s space to a laboratory because it changes so much.

Thomas Loof for New York Magazine

You said that you fell in love with this apartment at first sight. Why?
I fell in love with the block because there is something about the light on this street. And some places make you feel good: This is home. And other places make you feel despair—you know, How will I ever get out of here?! Tibor and I had one apartment once, and we spent one night, and I said, “We are out of here!”

…I have been around you for many years in this apartment, and I notice that it changes a lot.
A ladder goes in, a ladder goes out. I don’t like anything permanent, I have to be able to flee. You have to be able to flee at a moment’s notice [laughing].

The apartment’s like a laboratory or something. How would you describe it? 
Actually, it’s very … I love that idea. It would be pretentious to say Bauhaus, but, there, I said it. But it would be like some kind of school where you keep changing things. Or an exhibit. I feel like this apartment is like that to me: a different kind of exhibit each time, and weirdly it feels like it is lit. Like that suit of Toscanini’s is lit, but it’s not. I think if I had a shop, it would change every day.

(And in fact, we found a photo of her apartment published in AIGA Eye on Design of Kalman’s mantle with a totally different assemblage around it, including just the pants from Toscanini’s suit.)

We love her clever trick for displaying collections in a small space: the many ledges/picture rails.

AIGA Eye on Design via New York Magazine

In the addition to a glimpse into her actual apartment, we get to see the room of her fantasies, and that exists now in one of her drawings with a numbered key to its many personal references…


Maira Kalman


The room Kalman drew for us is filled with a cast of characters and objects that includes Proust 1 (“He talks a great deal about objects and rooms and the people in the rooms and the emotions in the people in the rooms”); The Countess of Castiglione 2; her sister’s granddaughter, Bella 3; Charlotte Salomon 4,  sitting on her father’s lap in Berlin (she “is a painter who is very important in my life. She did a series of gouaches with text about her crazy family. She was killed in a concentration camp in her twenties, but the paintings survived”); her son’s girlfriend, Alexandra 5; a Bertoia chair 6 (“Just the most simple, smart, un-self-conscious chair. The MoMA garden uses it, and I have written many books sitting in the ­garden”); and Maira 7 herself, on a chaise, dreaming about all of this.

Her New York apartment curiously has some of the magical feel of her fantasy painting.

Such a good thing to do: dream of the space we’d love and then draw it, or just describe it, and see what message the details send about how we need to live.

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7 replies on “Maira Kalman’s NYC Home Laboratory and Her Dream Place

  1. It is July 3.
    I haven’t looked at my computer since June 29
    How could you have a record that I have read 5 of your articles this month?
    this month is barely 2 1/2 days old…
    I guess you are giving me the choice (opportunity) to take you off of my incoming email.
    Do you believe that I am taking advantage of what you are offering?

  2. Hi, Thanks for your inquiry.
    The 5 day free-read count is totally automated; I do not monitor the reads of each person.
    I think the confusion likes in your thinking we offer 5 reads per calendar month. It is 5 free reads every 30 days, as it states on our Friends with Benefits page under “Don’t want to subscribe?” However, I just tested to site to see that the paywall curtain says “You’ve used your 5 free reads this month”. You were right, there!. I have corrected it and apologize for the confusion.

    If I were able to, I would offer all content free to everyone, as I did the first few years. The subscriptions pay expenses and little more. I continue to provide content for an unsustainable amount of $$, something I will have to make a decision on in the next few months.

  3. I gladly pay for your content. If you have to raise the price to survive, so be it. There are few things that help with balance and sanity in this insane time we are going through. improvised life is one of them.

    Thank you for what you do.

  4. I too am with Carol, and now Sondra
    as well !!

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