The house that duct tape built
We all wear a uniform. New Yorkers wear black. It sets us apart from the tourists. And our homes have white walls. Wooden floors. In this city of glass and steel, we live in neutral boxes, temporary places we call home for as long as the rent is stabilized.
OK, so that’s enough of the sweeping generalizations. In reality, we (and the places we live) are all shades of color and texture. And, as we're now spending more time than we'd ever planned in the four walls that reflect our personality, isolation is, for many of us, resulting in redecoration. Or, at least, reorganization. And, perhaps, a little reflection.
There’s nothing uniform or understated about Jason Witcher’s W57th St apartment. From the comic book print suit hanging by the front door, to the caps and hats of many colors atop mannequin heads lining the walls, it’s about as accurate a reflection of one person’s individual sense of style as it’s possible to get.
“I have a theory about color. They don’t mix and match, they have relationships."
“I’m a product of the 1980s and I’m all about the outfit,” he says. “Every single morning since high school it’s like a five-minute design project. What can I put together? I never repeat anything, though I can do a variation. So it’s always something new within the constraints of my wardrobe.”
When it came to his apartment, he says, he started with the same sense of adventurous experimentation. “Since I always want something new, I’m working with all the colors in the crayon box. I just like the vibrancy.
“I have a theory about color,” he adds. “They don’t mix and match, they have relationships. A lot of times, it’s the ones that are right next to each other, the ones people might call clashing, that I think are most exciting. It’s like frequency of music – dissonance resolves into something harmonic – and I think colors are similar to that. I like to just mix it all up together.”
Originally from Kentucky, when he moved into his apartment nine years ago, the first design element to appear was the black strips of duct tape lining the walls. The rest of the taping evolved from there.
“One week I’d decided on this arbitrary pink, yellow, black scheme. Then I thought, ‘Why am I doing that? I’m just putting constraints on myself.’ So I started thinking military stripes, nautical flagging. I just thought, ‘Let’s do everything. Go to Michael’s, buy every single roll of duct tape they have …’ And that’s kind of what I did. It’s all a play on checks and stripes.”
It’s all done freehand. Painting out the lines to begin with would kind of defeat the purpose. “I hate paint,” he says. “It’s so messy. It’s horrible. But, if I’m going to create this look with paint, I’m going to have to tape it out anyway, so get it done this way, there’s no mess, and it’s so much easier.”
Almost everything in the apartment was either created by Jason from scratch, or pimped into something a whole lot more interesting than the original.
“I got a big kick on for the clamp light project,” he says of the lights by his bed. “I like the idea of turning something common into something special. So I was walking by an Urban Outfitters and they had a clamp light with strands of jewels coming from it – it looked like a jellyfish. I liked that idea of industrial and blingy but it just looked sad the way they did it. I thought, ‘What if it was encrusted on the inside of the lamp?’”
“It’s hardware store chic. Go into Home Depot, you find these common materials, and you just put a little twist on them.”
He created about 100 of these “oyster lamps” for Housing Works’ Design on a Dime project before he upped the scale significantly with the giant lamp that now sits above his dining table, colorful plastic zip ties in black, pink, white, and yellow giving the “oyster” a flamboyant tail. The light itself was a flea market find (its original home was in an airplane hangar). And the zip ties?
“It’s hardware store chic,” he laughs. “Go into Home Depot, you find these common materials, and you just put a little twist on them.”
The dining table was $10 from Housing Works, with added glitter courtesy of Jason. A mirror came from Salvation Army. The comic book suit was a Halloween find. “The guy actually gave me a discount because he liked what I was wearing. So, you see, it’s always important to just dress cute because you never know – sometimes it pays off!”
The most expensive piece of furniture is the black chaise (originally turquoise). Custom made for a client, an intern put the arm on the wrong side, so it had to be entirely remade ... and the “wrong” version was going cheap.
The golden chairs were another flea market bargain. But to recover the powder blue velvet with his “mafioso guido” vision wasn’t. “I wanted them to look like they were dipped in gold, so this is fancy fabric. But the great thing is that the friend who makes my hats had some leftover, so she made me a cap. It’s even water resistant!”
The large-scale photograph on the wall is by a friend. “I was going to have it framed,” says Jason, “but the opening price was $1,500 and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just tape it for now …’” The plan is to buy some plexiglass, an old frame, and make one himself for a fraction of the price.
He’s even taped up the spines of his books to match the color scheme. “Luckily I’ve already read them so I don’t need to know what they are.” It’s all a product, he says, of “duct tape and time on your hands.”
And, when the time comes to move on, he’ll just rip it all off and recreate something new somewhere new. “I really like it. I never get tired of this place,” he says. “It keeps my eye dancing around and makes me happy. It’s my happy place.”
A version of this interview previously appeared in the July 2016 issue of W42ST magazine.
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