John Janik is not one of those rapacious acquisitors who have to add to their inventories on a daily basis. It’s not that he’s not passionate about objects. On the contrary, he is one of those people who thinks a lot about what every side table or chair means, and how he can justify having it in his life.
For the past five years, Janik has been renovating an 1856 town house in New York’s Greenwich Village, bringing it back, he says, to the date of its construction. It was a challenge, he says, because he is “such a modernist.”
A stylish jack-of-all-trades, and design director of End Century, his company, Janik has concentrated on every detail of the renovation. Now that it is more or less finished-he occupies one floor, and rents out two apartments - Janik realizes that he responded to the nineteenth-century rooms by furnishing them with a collection that is firmly rooted in the twentieth. “I see it as a study in contrasts between what would have been considered in good taste or beautiful in the two centuries,” he says. “All the ornamentation in the nineteenth century was to impose importance. The Bauhaus was about equalizing the playing field a little. It’s all very studied.”
That explains not only why it took Janik quite a long time to complete his project, but also why he cast a wider net to include pieces from the early, middle and late twentieth century. While the restoration was quite strict – “I renovated floor by floor, putting back correctly all the moldings, flooring, and chandeliers, “he says – his choice of furnishings was more freewheeling. There are Mies van der Rohe chairs and some early-1950s Charles and Ray Eames pieces, as well as an Aero lamp from the 1990s and a late-1980s chaise by Paul Mathieu and Michael Ray that verges on the lyrical. “I see that piece as a return to the ornamentation of the last century, “Janik says.” ’End century’ is what I call it.”
He takes a more contemporary approach to art, and is drawn to people such as Matthew Barney, Nan Goldin, an Lovett/ Codagnone. “I wanted the artworks to propose the next century,” Janik says.
But what about that imposing sculpture by Alexandre Noll that sits squarely on the Florence Knoll rosewood credenza, dominating the room and acing as a foil to the sleek, more had-edged furniture? “That’s the only thing that doesn’t fit in with my art theory,” says Janik, who has elegantly rationalized the presence of the piece because he felt it looked so right. “I see it as the representation of nature, “he says. “And I particularly like the way it weighs so much. Modernist furniture was so well made that it can support it.”
Janik’s theorizing goes further. “The room is a study in fairness,” he says. “The furnishings are trying to be the best of what they are.” The best includes an elegant black lacquered screen and Eero Saarinen’s iconic Pedestal table. “It is a beautiful contrast to the marble fireplace, and allows us to see a continum from what beauty was to what it became,” Janik says. The bright hue of a Barcelona chair by Mies van de Rohe might have struck a rather jarring note for Janik, and accepting it was a slightly masochistic act. “I really don’t like the color red,” he says, “but because it represented another person’s opinion, I decided to try to live with it. I didn’t want the apartment to be about only what I think.” That might be too easy. The more far-reaching idea is for space and furnishings to come together and be experienced over the years. “I took me a very long time to like that chair,” Janik says. “Now I absolutely love it.”