I Pezzi Dipinti founder Cathryn Collins finds balance in the city.

A Quiet Winter Morning

By Ami Kealoha

Textile designer Cathryn Collins is a study in contradictions. When not creating some of the world's most luxurious throws and wraps for her I Pezzi Dipinti line, the multi-hyphenate divides her time between directing documentaries and architectural preservation.

In honor of our recent, exclusive collaboration, Collins welcomed us into her world to learn where she goes for inspiration, community, and balance. From a penchant for traveling to politically unstable countries to the unlikely road that led her to textiles, Collins' motivation is as unexpected as the life she leads.

Her home stands on a quiet street in Midtown Manhattan. The garden apartment is an anomaly itself; a glance down the improbably tree-lined block at a UN skyscraper confirms we're still in the middle of a vibrant city. Yet inside the designer's peaceful home, a view of her garden and the East River immediately greets visitors. We begin our conversation in her living room.

Ami Kealoha: How did you first get involved in textiles?

Cathryn Collins at home in the garden Photo © Winnie Au for L'AB/Pamono
Cathryn Collins: The real origin of I Pezzi Dipinti goes back to its name: the painted pieces. In the late '80s I started a custom-painted furniture business in Florence where we applied 16th-century and 17th-century textile patterns like damasks to traditional furniture styles from the same period.

I started making shawls to raise money for the Trust.

Then, in the early '90s, I was involved in the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust and met some Nepalese who had started joining Nepal's long tradition of hand-loomed production with more refined finishing skills. Christiane Celle, who was opening the first Calypso in New York at the time, saw these pieces and asked me to get some for the store. The long and short of it is I effectively started making shawls to raise money for the Trust—a benevolent whim based on Christiane's very good business idea.

AK: What keeps you going day to day?

CC: It's so simple; light, space, and nature are air for my brain. At six o'clock this morning I got up and opened the window to the most incredible sunrise. When I look through photographs to find some color reference, so often it's coming from a plant, a flower, a cloud, a pattern of the trees against the sky.

Deciding to visit the natural environment that lies just outside, we pass through sliding glass doors into the garden. A tall column in one corner anchors the brick patio and ivy winding among trees and few pieces of simple furniture. The space is in part the work of Michael Trapp, a friend, antique dealer, and accidental landscape designer who Collins explains made it "a more romantic, seductive version of what it already was.” 

AK: Do you come out to the garden often? 

CC: When I walk into the apartment I just see the garden, the river, and the sky. If I'm tired or have been traveling, my sense of being home is always that long view of the garden. It's serenity; there's a peacefulness to it. I operate in only two modes, fully on or fully off. This place represents fully off, being able to just let information flow in, like water or clouds.

AK: What's the biggest challenge to maintaining that sense of peace?

CC: My father died when he was 57 years old. I just turned 55, and I've always felt intensely that I don't have the time to do things I want to do. That sense of rushing and not being able to be, like in the morning to organize my head, to feed my brain—whether reading the news or a great book—or to properly attend to a client or something like that, just makes me insane.

AK: So how else do you find balance?

CC: I'm working on a film right now in Pakistan, and, in all the places I go, I find pockets of people who would be friends anywhere in the world. What inevitably happens is that I cobble together a life that is a comfortable sanctuary from anything that's disturbing in my professional life. In Pakistan I now know the most amazing group of artists, writers, jewelry designers . . .

I also like going out somewhere to have my coffee, be alone, and just be. I do my thinking pretty much before 9 o'clock in the morning. It's a ritual. The requirements are really good coffee but also a place that gives me a sort of calm. So, in New York, near my office, it's Sant Ambroeus or The Mercer. And when I'm closer to home, I go to Zé Café.

Collins describes her neighborhood as a village within the city. As we walk the few blocks to Zé Café from her apartment, she points out the spots she frequents, as well as the house where Irving Berlin lived, and one flower shop in particular.

Zé is owned by one of the most amazing florists in the world, Zezé. Talk about inspiration, Zezé's shop is like fantasia because the guy's a maniac. He's a genius. All the things that interest me in my design work—texture, color, and feeling awed but comfortable—Zezé and his wife Peggy, they're obsessed with these things too. They've taken all the things that they care about and put them into a cozy spot.

It also restores me to go to my office and just do what I do. It's very comforting and nurturing, because I am so drawn to the really gritty, tumultuous things going on in the world.

Color samples at C. C.'s studio Photo © Ambra Medda
AK: It sounds like you travel a lot?

CC: A lot. I had the instinct to go to a lot of places that are now too dangerous or destroyed, either because it was suddenly calm enough or I felt impending trouble. I spent a month in Syria about four years ago and I went to Egypt during the election. It was the most exhilarating thing I could've done.

I also love just being somewhere with a great book and going for a long run in the mountains somewhere. My husband and I spend a lot of time in St Barts, not the St Barts of parties and all that, but St Barts of running up and down the hills and hiking. I love water. I love the ocean more than I love the beach. As interested as I am in high culture and in the political struggles of humans and so on, to relax I need places where there aren't a lot of choices and where everything is sort of pleasing, like St Barts. Capri's the same way. We spend a lot of time on Capri in the summer. You walk to get your coffee; you don't have to do anything else. It's the most beautiful place you've ever been.

We have a farm in Duchess County, about an hour and a half from here; there's no water out there, but we've kind of made our own island in the hills. We have a 280-degree view and you don't see another house. I don't leave. I import friends, and I cook, and I hang out with the animals. We have Black Angus and chickens. It's a total sanctuary.

Before heading into the café, we pause to sit on a bench out front and finish our conversation. Sitting in the winter sun, watching people with babies and dogs go by, Collins finds her sanctuary—simply and totally, in her own way—at that moment too.

All images © Winnie Au for L'AB/Pamono

Special thanks to Zé Café.

  • Text & Interview by

    • Ami Kealoha

      Ami Kealoha

      Currently a director in PMK•BNC’s creative department, Ami is also an editor-at-large of Cool Hunting, where she was previously an editor for six years.
  • Images by

    • Winnie Au

      Winnie Au

      Winnie is an NYC-based portrait, fashion, and animal photographer. She recently published her first book, Canine Chronicles. She loves mac and cheese, bicycles, french pressed coffee, corgis, houseboats, and horror movies.