Living With Friends, a.k.a. Artwork
OCT. 16, 2015
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What I Love | Amanda Benchley
What I Love | Amanda Benchley
CreditOberto Gili for The New York Times
What I Love
By DAN SHAW
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summer, Amanda Benchley, her husband and two children moved out of a downtown loft and into a prewar apartment on Park Avenue in the 90s. And well before they settled in, an art installer arrived to hang the pictures. “I could live with unpacked boxes,” she said, “as long as the things I love were on the walls.”
That makes sense when you consider that Ms. Benchley, 46, is not only an independent filmmaker but also the co-author, with Stacey Goergen, of“Artists Living With Art” (Abrams), a new book featuring the homes of art stars like Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman, Andres Serrano and Pat Steir. “The way they display their art is very deliberate and important to them,” she said. “They all care very much about their surroundings.”
For Ms. Benchley, that care extends to the furnishings as well. Curled up on a Vladimir Kagan Serpentine sofa, she explained how easy the apartment was to decorate, because everything from the family’s loft seemed to fit perfectly in the new space. She had her concerns, though — particularly about the sofa, and whether it would fit into the service elevator.
Her real estate agent was quick to reassure her. “She told me Vladimir Kagan lives in the building and has the exact same sofa,” Ms. Benchley said.
The agent, it turned out, was right about Mr. Kagan but wrong about the sofa fitting in the elevator: It had to be brought in through a window, along with her 10-foot dining table. “Have you ever seen this?” she said. “It’s so cool. They put it in a large shipping container that’s open on one side, they close the street, hoist it up and slip it in. It takes about three seconds.”
The 34-inch-wide table was custom-made, based on one at ABC Kitchen. “They had these skinny bleached oak tables that I loved,” she said. “Everybody thinks round tables are great for conversation, but this is absolutely fantastic because it’s so narrow you can talk to people diagonally.”
Hanging overhead is a glass pendant from Helen Gifford’s Urchin Collection, a nod to the Benchley family’s love of the sea, as is the Lucite box of shells on the coffee table. “It was a special gift from my friendMarkham Roberts, who is a decorator,” she said. “He collected the shells in Boca Grande for us, because we are very connected to the ocean.”
That’s because Ms. Benchley’s husband, Clayton, 46, who works in finance, is a son of the writer Peter Benchley, who died in 2006 and was best known for his 1974 best-seller “Jaws,” which Steven Spielberg turned into a blockbuster movie.
“After ‘Jaws’ came out and sharks were so demonized, my father-in-law wanted to set the record straight,” Ms. Benchley said. “He became an ocean conservationist. He wanted people to know they are not going to get eaten by sharks and that they are an important part of the ecosystem.”
So none of the Benchleys are afraid of sharks — not even Teddy, 11, or Eloise, 10. “They have learned by osmosis that sharks are good,” Ms. Benchley said, offering proof: photos of them diving with sharks in South Africa.
The children, she added, are the main reason the family moved uptown. “I wanted them to be able to walk to school,” Ms. Benchley said. “I think it’s a rite of passage. Too many New York children are overprotected.”
The large-scale Polaroid portraits of Eloise and Teddy, she noted, are by Jennifer Trausch, and were a gift from her to her husband: “They are very reflective of my children: My daughter is a goof and my son’s more of a poet.”
Other pieces of art in the apartment were gifts from her husband, including a large color-field photograph by Tapp Francke that was aChristmas present the year their son was born. “I like it because it reminds me of a Rothko,” she said. “And I am never going to own a real Rothko.”
The Plexiglas sculpture by E.V. Day in the foyer is a more recent gift from Mr. Benchley. “I think this is my favorite thing,” she said. “She’s one of the artists in our book — a really cool, funky woman.”
Ms. Benchley also collects more whimsical items, like an assortment of napkins rings so fanciful they could double as brooches or Christmas treeornaments. “My daughter used them last night to set the table for her birthday dinner,” she said.
To serve her birthday cupcakes, Eloise chose an elaborate tiered cake stand made by Ms. Benchley’s friend Lela Rose, the fashion designer. “It’s plates stacked on teacups glued together with these little pug figurines, because we had two brown pugs at the time.” (Those dogs, Shuggie and Honey, died in 2010, but the Benchleys have since adopted another pug, Winnie, and a Labrador mix named Lola.) A watercolor of the first two pugs by Margie Bobbish hangs near the fireplace in a grouping that includes a portrait of Ms. Benchley by the photographer Jessica Craig-Martin and a copy of a Hirschfeld drawing of several members of her husband’s family: her father-in-law with his brother, Nat, the actor and writer; their father, Nathaniel, the novelist and humorist; and their grandfather Robert, the humorist and critic.
As part of a literary family, Ms. Benchley said, she loves her new apartment’s proximity to the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue. “It’s wonderful to browse in the window when I walk the dogs,” she said, adding that living in family-oriented Carnegie Hill has made her feel very grown-up.
“When you live downtown, you feel 25, because you are living around all these young people,” she said. “I was ready to be with my own age group.”