Carefully Curated

Designer Cathy Austin uses her clients' impressive contemporary art collection as the springboard for the design of their Myers Park home.

WHEN CATHY AUSTIN LEFT HER JOB AT SOTHEBY’S IN New York City years ago, she fully intended to pursue a career as an art curator, gallery owner, or art professor. “When I left New York and moved back to Atlanta, I started talking to people about what those different careers involved,” Austin says. “I just wanted to help people pick out the artwork and antiques for their homes. And,
overwhelmingly, everyone said it’s the interior designer who picks that out for their clients. So I thought it would be neat to create this niche where I start with the art and let the interiors build off the collection.”

That niche became Austin’s calling card as she used her art background to help pull together timeless designs inspired by her clients’ artwork, and it’s what drew the homeowners of the Myers Park home to Austin. “We met Cathy on a Mint Museum trip to Art Basel Miami and really hit it off,” the homeowner says. “Our friendship grew from there. We bonded over our love of art. And in the back of our minds, we always kind of knew that once we were ready to work on our home, we’d have Cathy be our designer.” After living in the home for almost ten years, the couple enlisted builder Ben Collins with Salins Group, architectural designer JJ Barja of Elite Design Group, and Austin to design an addition off the back of their circa-1919 traditional home.

The homeowners knew that Austin’s role was particularly important, as they’d discussed numerous times during their friendship that they wanted their contemporary art collection to play center stage in the home’s interior design. “We knew we couldn’t do it ourselves,” he says. “My wife and I had done the collecting part. We just needed someone to tie it all together. Our personalities instantly meshed with Cathy’s, and knowing her background in art, we knew it would be a success.”

While the homeowners’ collection is primarily contemporary (with an impressive body of blue-chip artwork), they wanted the interiors to be more reflective of the traditional architectural details of the home. “They wanted to maintain the integrity of the house but also have the artwork influence the interior design,” explains Austin of the delicate balance between traditional and modern. “Part of what drove the design, too, was how each of my clients likes to interact with the artwork. The clients have certain pieces they like to look at in different ways. The husband likes to walk by the artwork each day, while other pieces, he likes to sit and ponder more.

Art dictated every move I made in the home’s interior design.” The entryway is one area where Austin paired two pieces of art together to create a dramatic effect. A large work by artist Sterling Ruby sits opposite colorful artwork by Austin Eddy. The soft gray walls provide the perfect backdrop for the pieces, which “are punctuated with black-and-red accents that visually connect the adjacent spaces in the homes,” says Austin of the design move. Completing the space is a starburst chandelier by Tony Duquette by Remains Lighting Atelier, which acts as a contemporary sculpture in the space. “It was a little intimidating at first because it’s a pretty diverse collection of artwork,” explains Austin of the task. “I was constantly thinking, ‘How can I bring all of this together in a unified way to make it feel intentional in this house.’ I did try to group some like things together in certain places, so they could have a conversation about how those pieces play off one another.”

Austin took the same approach elsewhere, pairing pieces of the homeowners’ collection together to complement one another and to unite other adjacent rooms. Though subtle, the owners' suite is swathed in warmth with a backdrop of soft blue, gray, silver, and white—the ideal blank canvas on which to hang artwork. Here, Austin intentionally chose less vibrant pieces, such as the works on paper by Susan McAlister through Hidell Brooks Gallery that hang above the bed, as well as the large complementary piece by Tara Donovan that hangs on an adjacent wall.

But the true testament to Austin’s innate ability to curate the homeowners’ artwork in a way that speaks to them personally is showcased in the art lounge, or “art cave,” as Austin affectionately calls it. “It was created from a small family room to display the owners’ favorite works by Chuck Close, Yoshitomo Nara, Ori Gersht, Clare Rojas, Shara Hughes, Tomory Dodge, and Brad Thomas, and set against lacquered inky black walls to make the works shine,” Austin says. The bookshelves are lined with smaller works of art as well as books featuring the very same artists that are hung on the walls of the room. “This space was particularly fun because I’m a wannabe curator,” laughs Austin. “I loved the challenge of placing things together that would enhance each other and not detract from the other.”

Throughout the home, Austin’s ability to seamlessly mix and match works of art is on display—a gift that the homeowners are grateful for. “When we met Cathy, it completed everything for us,” the homeowner says. “She had this understanding of the art and its importance to the art community and, more importantly, to us as a couple. She understood how we wanted to live with the art, interact with the art, and it completely transformed our home in such a positive way.”