01 Jun Frank’s Finds

An Inspiring Interview with textile archiver Frank Cassata

Fashion designer turned premier commercial archiver, Frank Cassata, welcomes us into his South Hampton Barn. Home to an archival library of over 100,000 samples, Cassata shows us just how critical textiles are for design, creativity, function, and solution.

A native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, Frank grew up in a diverse and creative city. With the support of his parents and cultural influences of his grandparents, he learned about great art, architecture, and food. We had the opportunity to sit down with Frank to learn more about how this passion, instilled at a very early age, transformed into a life-long career.

What is your background in design?
What has lead you to this point?

Growing up with a large family so enamored with good food, decoration, fashion, gardening, how could I not follow a life in a creative field.  As a teenager working at Bloomingdale’s in the 1970s had a big influence how I thought of fashion, studying architecture at Columbia College with Robert AM Stern as my professor, working in interior design for some well known designers, attending Peter Kump’s cooking school, all have lead me to this point in my life.  Certainly, the list of influence can go on much further.

Tell us about your barn.

After 25 years of collecting, it was important for me to have everything in one place and to return the archive to its’ roots in Southampton.  Three years ago, my partner, Kevin Calica and I opened a small summer pop-up home furnishings store, called North See Vintage in a charming unheated 1920s bungalow in Southampton.  In 2015, the landlady approached me about taking over the 19th century 4000 sq ft barn behind the shop.  When you put something out there it appears, suddenly there was a space to house my whole archive including the un-catalogued pieces that were in the basement of the house and in three storage spaces.  North See Vintage will pop-up in the front of the barn this summer by appointment, featuring vintage clothing, kimono, textiles and furniture. Besides the Barn in Southampton, in an elegant architecturally important building at 1133 Broadway, I have a New York City showroom which houses my most current collections.  At this showroom clients can see this collection as well as my video trend presentations from my world travels.

What does your creative process look like, what draws
you to the pieces you collect and curate?

My focus becomes one-pointed when I am hunting for pieces to add to my archive.  Because of my architectural background, anything geometric is what I gravitate towards first, then it is design, color, origin, etc.  I know what I like and after 25 years what my clients can use as well.  Therefore as an example I can go through an antique show in record time and pull out gems.   If there is a reaction on my part then it is added to the archive.

How many pieces live in your archive?

The archive is comprised of fabrics, wallpapers, swatches, swatch books, clothing, paintings and so much more.  Likely there are several 100s of thousands catalogued pieces that have been photographed and numbered by type of design.  If a designer were to ask me for a 1940s rose floral, I could easily produce it.  Or if they were to say, we would like to put a whole Arts and Craft collection together, it could be easily done.

The amount of un-catalogued pieces is hard to establish but a lifetime project of sorting.  Likely these pieces are upwards of a half a million.  I know that there are amazing pieces yet to be found in the many boxes, old wallpaper books and swatch books still untouched in my collection.  Having everything under one roof at the barn now, will allow the opportunity to uncover them.

Are there pieces in your collection that hold significant meaning?

Every piece has been hand selected by me so they are all significant.  My memory is amazing.  If I were to look at piece it would pop into my head where and when I got it, perhaps a sunny flea market in California or a vintage store in Paris. When I first started collecting, old wallpaper books were my passion.   There are innumerable pieces of wallpaper in the archive from all different design periods and cultures; 1920-30 French Art Deco, English Art Nouveau, Swedish 1950s mid-century, American Victorian.  There is a set of four 1910 French wallpaper books which make me so happy to look at.  I believe my collection of vintage and antique wallpaper is probably the single largest personal archive.

What is the oldest document in your archive, when does it date back to?

Several years ago in Italy, I purchased several embroidered bed-covers believed to be from the 17th century.  Most of my archive dates from the 19th century to the late 1970s.  The eclectic mix and diversity of the archive is what makes it so unique.  There are traditional French silk damasks juxtaposed with 1970s pop geometric German curtain panels.

You have a significant number of pieces in your archive that would be considered museum worthy. Is there an exhibit in your future?

Now that I have the barn, my plan is to create a museum or library with some of the archive.  And yes, I believe there are many museum quality pieces here.   Recently, I have begun making presentations to students of different ages.  It would be great to create a lab space for them to come to see decorative arts from different design periods and work with them.  I would like this to be my legacy.

Can you expand on the process of gathering and reporting the latest trends?

A camera is always apart of my travel gear and I love taking pictures of what inspires me.  At least twice a year my travels take me to Europe during specific trade shows like Maison et D’Objet in January and September.  Between France, Italy and other countries I usually come home with over a thousand pictures of both home design, textiles and fashion. When editing these pictures design trends and color trends begin to emerge.  These pictures are then compiled into a 25 minute slide presentation with fun music which I present to my clients.  Over the years, this presentation has been made in the D&D Building during design week, at the Miromar Design Center in Naples, Florida and design firms all over the country.  It brings me great joy doing this presentation and sharing what I see.

Being that you’re always on the go, how can we find you?

Over the years, I have built Frank Cassata Designs by word of mouth.  Many of my clients have been working with me since the beginning. View my North See Vintage Instagram page and Frank Cassata Designs Instagram page.

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