We were excited to visit Athena Calderone’s Amagansett home the morning of our photoshoot. Before creating her tantalizing site, EyeSwoon, Athena made a name for herself as an interior designer, creating inviting warm and gorgeous spaces you want to melt into. Her home did not disappoint. She warmly welcomed us into her home and told us to look around as she finished getting ready. We spotted some delicious concoction on the kitchen table and we think the hostess noticed our oogling, because she offered it to us. Not gonna lie, it was one of the most delicious things we’ve ever eaten and she just casually whipped it up! Her house was thoughtfully put together, yet had such a effortless feel. An easygoing and delightful pair, the mama and her son, Jivan, made our shoot into one of the easiest and most fun ones we’ve done. Can we come hang?? Hope you readers swoon as much as we did…
First of all, EyeSwoon is definitely an eye swoon! How did it all start and how did you develop it into what it is today?
EyeSwoon began in the summer of 2011. I was working as an interior designer and I found myself between projects. I felt a lull in creativity and I started EyeSwoon as the answer to that lull. I love making things beautiful – whether it’s my immediate physical environment or the food that I create – and I wanted to share those little sparks of inspiration and see what journeys they would inspire for others. When I’m designing a space, I can always trace the inspiration back to a singular moment or image that gave me the vision for the complete room. The same thing happens with an amazing bite of food. Suddenly I’ll find myself running out to re-create it and add my own twist. Eye-swoon became a way for me to group all those fragmented moments and give them one voice that speaks to all the sides of me, the design-addict, the fashion-lover, the food-obsessed, the mom, the wife. And hopefully it can do the same for people that share those interests and seek out inspiration.
When you launched your site, did you think of it as a business or something you wanted to do for yourself? At what point did it become profitable and how?
I really did not. I knew I was seeking a platform to voice all of my various passions and that was the true impetus. For a good few years I was blissfully losing money as all of the shoots, and food, and photography, and tablescaping with props was quite costly. It was not until I began collaborating with brands that I was able to turn my passion project into a business.
“You can only look to yourself and what truly makes you happy to find success. It took me years to figure that out.”
What do you think it takes to launch a successful blog? Any tips for those of us who are trying?
I think you need to have an authentic point of view and be so well versed and excited on that given topic, that you cannot help but share it. I personally struggled to figure out what I was meant to offer this world. I was successful when I decided to do what I naturally loved to do. I found myself when I embraced all the various creative facets of my life and shared them authentically. Cooking in the kitchen and creating meals is where I’m happiest and where I am most often found since my early 20’s! I approach design and food in the same way….adding layers and texture, balancing flavors, unexpected elements. This, combined with hosting, is the creative outlet that feeds my soul….it’s a massive piece of who I am. You can only look to yourself and what truly makes you happy to find success. It took me years to figure that out.
We’ve heard that you have a book in the works. What’s it about?
I am currently working on a seasonal cookbook to be released in Fall 2017 with Abrams. I want to arm readers with the tools to create delicious and visually stunning meals, by offering swoon-worthy tips and tricks on elevating the presentation of food and insider prep tips I learned from cooking with culinary tastemakers. I am also expanding on the idea of seasonality. I believe that the way we engage and gather for meals shifts from season to season, as does our tone and palettes. Summer is more light and bright and carefree, where in winter our meals are more intimate, richer with stews and roasts and the tonality is moodier and overall darker. I want you to flip through the book and see, taste and feel a significant difference from season to season.
What’s been the biggest challenge with your book? What have you learned?
This is bigger than anything I’ve ever done. There is a permanence to a book and that also adds pressure. I have to remind myself to trust my gut and not second guess myself, which is hard when making such important decisions. It has been my instincts and intuition that have brought me this far so I do need to remind myself of this often throughout this process. This has been extremely challenging, but it has also been pushing me creatively – and ultimately, that is how we grow.
You seem to be surrounded by creative people. How has this community been important in getting you to where you are now?
My community is everything. The creative like-minded cast of characters in the food community is unbelievably inspiring and supportive – this is a connectivity I had been craving for quite some time. We inspire and raise one another up – we learn and we expand together. Collaboration and meeting new people who hold similar passions have truly been the greatest and most uplifting part of this journey.
Biggest pinch me moment?
Cooking with Jean George was MAJOR!
What has been your favorite collaboration to date?
I really hold the dinners I did with Cointreau at the highest regard. I was able to unite my love of food, décor, and entertaining through those dinners. I love to create beauty more than any one thing and those dinners were absolutely swoony! Some of my favorite images were captured by Nicole Franzen for Club Monaco. It is rather epic when a brand gives you the creative freedom to do what you love and capture it, along with being surrounded by a creative group of women.
Fave NYC restaurant?
Lilia, Café Altro Paridiso, Wildair
You and your son seem so close. How do you maintain that as he’s getting older and wants to spend more time with his friends? Any favorite things to do together?
13 is a big year both for him and for myself. It is certainly challenging and emotional at times as he pulls away, but it is also completely natural for him to crave more independence. His social world is high up on his list these days, but we are always consciously making sure we carve out some family time. We turn off computers and do not answers emails after 6pm in our home. We go on a bike rides to Louse Point to watch the sunset on most evenings together as a family. Jivan and I also bake together, which we both love as our intimate time together.
You’ve traveled all around the globe. How has this influenced your aesthetic? What’s your favorite trip you’ve been on?
Traveling opened my eyes to new flavors, cultures, food, architecture and design. My eyes absorbed it all – they were indeed swooning. I soak it all in when I travel and then come home to experiment in my kitchen with new flavors, foreign ingredients, herbs and spices. Morocco influenced both my flavor profile and design aesthetic, with an appreciation for textiles, texture and patina. I love to bring home trinkets from my journeys and add them to our home. A home should tell your story, conjure memories – where you have been and where you have adventured – and I certainly continue to build and expand my story through travel.
What’s the best career advice you have ever received?
Don’t compare yourself to others. No one is YOU and that is your greatest power.
How would you describe your philosophy as a mother?
I encourage adventure always, but set boundaries at the same time. Jivan is fearless and craves the extreme. He can also be mischievous at times, yet he is innately shy – complex like the rest of us. I encourage him to take risks and embrace who he is by allowing him to be who he is, but all within limit. Those frisky and curious bits of his personality will ultimately make him unique if he knows to celebrate them.
All that said, I used to think I was a fun mom, but now I am told I can be a nag – ugh! I asked Jivan the other day, “so what can I do to encourage you to share more with me…” He said, “well you can stop repeating yourself – I usually hear you the first time” hahahaha!!!! Noted my boy, noted!
Photos by Stevi Sesin