Let There Be Light: At Home with Artist Trey Speegle

April 2014 | by | in Living

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[photography by Cameron Blaylock]

Artist Trey Speegle has lived in everything from a Brooklyn brownstone to a church built in 1903, but when he tells you today that he’s living in his dream home, he means it more literally than most do. 

“When I was young—and I remember it really vividly—I did a drawing of my ideal house,” Speegle recalls. “It was a big, square, open space, and it had movable walls. When I was 10 or 12, I didn’t know what a loft was. I’m not even sure that was a thing yet—lofts.”  

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What Speegle wanted—and now has—is a light-filled, modern and quirky 40-by-40-foot renovated barn in Youngsville, New York, where he’s been taking pilgrimages for the past 25 years.

Speegle’s home gives a strong sense of his character. He’s an animated, intelligent and witty man, with a quick and generous laugh and a tendency to let his stories spiral outward. Though principled and ambitious, he doesn’t take himself seriously. Likewise, the barn is full of contradictions that somehow mesh perfectly. It is as traditional-Americana as they come, with a cherry-red exterior and a garden he prefers to keep looking wild. The interior is a revelation: bright and airy, balancing white space that evokes a gallery setting with enough colorful, playful personal accents to justify the comparison.

That Speegle has been a creative director for film and for magazines explains the deliberate, eclectic décor of his home. “I’m not somebody who likes to go and buy hundred-dollar-a-yard fabric and make draperies. I go more for converted spaces and reclaimed ideas,” he says. “That’s probably deeply psychological.”

To be an authentically eccentric decorator, it helps to have a variety of mementos from an adventurous life. Among Speegle’s treasures: a gold piano named Goldie, gifted to him by Cheryl Hardwick, the music director for Saturday Night Live; a “Dagwood and Blondie” painting by Suzanne Mallouk, the girlfriend of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat; and the many items he keeps in glass vitrines: Tony the Tiger tennis shoes signed by Warhol; pajamas that belonged to Ray Bolger, the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz; and a bounced check from Courtney Love. 

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“I have them in a glass case so you can see them all, which I would recommend everybody having,” he says. “Because everybody has all this junk, and either you throw it away or you put it away; but if it’s in a display case, you can see it, and it’s weird and fun to look at. And at the same time, you don’t have to dust it.”

And then, of course, there’s his art. Speegle’s career has focused mainly on reinterpreting vintage paint-by-numbers and combining them with text. Many of the pieces figure into the barn’s décor, including a rug reading YOU ARE HERE, adapted from his original painting and released through Anthropologie, and a tripartite folding screen that warns NEVER LOOK OR YOU’LL NEVER LEAP. According to Speegle, every homeowner should have the maxim embroidered on a pillow. 

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“Nobody would ever do anything if they knew how much work it was going to be! You think, ‘Oh, I’ll just remodel it.’ And then you think, ‘Oh, my God, kill me now.’” Though the barn had already been converted into a residence by the time Speegle bought it eight years ago, there was still plenty to do. “It sort of looked like a Pizza Hut,” he says. “The bathrooms and the kitchen were like Home Depot, 1977, and the outside looked like a Marriott or something… It was like Green Acres.” Most of the renovations were an exercise in the art of subtraction—for instance, taking out the white crushed marble from the flowerbeds.

These days, Speegle and his Brussels Griffon divide their time between the barn and a small apartment in the Meatpacking District. It’s an added plus, making him appreciate both homes even more.

“It changes your whole idea of the city,” he says. “Because you get out, and then you come back across the brdge, and you’re like, ‘Wow, I live in this big, exciting city.’ And then when you leave on a Friday, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m getting out of here! I can’t wait to get to the country and look at a tree!’” 

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