Two things happen every time I see Nicki Clendening: first, I realize I’m a boring dresser and second, I want everything Nicki is wearing. This New York interior decorator (Scout Designs) has recently turned her eye for finding the perfect, exotic vintage pieces–whether is a stack of intaglio rings, a boar-tusk necklace found in South Africa, marbleized ceramic pitchers from French brocantes, or Persian rugs, into an online experience BEETLE. The beginning of next month, she is bringing her vintage wares to Charleston to set up shop in Garden & Gun magazine’s boutique, Fieldshop in the Dewberry Hotel. Nicki grew up in South Carolina (another reason we probably connect since my mother and her family are from there and I spent years in Charleston), so not only is her Southern charm is infectious, she is a genuine, thoughtful woman whom you want to get to know. Here she shares the artists who inspire her, why vintage is better than new and the globe-trotting grandmother who influenced her eye. (Note: If you live in the NYC area, you can contact her for a private appointment. She has more goodies not shown online.)
What do you do and what has been your career path? I’ve had a lot of different careers, but they’ve all been in the creative realm, and for the past 10 years I’ve had an interior design business, helping clients mostly with homes. But I’ve been shifting more into collaborating with people on projects, helping other interior designers, and finding things that are unique, because I’m always shopping.
A year ago, I launched Beetle, which was born out of always shopping and accumulating with no real intent other than they were great things that I loved. It’s what I wear and what people can see when I’m out, and they would ask me, “Where did you get that? Where can I get it?”
What was your career path to becoming an interior decorator? Very haphazard. I feel like this is my tenth career. I have an art history degree from the College of Charleston, and after I graduated, I moved to New Orleans for a couple of years and worked for an interior designer. Then I moved back to Charleston, worked for a gallery there, and ended up working with my best friend, who had launched an event business.
Then, about 18 years ago, I moved to New York. I didn’t move up here with a solid plan. My two younger brothers were here, I came for Christmas, and I just didn’t go back to Charleston. By January, I had a couple hundred dollars in my pocket and I was like, “Well, this isn’t going to last very long.” I had a headhunter and I said, “Just any jobs that are in the creative realm.” I had hoped to get back into the gallery world, but landed instead in book publishing, and did that for many years and still do that. I still consult and do projects.
I had met enough interesting people so I made a list of people that I admired who had jobs and careers that I thought might be interesting to make a shift towards, and started reaching out and spending time with them.
I ended up working on a project at the Greenwich Hotel, and partnered with someone who had been in magazines. We opened an interior design business together, and I’ve been doing that for 10 years
What do you love about interiors? Coming home, being in your space and having it be a comfortable, whatever your aesthetic it is. I love the possibilities that are created. In any given day, you can go out and buy a crazy range of all kinds of different things. I love pulling those together and helping people figure out what they need for their space to function, as well as what they want it aesthetically to look like.I love collaborating with people, that’s the really the fun part of the business.
Have you always been searching out unique things? I saw pictures of your mother’s home in the South of France, it seems great taste runs in your family. I grew up in a small town on a farm in upstate South Carolina, but my father grew up living all over the world, because his father was an engineer with a big construction company. My grandmother, Mimi, was an extraordinary influence on me, because they were living in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah and Riyadh, for many years.
She would come back every year with stuff from the copper souks or the gold souks. We didn’t grow up with anything new. Everything had been inherited from her, or bought at a flea or antique market. My mother, for our entire childhood, was constantly moving the furniture, away from the fireplace in the winter, to the windows in the summer, and repainting, rehanging art. I didn’t grow up in a house where everything stayed in one place. It moved, all the time.
Even though we didn’t have new things, it felt new all the time, because she was, my mom was always changing things up. I’ve always lived in an environment where creativity was encouraged. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted with our rooms, dress however we wanted. Plus, funnily enough one of the largest flea markets in the Southeast, for was literally 10 miles down the road. Every week, we were at the flea market.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic? More than anything else, I’m drawn to things for the beauty of them, I never shop with an intent in mind. I buy things because I love them. I’m drawn to things that are probably a little bit more exotic, definitely things that are old. I love imperfect, the patina of things and owning things that have a history to them that I don’t know. The bed that I have is Italian from the 1700s. I bought it at a Kips Bay Showhouse 10 years ago. I always wonder, “Who had it before me”?
Where do you travel for things? I don’t seem to go very many places, other than where my family currently is, which is great, so every summer I go to France to visit with my mom. We spend the weekends driving all over the French countryside, to brocantes. We’re always looking. Then, when I go to Italy to visit my sister, it’s a whole other thing. There are these great antique markets, where I find jewelry, and art … it’s very different.
