Design:

The Story Behind the Iconic Rope Ceiling in Athena’s Amagansett Home

Nicole Franzen
Nicole Franzen

Where does your inspiration come from? is one of the most commonly asked questions of a designer but the answer isn’t always quite as simple. When a designer embarks on a new project, they completely engulf themselves in research and visual stimulation, diving into books on furniture, fashion, and art throughout history that could serve as the impetus for the design direction, color palette, or architecture. This is how Athena Calderone stumbled on the “crazy idea” for the iconic woven ceiling in her Amagansett home. In a bid to design a space that could serve as a grounding force and seaside reprieve from their hectic lives, Calderone gravitated towards humble, utilitarian textiles, soft edges, and time-worn objects that would add textured patina and warmth to the family home. 

Knowing the spirit she wanted to capture, Calderone arrived at an unlikely source of inspiration: rope. It all began with an obsession for the iconic Jørgen Hovelskov harp chair. From both a material and motif standpoint, she was drawn to the ingenuity, simplicity, and complexity of the Danish designer’s cording and weaving. From there, rope quickly became a rapturous fixation and she curated a binder of imagery using the utilitarian material—think spools of vintage rope, primitive rope, leather gymnast rings, and an exhaustive section of Scandinavian rope and woven cord chairs, including the harp chair. “I wanted to use the utilitarian and natural, tactile material of rope in nonlinear ways,” Calderone reflects in Live Beautiful.

“It turned out, rope would be the catalyst to negotiate a sense of harmony between the modernity of the architecture and the antique, patina-rich items I wanted to fill it with.”

Designer: NICOLEHOLLIS
Photographer: Laure Joliet
Designer: NICOLEHOLLIS Photographer: Laure Joliet
The Story Behind the Iconic Rope Ceiling in Athena’s Amagansett Home

When Calderone shared her love of this rope detail with famed modernist architect Paul Masi of Bates Masi Architects at an early meeting in 2009, he returned the next day with unique, handmade models that detailed his vision for a woven rope ceiling. Using the most basic hardware-store three-quarter- gauge manila rope (you know the kind you find at every hardware store), Masi proposed weaving the rope between the wood beams and engaging the Danish cording detailing (the one Calderone loved from the harp chair) in places with functional purpose, like to hold the Lindsey Adelman chandelier (which is now a sculptural Rogan Gregory pendant light) or the vanity mirror in their bathroom. 

This kernel of inspiration would be the catalyst behind the design and palette of the entire home. By uniting the austere black-beamed ceiling to the warm, tonal, and soft wood design scheme that lived beneath, it did exactly what Calderone hoped for: it harmonized the tension while the rope summoned the spirit, softening the angular lines of the modernist home and injecting a touch of rustic texture. “It’s still my favorite feature,” says Calderone. “The tone of the rope also established the color palette while offsetting what could have been an austere space. I love crafty design solutions!” 

The Story Behind the Iconic Rope Ceiling in Athena’s Amagansett Home
The Story Behind the Iconic Rope Ceiling in Athena’s Amagansett Home

Once they both agreed on direction, how to execute it or who, was the big question—that’s when Calderone’s contractor stepped in. He had the genius idea to hire people who were not only in the contracting field but were also fisherman and sailors. The fusion of their design expertise and intrinsic knowledge of rope—it’s materiality, texture, and form—all came together to concept the design and installation process. It was important to both Calderone and Masi that the rope feel architectural and serve a purpose, not just be a decorative feature.

After a meeting to talk through the concept and play with the rope, they finally figured out how to tie it. The team then took to Calderone’s basement to create a mockup of the prototype, weaving the rope into channels, and eventually installing them into the beams of the ceiling. “It was truly incredible to witness this crew of sailors and fisherman come together to create this masterpiece,” Calderone recalls fondly. 

“This home is my visual autobiography, telling the story of my evolution as a designer, creative, woman, wife, and mother.” 

The Story Behind the Iconic Rope Ceiling in Athena’s Amagansett Home

The story behind Calderone’s rope ceiling is another beautiful lesson in self-exploration and experimentation. Lean into the things you love, create a visual library of imagery, objects, eras, art, architecture that stimulates you and see how it can inform your space or offer a dramatically fresh impact like it did in this Amagansett home. As Calderone examines in her book, think of your home as a workshop to experiment in—add, edit, and tinker with it, exploring refined elegance or injecting more grit as you see fit, but constantly seek to balance the weight of things. “This home is my visual autobiography, telling the story of my evolution as a designer, creative, woman, wife, and mother,” she writes. Now, who wouldn’t want to live in a space that truly speaks to who you are and your continual evolution.

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