Chicago Tribune, September 23, 2007
A 'Mad Man' and a grounded perspective on
By Nina Metz | Special to the Tribune
On AMC's "Mad Men," Salvatore
Romano is the art director with barely suppressed homosexual longings.
As played by actor Bryan Batt, the character is the epitome of the suave
New York ad man, circa 1960. And in real life, Batt is indeed a New York
resident, at least part-time. But his heart belongs to New Orleans, the
city where he was raised and currently makes his home with his partner
of 18 years, Tom Cianfichi.
Batt grew up on the levees of Lake Pontchartrain. "I clearly remember rolling
down those levees that I thought would protect us," he says. "It was
a truly beautiful neighborhood, and although some of it did not flood, much did." Flood
or not, Batt and Cianfichi have chosen to remain in New Orleans, where they run
Hazelnut (www.hazelnutneworleans.com), a shop on Magazine Street that sells gifts
and elegant home accessories.
A busy acting career for Batt means the couple is "tri-coastal." They
split their time between a two-bedroom Victorian carriage house in New Orleans;
their one-bedroom on New York's Upper East Side (for those times when Batt is
performing on Broadway -- his resume includes "Cats" and "Beauty
and the Beast"); and temporary digs in Los Angeles, where "Mad Men" is
The New Orleans house is their
main residence, which they share with their "supermodel dog" Peggy, "a
perfectly wonderful" Boston terrier.
"Actually, we rent from dear friends," says Batt. "It's a perfect
situation; the carriage house has its own entrance and is secluded by trees and
lush tropical foliage. We share a beautiful pool and access to the front veranda,
which faces St. Charles Avenue -- great for viewing all the passing Mardi Gras
parades. I am particularly fond of the converted 'chicken coop' kitchen."
Batt, who is "44 and holding," says his decorating philosophy is: "If
it looks right, it is right," and "Don't be afraid of color, what did
it ever do to you?"
Having lived through both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Batt says, "with such
tragedies comes perspective, a newfound gratitude, and the duty for civic activism
and giving back. I have sadly lost faith in many elected officials, but never
in the kindness of the American people."
1. Most luxurious feature in your home? My grandfather's 1930s martini shaker.
It's beautiful, sentimental and still works to perfection.
2. One thing on a wall in your living room: I love art, especially many different
genres of oil paintings. Last Christmas, Tom surprised me with a painting from
the Cole Pratt Gallery [in New Orleans] by Jenny Kahn titled "Mother and
Child." It's brilliant. Decoupage images of many mothers and children form
the Holy Family to Olive Oyl and Sweet Pea, with a 1950s mother and child painted
in the center.
3. One thing you have in your house from your childhood: This is hard because
I am a very sentimental man and have many pieces with which I grew up. However,
I am partial to a pair of forest green ceramic Bali native bust lamps, which
happened to be prized possessions of my paternal grandparents. Neither my brother
nor cousins wanted them, but for some odd reason I recognized their value, albeit
kitsch. They sat in storage for decades, but recently we added the right shades
and stars were born.
4. Oldest thing in your fridge or freezer? Frozen milk punch from last year's
Mardi Gras. Tom makes killer milk punch cocktails, perfect to toast Zulu and
Rex as they parade down [St. Charles] Avenue Fat Tuesday morning.
5. One thing on your nightstand: My sketch pad. I tend to wake up in the middle
of the night with ideas crying to be documented. Also, drawing is therapeutic
6. If we came unexpectedly, would we find your bed made? I seriously doubt it,
but hell could freeze over.
7. Favorite household chore? Don't be absurd!
8. Most high-tech gadget or appliance in your home? I would not refer to myself
as high-tech; we still have a Sony Trinitron TV from 1978.
9. Best furniture bargain you ever got? A very long Midcentury Modern sofa that
I spotted at Salvation Army. We reupholstered it in chocolate brown Ultrasuede;
it would look perfect in Salvatore Romano's office on "Mad Men."
10. Biggest surprise we'd find in your closet: After the Lindbergh baby and Jimmy
Hoffa, my Swarovski crystal-studded platform shoes that I wore in the Broadway
production of "Saturday Night Fever," always fun at a party.
11. Messiest room in the house? Which ever one I just exited.
12. What is the biggest collection in your home? I am a collector of many things,
but I particularly love the sterling silver mint julep cups, each engraved with
the titles of the Broadway shows in which I appeared.
13. What reading material would we find in your bathroom? Crossword puzzles,
Vanity Fair, GQ, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and O Home. Sorry, no Dostoevsky.
14. If you
had to save one "thing" from
your home, what would it be? Without batting an eye I would grab the
first antique my parents gave me, an English box filled with family photos,
memorabilia and the gold wristwatch, which was the last gift my late
father gave me.
15. Weirdest thing about (or in) your home? It's not that weird, rather interesting.
When we first saw the space, I was in love with everything about the structure.
Then I glanced at the old brick floors and noticed that some of the bricks were
stamped, as was the custom, with three letters ... it happened to be the exact
three letters that are my father's initials.
16. Do you do any friendly snooping when visiting the homes
of others? As a rule
that is tacky, however my eyeballs do quite a quick scan, and usually settle
upon something aesthetically interesting or different. Labels don't really impress,
it's the uniqueness and risk in decor that inspire.
on TVs in the bedroom? Absolutely not, bedrooms are for two things: sleeping and -- well, you
fill in the blank.
18. What would we find in your garage? We don't have one, but our storage unit
in New York is filled to the rafters with our huge collection of Christmas tree
ornaments and decorations. Over the years, we always throw big Christmas parties
with fantastic decor and food (all perfected by Tom), very reminiscent of those
crowded fetes at Holly Golightly's in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
19. What is your decorating nightmare? I believe that all rooms are fixable,
but my nightmare is bland-and-boring.
20. How many personal cleansers -- shampoo, soaps, etc.
-- would we find perched in your shower/tub? Surprisingly, the plethora of hair, body and facial cremes,
gels and stuff are kept in a cabinet. Besides a citrus-scented body soap and
drug-store shampoo, the essential element in the shower is New Orleans' own Aidan
Gill's preshave oil -- a must.
21. What's on your coffee table right now? A one-of-a-kind signed Jonathan Adler
vase and an antique carved ivory ram.
22. What aspect of your home is the epitome of your personality? In the dining
room, next to my collection of colorful papier-mache Mardi Gras float art, hang
draperies made of the New Orleans toile fabric that I designed pre-Katrina for
Hazelnut. I joke when I say it's the one thing in my life that my so-called A.D.D.
didn't stop me from doing, but it's true. I love it and it really makes me smile.
The fact that all the iconic New Orleans images, which appear on the fabric,
miraculously remain after the flood is reassuring that our beautiful historic
city will once again thrive.