After 27 years in a “San Francisco flat with small edwardian rooms,” graphic designer Joseph Abbati reveled in the 1,250-square-foot Dallas loft he purchased about two years ago, shortly after moving to texas to serve as creative director of brand marketing for retailer J.C. Penney. “I was looking forward to a big, open space,” he recalls. He devised a plan for the main 24-by-40-foot room to facilitate casual entertaining, accommodate his singular collections, and suit his taste for bold design. Abbati selected sleek midcentury modern and eclectic contemporary furniture for his abode, and formed dedicated living, dining, and library areas. To distinguish each zone further, he used colors and patterns that express his brash aesthetic, from black and white stripes to splashes of red and pink. Different types of lighting helped vary the atmosphere. “it’s very experiential,” he explains. “Every time you turn your head, there’s something fun to look at.”
Despite his predilection for vivid colors, homeowner Joseph Abbati kept the mood in his living room, above, tame by utilizing a limited palette. He painted the dominant wall lime green to match the sectional, then selected red for accent pieces, including a reupholstered 1960s swivel chair and a polycarbonate occasional table. A pink bear-claw pillow and a gold tooth-shaped stool exude whimsy. Hanging a sepia-toned digital print from the ceiling with fishing line solved the problem posed by an angled wall. Abbati, left, relaxes on a reproduction of a George Nelson Marshmallow chair in the space opposite the living area.
Black and white stripes extending across the ceiling, down the walls, and over the floor literally delineate the 9-by-10-foot entry foyer. Abbati borrowed the idea from an exhibition he saw at the Dallas Museum of Art and re-created it himself with paint. “I like the look of taking the stripe all the way around, and using that space as my own art installation,” he says. An ornate, Venetian-style looking glass and a mirrored desk amplify the effect; the table lamp and a Philippe Starck Victoria Ghost chair, both in clear polycarbonate, allow the pattern to show through them.
The dining area and the kitchen are differentiated by distinctive lighting hanging from the 11-foot ceiling. Three bell-shaped aluminum chandeliers illuminate a dining table with a honeycomb-like cardboard base and white acrylic top, and a spherical pine plywood pendant lamp is suspended over the counter. At both ends of the table, Emeco aluminum chairs—reproductions of those created for the U.S. Navy in 1944—tie in with the stainless steel appliances and aluminum bar stools. Abbati brightened the wall beyond with a painted pink, red, and white design in the tradition of the Finnish textile firm Marimekko, forming a backdrop to a built-in desk.
On a short stretch of wall between the foyer and the living area, Abbati created an exhibition space for more of his collections. The display, held together by a comic-book aesthetic that runs through many of the pieces, includes portraits found in curio shops; a folk art crucifix from Mexico; an antique resin anatomical model of the human head; and a painted skateboard. Black-and-white photographs provide a counterpoint to the bright colors. On a low table beneath the installation sits an acrylic cube filled with yet another of Abbati’s passions: collectible plush toys, some given to him by friends and others found during his travels in the United States, Spain, Argentina, and Japan.
Since they first emerged in the 1990s, the quirky, colorful dolls known as designer toys have developed an enthusiastic following. The term covers a wide range of molded vinyl, plastic, and plush items created by popular illustrators, animators, and graphic designers in the United States, Europe, and Asia, usually manufactured in limited editions that sell at prices ranging from as little as $10 to several hundred dollars, depending on size, number made, and popularity. “I’ve always loved their sense of humor,” says collector Joseph Abbati of the artists who dream up these pieces, including Los Angeles–based Gary Baseman, creator of the popular Dunces series, Japanese graphic designer Mori Chack, known for his Gloomy Bear character; and Japanese Pop artist Yoshitomo Nara, who designed the angelic Little Wanderer character. “I think there’s a generation of us out there,” says Abbati, “Who have decided we don’t have to give up our passion for owning things that may seem childish.”