From acrylic on canvas to cerused-oak cabinetry, art and interiors consultant Betty Wasserman tells all
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 8/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Betty Wasserman took a side road into the design world. She earned a business degree and worked for a management-consulting firm, then switched to art advising. After she went out on her own as an art consultant in 1995, one private collector asked for her help in furnishing his apartment. Undeterred by a lack of design experience, Wasserman did the interiors herself—and a business was born. Now she runs Betty Wasserman Art & Interiors from a loft in Manhattan and a satellite office in Southampton, New York. Wasserman will design a space, furnish it, pick out contemporary artwork, and even have it framed, lit, and hung on the wall. Confident, chatty, and prone to bouts of laughter, she explains how the business works.
How did you make the huge leap from business to the art world?
I picked up some really good business skills at a management-consulting firm. It was when I volunteered to help the PBS station in Boston organize a benefit auction that I realized I had an eye for art—and that I could apply my skills to the art business. I moved to New York and took a job in fine-art publishing and consulting. After five years, I started consulting on my own.
The next leap was from art consultant to interior designer.
I've always been interested in interiors and architecture. It got frustrating when I would frame beautiful works of art and then deliver them to a space that didn't deserve them. It was infuriating. Being the control freak that I am, I wanted more say about where my artists' work "lived."
How did the transition go?
I found it challenging, but my first client was fantastic. If something went wrong or I wasn't sure about something, he was really supportive.
How did you draw other design clients?
It became a word-of-mouth thing. My art clients heard I was doing design and began hiring me for interiors. In the late 1990s, I started concentrating on lofts, which fit in with my aesthetic. Lofts are also perfect for displaying artwork: high ceilings, clean lines, and not a lot of moldings.
Can you characterize your aesthetic in art and design?
The art is abstract, minimal, sometimes geometric. Figurative, floral, and still life just aren't my thing. The interiors are serene, functional, but very comfortable—neutral, but not without color. My favorite furniture is from Pucci, Donghia, and Holly Hunt.
Is your New York office more like an art gallery or an interiors studio?
My loft is a showroom and a gallery. Clients come to look at work and experience how to live with art. I rotate what's on the walls, and I have an inventory of hundreds of works on paper. People can look at 500 pieces in an hour and a half. When they buy the art, they can have it framed here, delivered, and hung by my installer, whom I've worked with for years.
Do the two aspects of your work influence each other?
Absolutely. Not that I match the art to the sofa. Sometimes I start a furniture plan and immediately think of a painting. It's hard not to. But I really do focus on design first—art is the last piece.
What's the hardest part of designing spaces for art?
Lighting always gets overlooked. Through my experience with corporate collections, I know where the display walls should be, but a lighting consultant is absolutely critical in getting it right.
Do you apply any other art-consulting lessons to your design work?
I learned early on, with framing, that it's very important to be picky about your vendors. If you don't have good ones, you're nothing, no matter how talented you are.