Room with a you:
Amazing folk art fills a west-side home with narrative and wonder
When you’re talking about home design, spare rarely means delightful. Rather, it calls to mind a sort of astringent, modern quality that’s all about an admirable clarity — but rarely about pure joy. Once you step inside Michael and Karan Feders' home off of West Charleston (assuming you pass muster with Basil, their hair-trigger Chihuahua) you know at a glance that this isn't the case in their spare but insanely lively two-story home. Because that glance will take in the art that makes all the difference: Stunning examples of Southern vernacular work — expressive, unschooled, intensely human — dispel any chilly rigor inherent in white walls, high ceilings, concrete floors and LEDs. (You won’t be surprised to learn that Michael, a licensing entrepreneur, supplied folk art for the House of Blues chain.)
“The goal was to create a gallery environment,” Michael says, “and to me that means white walls everywhere.” It’s an aesthetic he hasn’t forgotten from childhood trips to the big museums. “You don’t walk through the Metropolitan Museum or the Guggenheim and see walls with a red sponge treatment.”
So, yeah, the house is spare. From the rough-hewn kitchen table made of Tibetan wood to the screaming Janet Leigh shower curtain, no item or idea has been casually allowed in. But the spareness isn’t an end in itself; it serves to frame the art. “The whole thing was to make a symmetry here so that you didn’t notice the house, just the art,” Feder says. But go ahead, notice the house — how the square wine rack quietly harmonizes with the square kitchen windows and the square sink to create a background zen that highlights the jolly red swath of Willie Jinks’ “Hoper Family Goes to Church,” or the huge, graffiti-inspired works by Lou Majors.
“The house wasn’t supposed to invade your consciousness,” Feder adds, “but then, when you focused on the house, there were some cool stories.”
Stories. That’s your first takeaway here. While you probably can’t afford a museum-quality folk-art collection, you can customize your environment with objects rife with meaning. The Feders’ house is filled with stories. That’s the nature of this genre: Folk art emerges from a storytelling urge so undeniable that, for example, Southern artist Eddy Mumma had to paint untold pieces modeled on English aristocracy, never selling or giving away a single one in his lifetime. (The Feders own five.) Other items trail fun stories about how they were acquired. Point being, few touches are merely decorative; the couples’ home life is pillowed in a rich sense of narrative.
As he bounds through his house — expounding on the similarities between ancient cave paintings and folk art, describing how to fine-tune the placement of artwork (they hang construction paper sized like the paintings, tweaking them for weeks) — the other lesson of this place becomes clear: surround yourself with things you have a flagrant passion for.
“Art is the proper task of life,” someone — Nietzsche? A Facebook meme? — once said, and even if you don’t make art, you can make art central to your life. “It’s just a really creative space,” Feder says, standing in his living room. “It’s incredibly inspiring. For me, it elevates.” Sounds delightful.