The Mind of the Collector
Remy Renzullo’s Vanished Splendor
Song-I Saba talks with the young decorator and collector on the soulfulness of patina and memory
Remy Renzullo is a 30-year-old interior decorator whose careful eye and elegant spaces have earned him a reputation beyond his years. A true collector and old soul, I caught up with him in his jewel of a London apartment, which he is currently working to breathe new life into whilst splitting his time between projects in England and the United States.
Song-I Saba: Remy, I know you grew up surrounded by your mother’s collections of furniture, birds nests, taxidermy, and early American folk art—and your father makes furniture. When did you begin collecting yourself, and how is your collecting informed by your childhood?
Remy Renzullo: I began collecting almost from birth—though in a different manner than I do now. I was obsessed with model trains and ships. There’s an English trainmaker called Hornby, which still produces the best model trains. I collected these voraciously when I was young. Concurrently I loved to find lead models of ships that were made in the 1940s and ’50s and recreate WWII era naval battles with them.
I feel very lucky to have grown up in an environment where there was such a premium put on quality and originality. My mother had an incredible eye for everything, and our house was filled with beautiful and bizarre furniture and objects. It was very unconventional, but one of the greatest lessons I learned from her was the conviction of one’s own taste—and that a great collector will look anywhere to find what it is they are after. Our eyes never relax.
SS: Would you agree that collecting historical furniture is an act of selective nostalgia, whether personal or collective?
RR: To an extent—absolutely. I’ve purchased things before less because of how beautiful I find them, but because they evoke a memory or a feeling from my childhood. Nostalgia is hugely important to my work, and I’m obsessed with the notion of what is left behind, or what remains. I love rooms that evoke memories or the idea of what had been there.
Having grown up in a very abundant but somewhat threadbare environment, I’ve grown up acutely aware of the notion of “vanished splendor,” which is a feeling I try to convey or evoke in the rooms that I now create.
SS: What first draws you to the pieces you acquire on your searches across the globe?
RR: I think it’s a mix of being drawn to the physical beauty of something, but also the feeling that it gives me or a memory it might evoke. I have such a strongly defined aesthetic, which is something of a double-edged sword. I know almost immediately when looking at something whether I like it or not.
But again, going back to my previous answer, I’m drawn to furniture or objects that are intricate and rich, but don’t seem new or perfect. Patina is so important to me. I love objects that show the effects of wear and a life well lived.
SS: That reminds me, I read somewhere that Victorian tailors and dressmakers used to call the wrinkles in the elbows of jackets “memories.”
RR: That’s fantastic.
SS: Your job naturally involves sourcing pieces for your clients’ collections as well as your own. Is there anything that particularly inspires you about collections you have come across in your career?
RR: A point of view is always so important to me. Being so strong in my own convictions of taste, I’m naturally drawn to the same in other people. I find the best collections, regardless of what they include, are those in which the personality of the collector comes across so strongly.
Some of the greats for me are Harry Blackmer, Bill Blass, and Augustus Pitt Rivers, who all had such intense points of view, which comes across immediately when looking at images of their homes or collections. I loathe the notion of collecting what’s fashionable or desirable in the moment—to me that’s so shallow or vacuous. The more outre the better, in my opinion.
SS: I’m sure the day-do-day life of an interior decorator is a mystery to most. How do you accumulate the knowledge and relationships you need for your profession?
RR: Two thirds of my day are spent scouring auction catalogs—my apartments are always full of old catalogs and reference books. I spend the remainder of my time visiting dealers and nurturing personal relationships with those that I respect and love to source from.
When you’re new to it, approaching dealers or professionals at fairs can seem intimidating, but I’ve found that in general they are delighted and excited to have a young person asking questions and showing genuine interest.
SS: Do you have any advice for young collectors who want to build a collection with soul?
RR: Collect what you love, because you love it. Don’t pay attention to value or investment. A strong point of view supersedes all else, and ultimately collecting should be a passion—something to enjoy (and make oneself a bit crazy).
Also don’t feel afraid to splurge on things occasionally, someone once told me the things we love the most are those that hurt a little. ◆