#MoreBeautifulWith is an interview series that cordially invites influential designers, artists, taste-makers and go-getters in for an inside look to how they contribute to making the world more beautiful than it was before. Our questions peels into a deeper layer of each artist, explores their individual philosophy and what fuels them. We will explore the journey of artisanship and gratitude while learning each individual’s unique path that led them to where they are now.
For our inaugural #MoreBeautifulWith interview series, it is my pleasure to be interviewing not only my dear friend but also the wildly talented and incredibly beautiful Athena Calderone of EyeSwoon. From her stunning interior design work of her Cobble Hill home in New York, to her James Beard award-winning cook book, Cook Beautiful, Athena has been an inspiration in every facet of creativity with her sophisticated eye and self-expression that exudes elegance and grace. An unstoppable creative force, I truly believe that everything she touches turns into something more beautiful than it was before.
I am thrilled to kickstart this interview series with Athena, read about her journey into art, design, food and living beautifully. This is #MoreBeautifulWith Athena Calderone. Enjoy!
How would you describe your journey to where you are now? Did you ever imagine yourself here?
Some people know their path and the trajectory their life will take. My journey was not one that was clear. I tried many creative endeavors throughout my 20’s and 30’s. Modeling, acting, songwriting, yoga teacher training, interior design school, culinary school…. My creative ramblings could be described as exhausting and most certainly something I came to be embarrassed of. I married young and had a child in my mid 20’s and it was my family life that brought so much into focus for me. I refined my eye through the wanderlust of traveling the world with my husband and newborn, taking in foreign flavors, art, culture, architecture my eyes had never fallen upon — I was full with oh-so-much but uncertain where my path would lead. I was inspired with a full heart, but struggled to feel fulfilled in the career and creative arena. It's funny how you can be on a journey and not really know you are really on one at all.
My home is where I thrived. Designing a beautiful space that told a very personal story, of travel, adventure, and memories of a certain time and place. It was in the kitchen where I found that creativity I was seeking — it was through cooking that I began to play, layer, create, and in doing so, I found purpose and joy as I pumped the music and rolled out pastry. Most importantly, it was gathering in the home with the people I love, luring them into a beautiful environment where I would spend hours poring over a breathtaking tablescape filled with florals and seasonal delights that I whipped up in the kitchen. Entertaining became my social outlet and so much more. The interests I developed in the home also became my forms of self-expression. I poured over developing new skills in the kitchen and finessed and fussed over the design and decor of our nest. Very soon, I found that my home was what nourished my soul and offered the deepest connection to myself and my loved ones. It really was in the home that I came to trust myself, my eye, and my creative instincts — turning the kitchen into my sacred haven, and my home into my studio and workshop. It was where my disparate interests collided. It was what eventually led me to me, and to my site, EyeSwoon.
What was the most defining moment of your career?
The past two years seemed to burst with opportunity and creativity as I worked on my cookbook, Cook Beautiful and simultaneously renovating and designing my current townhouse which was recently featured in Architectural Digest. From the cookbook, I honestly learned SO much — I have a wealth of knowledge and information that I simply did not have prior. I learned a lot about myself — how to manage a creative team, how to trust myself, and also how to put trust in other people. For so long, I was a one woman show and did most everything myself. It was exciting and scary to be sharing my very internal creative process on a larger platform (A BOOK) and with a professional team of creatives to collaborate with. Finding my way, my place, and my voice took time as there was a steep learning curve that was overwhelming at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for a split second. From the recipe development and testing, the creative direction, to conceiving the visual footprint for the book, the styling and visual storytelling through food and photography and seasonality, there were so many layers to wade through, but sooooo many more to take pride in now. The book won a James Beard award for photography which is the highest culinary honor in the industry and in publishing so that was HUGE.
Completing the renovation and design of my home was another moment of celebration for me recently. It was my largest design project to date. Home, as I mentioned, is everything to me, it is both my creative hub and what grounds me and my family — for two years we were all a bit untethered. I feel a massive sense of joy and relief to be settled in my home and appreciating every inch of the space with my boys. I poured myself in the curation of the space so having it celebrated in Architectural Digest and to have so many people appreciate the design alchemy has been another defining moment for me.
