We’re very excited to help Amy Azzarito launch her new book: Past & Present: 24 Favorite Moments in Decorative Arts History and 24 Modern DIY Projects Inspired By Them. In preparation of the official launch party at west elm Broadway on March 7, we chatted with Amy about her love of design and decorative arts — and the growing appeal of DIY projects…


The breadth of the 24 projects in Past & Present — from a greenhouse coffee table to a Gustavian clock — speak to your wide interests in the decorative arts. Do you have a favorite project? Is there a time period or design era that speaks to you more than others?

In my last semester of graduate school at Cooper-Hewitt, I was awarded a scholarship to spend two weeks in Paris studying 18th century France. I had been to Paris before, but this trip was absolutely amazing. Our instructor had been a curator at Versailles, and she still had all the keys to the palace. At Versailles, she took us off the main tour route and behind the large state bedroom to the private rooms of Marie Antoinette. I was so inspired by these (comparatively) tiny simple rooms — one of the essays in the book is directly related to privacy in the 18th century. I think that because I spend a lot of my day online, anytime I have the opportunity to see something in person, I become so inspired. It really sticks with me in a way that the online experience doesn’t.


While many people are inspired by DIY projects — fewer are known to a complete a project. Which of the Past & Present projects would you recommend for beginner? Which would you suggest for a DIY pro? How would you encourage someone who is apt to procrastinate or put-off finishing a project?

I think the napkin ring project is a great beginner project. The project was created by the amazing jewelry designer Caitlin Mociun (I seriously covet everything she makes). She was inspired by Native American blankets to create napkin rings out of only three things — tape, pipe fittings and scissors.


You worked with a range of well-known and respected designers for the projects — what did you learn from collaborating with such a talented group?

Working with such an diverse group of designers was seriously one of the best parts of the book. I really wanted to highlight their work. I think I was most impressed by how seriously they took this challenged. They all felt such a debt to the artists and designers of the past and they really want create something that would honor those designers of the past.


In addition to a Library Science Degree, you have a background in art, design and decorative history. How has your personal style/home décor changed as you learn more about the past? Are there examples you can share of something you learned inspiring your daily life?

I often think of William Morris‘ saying “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” And so many of the artists and designers of the past really tried to make the mundane beautiful. I think about that when buying utilitarian things like trash cans or cleaning supplies. I think living in a small apartment means that I have to be pretty ruthless about what I keep and I do try to keep only the beautiful and the useful.


When finalizing the 24 projects that would make it into the book — are there any projects that you wish you could have included but didn’t due to limitations with budget, accessibility, etc.?

There weren’t really any projects that didn’t make the cut, but there were some designers whom I really wanted to work with and the timing didn’t work out. I really wanted to do something with Wary Meyers but we just had trouble nailing down a project that worked. And I also wanted to include the wallpaper designer Nama Rococo but we just couldn’t figure something out.


Thanks Amy!


Come meet DesignSponge Editor and new author Amy Azzartio at west elm Broadway — 10 projects from her book will be on display in the store from March 7 – March 10.


    • Gothic Heraldry Pillowcases – designed by Linea Carta

Past & Present Book Launch at west elm Broadway
Past & Present available from
Amy Azzarito workshop at west elm Market in Dumbo, Brooklyn

Images: Illustrations by Julia Rothman, photos from Past & Present

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