Interior Designer Alyssa Kapito Reveals Her Ideal Shopping Itinerary and Essential Decorating Rule

Portrait of Alyssa Kapito. All images courtesy of Kapito.

Light, elegant, art-filled, and modern. Interior designer Alyssa Kapito’s contemporary aesthetic and design ethos is rooted in an appreciation for craft and tradition. She has two degrees in art history from Columbia University and a collecting habit so active that it pushed the designer to open an eponymous gallery last December.  

The venture comes 12 years into running her design firm, which tackles residential projects everywhere from New York to California, with frequent stops in the flyover zone. This month, the five-time recipient of the “Elle Decor A-List” honorific released her latest project: a distillation of her practice into 10 interiors, compiled in a tome from Rizzoli. Alyssa Kapito: Interiors offers both a snapshot and a compendium of the designer's work, highlighting how her eye is as adaptable as it is keen. 

To mark the book’s release, Kapito sat down with CULTURED to discuss her love of collecting, New York’s treasures, and the importance of texture. 

Interior designed by Kapito on the Upper East Side.

CULTURED: How did the opportunity for this book come about?

Alyssa Kapito: This is around the 10-year anniversary of starting my own firm. It was a point in my career that I felt like I had a distinct perspective. A friend introduced me to Charles Miers, who runs Rizzoli, and we clicked immediately. He knew my work and was like, “If you ever want to do a book, please consider us.” He was the only publisher I ended up speaking to, because it's Rizzoli. I had always photographed my projects, so it was so easy to do a book other than the writing. I haven't written since college, but I chose to do it myself because I felt it was the most authentic. [The book] looks like my work, in a way, designed and laid out. 

CULTURED: Did you have a difficult time narrowing down the 10 projects you felt represented your work?

Kapito: For me, it was obvious. They all represented a version of me that I wanted to put forward. It tells a story about my aesthetic.

Interior by Kapito in Gramercy Park.

CULTURED: Is there a certain aspect of your practice that you're hoping readers take away? 

Kapito: Two things: In the intro, I talk about how the book is a love letter to creatives. It's my point of view—as most monographs are—but the idea is that it helps the creatives build their own style. I talk a bit about the style I have, but then also how important collecting is. The spaces are very collected and edited. There's a real respect for the materials used and the history of these pieces. I have an art historical background, so collecting is woven into the fiber of what I do.

Collecting also makes the space truly unique. Each individual work has its own purpose, but then the conversation that all the pieces have together is something totally different. I really do think that a project has so much more interest and soul when you're using or intermingling collected pieces. It gives spaces so much depth and character. Without vintage, you run the risk of the space feeling a bit flat not having that historical aspect. 

CULTURED: What are your local spots in New York where you know you'll find something good? 

Kapito: My office is in Soho, and I live on the Upper East Side. New York is really chock full of great places. The whole 10th and 11th Avenue [strips]: Magen H, Demisch Danant, Maison Gerard, Gallery 1950. C.J. Peters is amazing. Gallery Bach is too, which is closer to my office. Obviously, we have Galerie Alyssa Kapito, which is incredible to shop. There's nothing like the French galleries: That was the model we used. We also do a lot of shopping at auctions: Christie's, Phillips, Sotheby's, then all the European auction houses, some in California and Philadelphia. We're constantly shopping for antiques. I love the hunt for them. 

Interior by Kapito on the Upper East Side.

CULTURED: Is that what led to the recent gallery opening? 

Kapito: My love of collecting started very young. My mom used to take me antiquing in Connecticut. Then, as I grew up, I got an art historical background. If you study art history, you really have a full spectrum of the periods and understand the furniture, whether it's Louis the XVI or post-war. You understand where it all goes. Every time I traveled, I would try to come back with something interesting.

The Jean-Michel Frank tables [I have] we picked up somewhere in Europe, we being my husband and me or my design team. Collecting has always been incredibly important to me and part of who I am. I've been doing it for so many years, and I always wanted to start a gallery. We have a breadth of things that we've collected over time that I felt it was a good time. People are fully back at this point, and the desire to see things in person is so strong, to touch and feel and understand them. Then we have another part of the gallery, AKI Editions, which are collaborations that we're doing with artisans around the world. Our first collection was vases inspired by Carlo Scarpa, and we worked with Marcantonio Brandolini d’Adda from Laguna B. That was so special. 

Interior by Kapito in Gramercy Park.

CULTURED: Walk me through the process of putting together the Gramercy Park pied-à-terre in the book. 

Kapito: The first time I go to a space is the most powerful because the space dictates what it wants to be. You wouldn't decorate a house in California the way you would a super modern apartment in New York City: They all have their own personalities. Then, of course, you have the client. With the Gramercy project, the windows were so beautiful. You get this real Gotham skyline. I wanted it to be serene like an oasis. Despite how “city” it looked, it's so quiet.

It was pied-à-terre for the clients, so they wanted that escape feeling. It's a really contemporary building with an unusual shape, so we were going to need an interesting furniture layout. It’s all windows everywhere, so you need floating furniture. The Royère sofa we chose [because] I needed something curved. They were interested in collecting, which is my favorite type of client. We amassed an incredible collection of both contemporary and historical pieces. Behind the dining table is a work by Carol Egan. Then we have Royère dining chairs, some Italian pieces, Jean-Michel Frank pieces, Pierre Jeanneret. They were wonderful students in collecting. 

For the library, I wanted a shift. It was a white box, so we really needed to put some character in. I landed on this Jean-Michel Frank-style oak paneling, then we mixed Danish and French antiques. There’s a Jacques Adnet leather cabinet in there. It's a beautiful cocoon of a space. Then the bedroom is heaven. The couple wanted the ability to read and sleep at the same time because they often are on different schedules. We installed custom reading lights that have the tiniest little light. Everything about the apartment is meant to relax your senses.

Interior by Kapito in Gramercy Park.

CULTURED: How would you characterize the “New York” style? 

Kapito: I love a sophisticated New York apartment where there's a lot of European influences. Traditional New York has an element of Art Deco, which was in the ‘20s to ‘40s period when a lot of the buildings were actually built. That's one of the reasons if you see a New York apartment that’s European mid-century or slightly pre-war feeling, it will give you that vibe. I definitely collect from that period, and it contributes to a look and feel of being in New York. The idea of Gotham is very Art Deco. 

CULTURED: Is there one thing every room needs before it's complete?

Kapito: Without texture, rooms tend to be very flat. There needs to be this visual interest that comes from a mix of different textures. You don’t want everything to be the same. Even with collecting art, it's great to have one painting, one photograph: It's that variation for the eye that I think keeps things interesting. A Bouclé, a silk, bronze, plaster. It's the same with fashion: An outfit that mixes interesting textures is really classic and timeless.