Beyond that, my brand continues to evolve every day with more and more opportunities to consult with like-minded brands offering creative direction, styling and developing beautiful content. Since from day one, I could never really be pinned down, this continued evolution is precisely what feeds my creative soul.
Being an artist requires being completely vulnerable to your craft, do you ever have moments of doubt? If so, how do you deal with it?
I don’t always know the way and can be riddled with uncertainty — I think it is important to share that — but I never allow fear to hold me back. Taking a step into the unknown can be really scary but sometimes you just don’t know what will reveal itself until you take that first leap of faith.
For so many years, I felt a little lost and without focus in my creative endeavors. It was not until I found comfort in the unknown and embraced all of my varied interests (what I called my creative schizophrenia) that I was really able to gain access to myself. I think the unknown and forcing ourselves to take risks is precisely what being an artist is all about. But man, it’s scary every day!
What are the three most important things you consider during your process?
Am I evoking an emotion in someone?
How can I challenge myself more – by asking myself, Is this visually arresting? Is it unique? I never want to repeat myself, I always want to grow, and I always hold myself to a set of standards.
Am I leading with my heart?
Most prominent inspiration and major influences?
Nature inspires me always — the light, the sea, and the horizon line for my visual work Mother nature – the actual earth, the soil, and seasons guide me in the kitchen. Travel, adventure seeking, collecting, curating and continued curiosity influence me.
And my friends and family inspire me with their passion.It really is those around us daily, our community who impact our lives the most.
If you had three “thank you” cards in your hand right now, who would you send it to?
My mom Anne — my reverence for beauty is undoubtedly a gift I learned from my mother. She was a brilliant curator of beauty and my greatest influence. As a child, she would turn the most ordinary events into unforgettable experiences by the way they looked, felt or tasted. She cultivated beauty in absolutely everything she did. I can remember the ritual of setting the table for Thanksgiving — we spent hours laying out her favorite black and white china, pressing the linens, putting out the candles...and still the turkey was perfect.
My husband Victor — for his unwavering belief in me even when I did not believe in myself. For always being my greatest champion and nudging me along — and for ALWAYS cleaning up my kitchen messes.
My son Jivan — for being my greatest joy and teacher. For making me more conscious, wiser, softer, and slower. For his creative mind and fearlessness that continues to astonish and inspire me. My heart overflows with love and pride.
Describe your favorite feeling that will never get old when it comes to your work.
Connectivity for me is EVERYTHING.
We all want to connect to something in life, right? Whether it be a person, a meal, a community, a career — at our core we ALL want to connect. So, when I am collaborating with another creative on set styling, or in the kitchen, or more recently with designers I admire while shooting my next book. When we are united in common ground and a shared passion, I get crazy joy and truly feel like I am a part of something…. That I have found my place in the chaotic world of creativity that can be filled with unknowns or uncertainties.
Finding alignment. Connecting. Appreciating small moments. Finding your tribe and nurturing others. That’s what it’s all about!
Looking back at your 20-something self, how were you then and if you could tell yourself something what would you say?
Girl, be patient with yourself. You may not know it now but all of the traveling, homemaking, and mommying is leading you somewhere, every experience is leaving an imprint. Trust the process.
How do you contribute to making the world a more beautiful place than it was before? This could be through your artistry or your personal lifestyle.
While I do feel, beauty elevates the ordinary and brings people joy in everyday life, I find it essential to give back in a palpable way.
As a family, we regularly volunteer to Gods Love We Deliver where we prepare meals for people in NYC who suffer from aids and cancer. Beyond volunteering throughout the year, we also spend our Thanksgiving delivering meals.
It is so important to find a community that you connect to and where you can shine a bit of light. I also work with The Edible Schoolyard Project, helping to plant gardens and integrate hands-on gardening and cooking classes into the public schools of historically disadvantaged neighborhoods of NYC. In these schools, kids are offered edible curriculum in the same way they learn about math, science and art — and in doing so, they develop a positive, joyful connection to food and wellness.
We are a family who surfs and Jivan really inspired us when he began working with special needs children on surf therapy through a program called, A Walk on Water. It is just incredible to see the joy on the children’s faces as they are both empowered and transformed when connecting to the restorative power of the water. It’s beautiful!