From downtown Manhattan to Litchfield County, Connecticut and Rhode Island, Michael Leva has had many homes and apartments since launching his fashion line in 1986. Each has showcased his love for antiques and his adventurous, unapologetic spirit when it comes to design. The former Creative Director for C.Wonder and longtime Sotheby’s Home consignor is on the move again, and selling his eclectic downtown loft’s fabulous furniture with yours truly.
Capture Michael’s eclectic and colorful design sense with his personally consigned pieces on Sotheby’s Home.
When did your passion for design begin?
When I was 16, I met a brilliant local woman who hired me to help her around her historic estate. Her name was Susan Matthews and she was a Parish-Hadley style of decorator. Over the years, she taught me everything. She had ebony floors, and we put down seagrass rugs in summer, and lifted them and put down white Flokati rugs down in the winter. I was hooked!
Describe your personal style and how it’s evolved in each home.
My personal style is all about mixing. Fine antiques with good reproductions and wonderful Mid-Century and even some brand new. I think the biggest change is, for decades, I never had a print. Now I love prints — especially chintz and linen from Brunschwig, Schumacher and Zoffany.
How does your background in fashion inform the design of your homes?
In fashion, I have always believed in quality. Beautiful lines and quality in both fashion and furniture.
Is design an art or a science?
Does your choice in antiques change when designing a city apartment versus a country home?
I had the same 18th-century Directoire furniture in my grafitti’d Soho loft as I did in Connecticut, so I guess my answer is no.
With an antiques collection as wide-ranging as yours, how do you decide which pieces to start with when moving into a new space?
There are pieces that become signatures to the way one thinks. Those tend to be with you forever. You adapt them as your aesthetic ebbs and flows.
You love to introduce very strong, decisive pops of color in your homes. Do you have a rule or guideline when it comes to introducing color?
I have always loved color in fashion and in homes. I find myself using it more and more. I think a good place to start is just to go ahead and use your favorite color or colors. Poison Green and Orange have been my favorite colors for decades, and have been in all of my residences. Now I love hot pink, teal. David Hicks has a color combination chart in one of his books that I still reference for ideas.
Your mix of contemporary and period pieces feels effortless. What’s the secret to achieving a balance?
Confidence and intelligence.
What are your tips when mixing design styles in a space?
It all begins with what you naturally love. I think knowing about the style of furniture you love is helpful. If you love Directoire, then learn everything you can about Directoire, and if you love ’80s Memphis, know everything there is to know about Memphis. The more you know, the more the essence of what you love comes through, and the more confidence you have to mix it up.
You wrote a book on entertaining—Recipes for Parties: Menus, Flowers, Decor: Everything for Perfect Entertaining. How do you incorporate special antiques into everyday life, especially when throwing a party?
I have never bought new dishes, glasses or serving pieces in a store. I only use vintage. Now vintage is even better from a sustainability perspective. There is so much great stuff here on earth already. Do we really need so much new? When you mix vintage pieces for a party, it shows a unique and personal way to entertain. Your guests feel special by the effort you have made.
How do you balance style, comfort and functionality?
I was born in the era of Jackie and Bunny, so style first, LOL. But comfort is important as well. People can’t live in museums.
Do you typically hunt for a specific piece, or do you prefer to stumble on things online and when traveling?
The THRILL of the HUNT!
Tell us about the newest pieces you’re consigning. Which is your favorite?
I have two lamps on offer that have been with me for decades. They are “factice” display bottles from pre-war France. They were used in apothecary windows. I first saw Christian Liaigre use them in a hotel lobby in Paris in the ’90s. I had them re-wired as lamps and they are filled with colored water. You can change the color with the seasons. They really take people’s breath away and are rare and unique.
What do you love most about Sotheby’s Home?
Everything! The breadth of selection. And yes, there are bargains to be had!