For Vastu co-owner Eric Kole, art doesn’t so much imitate life. Art is his life.The line blurs between a professional and personal passion for beautiful things in the same way that his chic Logan Circle furnishings boutique/ gallery and his swanky duplex loft in the same DC neighborhood share a consistent progressive design aesthetic. He calls his style “warm, comfortable modern.” But at home, as at work, it is this designer-entrepreneur’s devotion to fine art that really drives him.
“I grew up in Michigan, very, very poor. The first time I
went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and saw Andy Warhol’s Gold
Marilyn, I got goose bumps,” Kole recalls. “Something happened that
really transformed me.”
That transformation took time to
flourish for the fit 43-year-old, who first came to Washington to enter
the corporate world after graduating from Cornell with degrees in
economics and design. “I rose to become a divisional vice-president for
Computer Associates, but I didn’t totally use the design part of my
education for 15 years,” he notes.
residential interiors began as a hobby for him during that period.
Friends asked for help with their places and he kept redoing his own.
“And that’s when I began collecting art,” he says.
About four years
ago, he’d had enough of the corporate existence. “I couldn’t get up one
more morning and put on another suit to sell something I had no
interest in,” Kole recalls.
As the 14th Street corridor began
its renaissance in 2003, he and co-owner Jason Claire opened the hip,
contemporary Vastu. A new generation of professionals was just moving
into the neighborhood and seeking the sleek, modern look. The
store—which offers custom furniture, fashionable accessories, design
services and, of course, affordable art pieces—was profitable from the
day it opened, Kole says.
In 2003, Kole also placed an advance
order to purchase a penthouse condominium in the vintage Cooper-Lewis
Building. The residence would include a light-filled, bi-level
1,450-square-foot interior and a spectacular 1,100-square-foot,
wrap-around roof terrace.
The complete rehab by the Metropolis
Development Company was just launching, so Kole was able to make
alterations to his floor plan. The most important structural change
that he ordered, to showcase his art and fit his living requirements,
flies in the face of recent trends. “I actually closed in the kitchen,”
he reveals. The added wallsallowed for about 60 to 70 percent more
kitchen cabinetry and provided more display space for his art
He positioned one of his favorite pieces in the entryway:
Lichtenstein's Reflections on a Soda Fountain,
one of three
Lichtenstein lithographs in his collection.
Kole, who was finally able to move into the apartment building last
year, had pre-planned where every painting would hang and where each
piece of sculpture and furniture would be positioned. “I was able to
throw a party in it within 72 hours of moving in,” he remembers.
is that kind of enthusiasm and attention to detail that informs every
part of Kole’s home. This becomes apparent from the moment you step
onto the Brazilian cherry hardwood floor and behold the dramatic
expanse, which is punctuated by vibrant canvases in representational
themes. The foyer tenders an initial burst with a pair of Javier
Cabada’s flowers, Red Lily and White Iris, hanging next to one another
above a contrasting antique Tibetan cupboard.
“Except for a
couple of these old cabinets and bookcases, every pillow, rug, window
treatment and stick of furniture came from Vastu,” Kole says. “And I
acquired about half of the art through Vastu. We have new shows every
eight to 10 weeks for emerging local artists. I try to buy at least one
piece from each of them. But my most important art, I’ve collected that
throughout my life.”
Among those, on the right in the main
hallway after the entrances to the cozy media/guest room and immaculate
kitchen, is Reflections on Soda Fountain. It’s one of three lithographs
Kole owns by Roy Lichtenstein, the artist known for his comic-strip
style. Nearby, on the counter of the functional kitchen with its sleek
Scavolini cabinetry, is another example of Kole’s love of pop art: a
framed Campbell’s Tomato Soup label. It is one of a series originally
signed by artist Andy Warhol for Campbell’s company employees after the
artist’s own versions of the label gained international acclaim.
pop-art genre fits Kole’s idea that the furniture should serve as a
backdrop. “Classic sculptural pieces in a muted, neutral palette allow
you to go brighter, bolder and bigger in art choices. Art needs to grab
While Kole believes that furniture is secondary, it still
needs to hold its own against the art. This is apparent in the soaring
combined living/dining area, where an iconic Saarinen dining table with
an arabescato marble top by Knoll anchors a swirl of forceful,
Suspended next to the second-story den that leads to
the roof terrace,
Julie Levesque's Four Squares
symbolizes the four members of Kole's
Bycomparison, a soothing taupe-gray master suite on the opposite side of
the great room feels more like a private sanctuary. Resting beside the
leather and steel Vastu bed, a small work by Jasper Johns, Figure 1,
recalls the greater intention of the residence as an art repository.
good taste, along with his personal identity, are reflected up the
staircase, off the apartment’s cool second-story den with its high-tech
Suspended in mid-air is a specially
commissioned sculpture, Julie Levesque’s Four Square. A stark white
grouping of four symmetrical houses dangles together, each slightly
different in its features, each one representing a member of Kole’s
family as described by him to the artist. It is left open to
interpretation, though, as to which tiny dwelling symbolizes his
mother, father, brother and himself.
But when it comes to his
full-sized dwelling, Eric Kole is unambiguous. “Art has no intrinsic
value, no actual use. It’s not a chair. It’s about pure beauty. To know
I can have something simply because it is beautiful, that’s what
Sally Kline, a Washington-area arts and culture
writer for 17 years, is a regular contributor to Home & Design.
Timothy Bell is a photographer based in Washington, DC, and New York
Suspended next to the second-story den that leads to the
roof terrace (right), Julie Levesque’s Four Square symbolizes the four
members of Kole’s family. In the living room (opposite), Kole
juxtaposes two vibrant paintings, Blue by David DeBilzan and Crema by
Carlos Davila Rinaldi, over low-slung furnishings from Vastu.
Saarinen table brings a sculptural look into the dining area
(opposite), where Popi’s Power of Money makes a dramatic statement.
Sleek cabinets by Scavolini and quartz-stone countertops create a
modern vibe in the kitchen (above). The framed soup-can label signed by
Andy Warhol was made as a gift for Campbell’s employees after the
artist’s Campbell’s Soup Cans gained international acclaim.
comfortable media room (this page) boasts a Nelson bench, a sofa by
Steven Anthony and a side chair upholstered in Knoll fabric—all from
Vastu. UPC, a canvas by Genevieve Durang, echoes the lines in the
bench. Serenity prevails in the gray-taupe master bedroom (opposite
top), where Andy?Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes shimmers over the bed and
Lichtenstein’s Venetian School covers a space where there was once a
A metallic and epoxy painting by Willie Little sets a tranquil tone in the master bath (opposite bottom).
the living room, Kole juxtaposes two vibrant paintings,
Blue by David
DeBilzan and Crema by Carlos Davila
Rinaldi, over low-slung furnishings
A Saarinen table brings an sculptural look into the dining
area, where Popi's Power of Money makes a dramatic statement.
Sleek cabinets by Scavolini and quartz-stone countertops
create a modern vibe in the kitchen.
comfortable media room boasts a Nelson bench,
a sofa by Steven Anthony
and a side chair upholstered
in Knoll fabric-- all from Vastu. UPC, a
Genevieve Durang, echoes the lines in the bench.
Serenity prevails in the gray-taupe master bedroom,
where Andy Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes shimmers
over the bed.
den leads to the 1,100-square-foot wrap-around
roof terrace, which
offers panoramic views of DC and
makes a great spot for entertaining.
Green and blue finishes inspired by nature fill a 13-foot-wide building in Ho Chi Minh City shared by a family and its tenants.