“History is fresh! Put that on a T-shirt!”
Michael Tomei was beaming when he logged on for our interview from his apartment in New York City. His genius for infusing modern interiors with furnishings with rich patina is evident in his meticulously-designed, 2,100-square-foot, two-bedroom loft that he shares with his partner, Peter, and a rescue dog named Huxley.
Gut renovating the space in a century-old warehouse building in Manhattan’s NoHo district signaled a major gear-shift for Tomei, who used to conceptualize store displays and fashion shows for brands like Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, and Lanvin. Opening Michael Vincent Design in 2019 allowed him to devote his energy to rescuing old buildings and time-worn furniture, and—not to mention—binge-watch BBC period films for inspiration. “If they have a powdered face and a wig on, or if the men are prettier than women, I’m in,” he jokes.
Tomei’s obsession for curiosities from a bygone era is tempered with an attentiveness to contemporary concerns—including how to tastefully add more closet space. Each nook in the loft reflects his intuitive aptitude for seamless juxtapositions between old and new objects: In the dining area, a heirloom mahogany table from the 1920s is flanked by Harry Bertoia’s wire chairs. His grandmother’s chinoiserie cabinet shares the same space as a Jean Prouvé lamp and a pair of handsome bean-shaped sofas from Studio Walrus. One exception is the 1990s minimalist reverie in the primary bathroom. “It’s my John Pawson moment,” Tomei says. “It reminds me of the Calvin Klein store he designed on Madison Avenue in the nineties.”
Having a blank canvas to work with was freeing, Tomei says. “Moving from a conservative co-op building into this loft was a breath of fresh air in terms of permitting and limitation process,” he says. “In my last co-op it took eight months just to get the permit to start my construction. In this new condo I closed on a Friday and started demolition on Saturday!”
Buy now for unlimited access and all of the benefits that only members get to experience.
Working on the apartment also cured Tomei of the itch to constantly redecorate, as he did with every fashion cycle in his former career. “It’s kind of monumental for me,” he explains. “It’s the first space that I’ve designed for myself that I’m fully content with.” His home doubles as a studio and living showroom for potential clients to experience his design sensibility in the flesh.
The experience of designing an entire space emboldened Tomei to take on rescuing unloved homes in Long Island. He devoted much of the pandemic year to renovating several properties in Bellport, New York, including an old captain’s home from the 1870s, an 1840s cottage, and a midcentury ranch. “Compared to a new build, restoring something requires a lot more care, effort and research, but I’m all about it,” he says.