What’s next? I’m doing a trunk show at the 1st of November [in Charleston]. Garden & Gun magazine has a great little shop in the Dewberry Hotel called Field Shop. It’s going to be a mix of jewelry, a collaboration with my mom which are these French linen nightshirts she’s embroidered, small objet in art, and entertaining pieces.
And then, I’m really excited. This week, my friend Michelle Adams relaunched her website, The Maryn, as a digital online site, going back to her magazine days, where she had Lonnymag. I’m a contributing editor. [See Nicki’s first story here.]
What inspires you? Art, for sure. My two favorite museums in New York are the Frick and the Met, I go to the Met once a month. Even if I’m looking at the same stuff 100 times, I always feel rejuvenated. I love the Islamic wing, because of the textiles and it’s just so exotic, and I love the Greek and the Roman wings. I mean, how can you not? It’s funny, I’m not attached to things, because I think when you shop and you’re looking as much as I do, you realize that there’s always more beautiful.
I’m really, kind of a tomboy, I grew up being outside. I live next to Central Park and I’m in the park all the time. That’s also very rejuvenating for me–being outside in nature.
What motivates you? I’m excited by the possibilities of what any given day can bring: Who am I going to meet? What are we going to do together? My mom said, “You should make every day different.” So, I think, my whole life, my whole brain’s been centered around that. I’m a yes person to my core, I will say yes to anything, and mostly, that’s worked really out well for me.
I never feel dressed without…. jewelry, for sure.
Do you mostly wear vintage? 90% to 99% of what I wear, clothing and jewelry, is all vintage. These shoes that I’m wearing? I inherited these from my sister. They’re 26 years old.
I thought they were The Row.
They’re old Ralph Lauren. I’ve resoled them 100 times. There are a lot of designers that do really beautiful things, they’re just not in my price range. And the value that you can get … last night, I went to a Chanel event and I wore a vintage hand-sewn coat that has no label on it from the ’40s. One of the girls on the team said, “Oh, my God, I love that coat. Who is it?” I said, “It’s not anybody.” I think I paid $30 for it.
What do you think it says about us–that we don’t value old things? I do. I think fashion is about having something new every season. Why? I don’t prescribe to that notion. I don’t believe in it. I think we need a lot less, but better things. We get caught up in this having to have something new– a new bag, or new shoes. I think it’s a visual cognitive. I’ve never been wired that way. My mother made clothes for us. She would paint shoes to match a skirt. I didn’t grow up caring about what my peers were wearing.
For me, the allure of having something that everyone else has? I don’t want anything anyone else has, so vintage is a great way to accomplish having your own look.
A perfect evening is….I love entertaining. It’s part of my Southern upbringing, to be happiest when you have friends and family gathered around and you’re feeding them. So that’s a perfect evening for me: good friends, lots of good food, lots of good drinks.
A table is never set without….My family would say 100 glasses. I have a small glass fetish. I have enough glassware to host 100 people, almost all of it’s vintage.
Favorite flower: The Passion Vine. It something that’s nostalgic from my childhood with my grandmother, and it’s so wildly exotic. It’s like a Clematis, in that it’s a vine that grows, and it will take over. I planted one in my mom’s kitchen garden, and it’s taken over. It just makes you laugh. You’re like, “What is this exotic crazy thing growing everywhere?”
A handwritten note or email? Handwritten, without a doubt. I just did a collaboration with my best friend, who has a letter press company, called The Lettered Olive, inspired from my trip to Marrakesh.
Women who inspire me/ role models: I had a great foundation. My mom’s an introvert, and what’s interesting about that is I’m not, I’m this extrovert to the extreme. Because she is such an introvert, and it’s something that she didn’t want for her children, she pushed us. She never told me I couldn’t do something. I’ve failed at a million more things than I’ve succeeded at, but I’ve never been afraid to try, because she just said, “Just do it”. And my grandmother, Mimi, was wildly exotic, vivacious, dynamic, and larger than life to me. Now, I admire women that are doing things that I can’t do–scientists working to cure diseases, people working with refugees in parts of the world that I can’t even comprehend.
Favorite artist: Cy Twombly. When I got to see the Cy Twombly Pavilions in Houston a couple years ago at the Menil…. I literally broke into tears. My best friend, who doesn’t love art as much as I did, looked at me, and she’s like, “Wait. What’s going on? I don’t understand what’s happening here.” And Caravaggio, I really love Caravaggio.
Always have on my bedside table….That’s easy. Books. Always books.
You can tell a lot about a woman by….The way she carries herself. People project who they are through their clothing and their demeanor and whether they have a grace and an ease.
Follow Nicki: Instagram.