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Savanna at Home Designer Patty Canale Showcases Free-Spirited Style in Bronxville
Pattern, texture and finishes from different eras commingle gracefully throughout the designer’s 1920s Colonial home
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GUS CANTAVERO
There aren’t many designers who would consider placing an oversized, tie-dyed sofa in the living room of a 1920s Colonial with original mahogany paneling, but Patty Canale, co-owner of Bronxville’s Savanna at Home, has always been known for thinking—and designing—outside the box. The mother of two teenagers, who worked for 10 years at ABC Carpet & Home in Manhattan before opening her own store with her husband, Frank, says that, as a designer, it’s easy to get overexposed to things. “I like to be a little bit on the edge. To do things that you don’t see everywhere.”
It’s a philosophy that has served her well both in her career creating interiors for her clients, most of whom span the tri-state area, as well in her store, which recently reopened in a new, airier space on Pondfield Road after a fire in the spa above it destroyed the original store in 2011.
There are certain things in the store that Canale carries over into her home, lighting being one of them, but she’s quick to point out that what she sources for her clients and buys for the store and what she mines for herself are two very different things. “I don’t want my home to look like anyone else’s,” she says.“And vice versa.”
Her philosophy is to pick a point of view and move on from there, keeping in mind the parameters of the home’s basic structure. She also stresses taking an entire space into consideration before diving in and making changes. “You have to really look at the house as a whole,” she says. “You can’t go room to room like you’re decorating a show house.” Case in point: She designed the funky living-room sectional without arms to open up the small space. “Let’s be honest,” she says of the home’s living room, with its decorative wood molding: “It’s a dark room. You either go with it or you paint it. And I just couldn’t paint it because it really is beautiful.”
The dining room also suffers from a lack of light. It’s one reason Canale is such a fan of lighting fixtures, both in her home and in Savanna at Home, which is known for its chandeliers. To her, lighting is the jewelry of the room, your opportunity to go outside your comfort zone and make a space come more alive. “Think about it,” she says. “Everything in your house has to work and be functional. You have to be comfortable on your sofa. Your dining table has to seat enough people. But lighting—short of making light—offers a chance to be artistic in an area where you may not be that creative.” The stylish sparkler with delicate oval crystals that hangs above her dining-room table dates to 1880 and definitely commands attention. But so does a papier mâché white deer antler that hangs on the opposite wall not far from a formal gold-framed portrait of a woman, a clear example of how Patty likes to mix and match and make a space more fun. “I like to show that everything doesn’t have to be serious,” she says. “I believe in experimenting, in being free, and pushing boundaries.”
She’s also a fan of customization, and, thanks to her wide range of contacts and connections, it’s a service she easily extends to her customers. Many of the pieces in her home were cut and refinished to her specifications, including the 12-foot-long dining-room table salvaged from a New York City library. But perhaps the most unique part of the room belongs to the hand-sewn wallpaper her designer mother created out of fabric. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Canale says of the one-of-a-kind artistry in which you can barely find a seam.
“Frank is my partner and my rock,” she says of her husband of 28 years, “but my mother is why I think and design the way I do.” Patricia Perry, her mother, was born in 1929—the same year Canale’s house was built—and spent time working for Christian Dior, where, as an apprentice, her wedding dresses graced his runway, before going on to become vice president of Vogue Butterick. Among other accolades, she edited the Vogue Sewing Book, which sits in a special spot in Canale’s living room.
“My mother was a woman who made it in a man’s world,” she says. “She was also way before her time, working with lacquer before there was lacquer. She’d take shiny red contact paper and cover a Parson’s console table in our entryway. She’d then pair it with a white vase, a black-and-white rug, paint a wall, and add a mirror—basically creating a stylish room for very little money.” Which is why, Canale explains, “When you’re a kid and you have this kind of an influence in your life, you can’t help but think in resourceful, inventive ways.”
It’s one reason she loves her kitchen so much—it has her mother’s influence, but her own edgier style sense. To start with, there are no overhead cabinets—all dishes and food are kept in two separate pantry areas, as well as in a breakfront that sits near the kitchen table. “That’s how our kitchen was growing up,” she says. “Today, it’s not so unusual, but, back then, no one did it,” she says. The lack of cabinets opens up what had been a small space. She also moved the windows around, using her stockpile from her days at ABC. (She admits she spent more money there than she made because she would buy a wide array of products–then store them for when a need would arise.) And so two Gothic windows, which once sat in a European gazebo, now bring morning light into the Canales' kitchen. “I love them,” she says. So much so that she has three more in her basement. “I have no idea when I’ll use them, but I know I will eventually.”
She admits that stockpiling items that speak to her is another method that has served her well, both in stocking her store, and in creating her home’s many decorating reinventions. “Every now and then, I buy things I think my clients will like,” she says. “And if they don’t, I keep them knowing that sooner or later they will fit in somewhere.”
The kitchen table’s base comes from an ABC Moroccan shipment in which the tiled tabletop smashed in transition to the company’s Florida store, while the top hails from an inventory of Indian desks that were slightly damaged. Naturally, she put the two on top of each other for a one-of-a-kind table that has been privy to everything from spilled cereal to elaborate dinners. The kitchen is also where she chose to hang the only “real art” she owns: two Woodie Long Americana originals from the well-known folk artist, as well as a blue primitive on wood by Mose Tolliver. “Can you believe I have good art and I hang it in my kitchen?” she says with a laugh.
After seeing her free-spirited, adventurous design aesthetic both in her home and in her store, it actually makes perfect sense.
Jeanne Muchnick is a Larchmont-based writer whose work has appeared in a variety of national and local publications.