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One of the most prolific designers working today, Thomas O’Brien is known for reimagining modernism in a welcoming, warm, livable way. His work serves a sense of collected, well-layered refinement, always incorporating classic touches thanks to a generous dose of vintage and antique finds—a designer after our own hearts, indeed. His New York-based Aero boutique is the face of his interiors firm (Aero Studios), while his collaborations with beloved brands like Visual Comfort and Century have helped spread his sophisticated design ethos even further. Put simply, he’s a designer’s designer.

We spoke with O’Brien about his personal style, his professional collaborations, and his lovingly layered spaces. See what he had to say below, then be sure to shop his hand-selected curation of Chairish favorites. And to hear even more, listen to the latest episode of The Chairish Podcast for an exclusive one-on-one interview with O’Brien.

Shop Thomas O’Brien’s Chairish Picks >>>

Thomas O'Brien
Thomas O’Brien. Photo: Michelle Arcila.

First and foremost, how would you describe your personal style? How does it come into play in your projects?

My style is modern and individual, collected and peaceful. This is the spirit I try for in all I do.

You have mentioned that you are interested in “bringing the things of the past into better design for the time of now.” Tell us what you mean by that.

I love history and design from many eras. Incorporating beautiful and unique things from the past into a new life is very satisfying—and always intriguing.

You are known for being an avid collector. What are a few of the things you have collected over the years and what sparked your interest in those items?

So many things. Too many to list but I am always interested in the incredible qualities of craft and design of objects of all types. I have huge respect for design and how things are made. What has been done well is always inspiring.

What’s your personal philosophy when it comes to incorporating vintage and antique pieces into the spaces you design? 

I love to protect and bring forward beautiful things. I love imagining new furniture, lighting, textiles, and more. Each new thing is always very carefully imagined.

Thomas O'Brien
Photo: Francesco Lagnese

You have product collaborations and licensed collections with some incredible brands. How do those develop, and what’s your favorite part about that creative process?

Originally the first relationship sprung from interest in my shop, Aero. As things evolved, other partnerships seemed natural. Really, one thing just led to the next as designers knew more and more of my products.

You work on both residential and commercial projects. Do you have a preference for one over the other? Do you have a favorite recent project you’ve worked on?

I do really like both so much—there is a house in Sag Harbor and its garden I’ve been working on that has been a wonderful project. Turns out it is a bit of a blend of details and ideas of my very first little house and my Academy house and Library now.

What do you find most compelling about Chairish?

Its mix of old and new, modern and fine, and the opportunities in the hunt.

Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?

There is always the “never seen before” version of something you know. A dream piece is usually something like this.

Photo: Laura Resen

Some Design Favorites…

Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:

It could be art. It could be color. But having a room make real functional sense usually really makes what’s best in a room shine.

Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”

Adding special textiles like throws and pillows—whether vintage or new—can always make the freshest change. Even better and always a thrill in a room are fresh flowers.

Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:

Steuben crystal

Favorite paint color:

Benjamin Moore Tissue Pink #1163

Favorite piece of decor in your home:

The lamps and fixtures that light each room. Lights both old and new always make the fullest statement of style.

Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:

Monet

Favorite style icon:

Gene Kelly

Design destination every creative should visit at least once:

Giverny

Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:

I have a beautiful 1920’s bronze medallion on my desk that says, “There is no easy route to the stars.”

Thomas O'Brien
Photo: Francesco Lagnese

Some Lifestyle Favorites…

Favorite vacation destination:

Italy

Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:

Le Sirenuse in Positano

Favorite restaurant:

Café Luxembourg

Favorite small museum:

The John Soane Museum

Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:

Vintage glassware or china

Favorite flower:

David Austin Roses’ Jude the Obscure. It has the most amazing scent, like floral grapefruit, and is a beautiful peachy color.

Favorite adult beverage:

Martini, lately, with a twist of lemon

Favorite way to unwind at home:

Spending time with the dogs or cooking

Favorite entertaining essential:

Vintage silver. Very special when it is Georgian.

Lead photo: Francesco Lagnese

October 5, 2022

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