How Art Inspires Jamie Drake

The design master writes about fusing modern with traditional

Jamie Drake's 2012 creation at Masterpiece London includes a pair of parrot sculptures by Nicola Bolla and an 18th-century painting by Giambettino Cignaroli.
Photo: Philip Vile

For me, the most dynamic, contemporary interiors are not confined to furnishings of any singular look or period. Rather, they often reference intriguing elements of the past, and harmoniously combine them with modern pieces to create something new and exciting. The dialogue that arises between seemingly unrelated objects becomes the design. Fine antiques live comfortably with contemporary furniture if anchored by a purposeful color scheme, balanced proportions, and a successful flow through the space.

Jamie Drake poses in the atrium of his Manhattan office, while John, the 1998 portrait by American artist Chuck Close, looms behind. Photo: Matt Albiani

In 2012, I was charged with creating a stand at Masterpiece London—a fair for outstanding design that showcases the modern, the traditional, and everything in between, presenting the best of the best in the decorative and fine arts—to explain and demonstrate to visitors how to embrace the concept of combining disparate periods and artistic movements into a melodious, well-integrated design. 

I began by devising a strong architectural background of modern columns, deep cornices, and metallic silver sisal wall covering. Flanking a period mantlepiece, a pair of elegant, classical ormolu-mounted and marble-topped mahogany chiffoniers was surmounted by two contemporary still-life photographs by the American photographer David LaChapelle.

At Spring Masters New York, a late 16th-century portrait by Lavinia Fontana acts as a counterpoint to a 1960s lounge chair by the German designer Hans Hartl; London-based artist Julian Mayor crafted the Lunar cocktail table. Photo: Marco Ricca, Courtesy Drake + Anderson

The composition of the space was luxurious and unrestrained, a nod to how people live today, surrounded by pieces that cross centuries and cultures. I was also given the opportunity to curate a stunning booth, with items from the various exhibitors at Spring Masters New York, an exhibition that puts a new twist on the concept of art fairs, showing works of all disciplines from different centuries. Design objects, ceramics, and vibrant textiles, along with the traditional line-up of antiques, modern and Impressionist paintings, sculpture, photography, and contemporary works are featured, to create a provocative sense of visual surprise.

The fact that color can evoke such a strong reaction in people is what makes it such a dramatic decorating tool. It is one of the basic building blocks that shape a room. I love the warmth, history, uniqueness, and grandeur that traditional design and antiques can bring, yet feel compelled to juxtapose them with a minimal approach that injects structure, rigor, and contemporary mores. Make your design statements bold, the details subtle. Incredible design is not limited to one particular time period—and sophistication never loses its edge.