(SHNS) — As you might expect from a curator at The Andy Warhol Museum, Eric Shiner surrounds himself with art.
"I don't trust curators who don't live with art," he says. "I want to be surrounded by it all the time."
And he is. His home in Garfield, Pa., is his own curatorial composition. Paintings, sculptures, a rescued statue of the Virgin Mary and an old stained-glass window come together with a certain flair in his loft-like apartment.
Named the Milton Fine Curator of Art at the museum last year, this Pennsylvanian embraced his return home. On his final job interview last summer, he started looking for a place on Craigslist. He found an ad for a carriage house in Friendship, Pa., but at 1,200 square feet it was too small. Doug and Liza Cruze, two architects who redesigned it, suggested he look at another of their properties.
"It was love at first sight," he admits.
But there was a catch — someone was already occupying it. So he set up camp in Lawrenceville, Pa., for 10 months hoping the tenant would move out. When Shiner finally did get in, he had the place set and decorated in 48 hours.
"I decorate intuitively. I start with one thing and work around it," he explains.
His one thing in this case is an oil painting by Ain Cocke of Jackie Kennedy in her iconic pink suit and pill box hat holding Oswald's rifle. It's at once perfect and jarring.
"I acquired it from the artist. It was originally part of an installation piece, where it was placed inside a pink tent and when you walked in puffs of Chanel perfume would come out and there were handwritten post cards from Dallas," he says.
Shiner is a guy who clearly colors outside the lines, yet he can hang a perfectly straight row of paintings in his entrance hall without measuring as easily as he assembles a stunning gallery exhibit. Like all good curators, Shiner has an expansive view of what art is and can do — and what it's not.
The majority of the 2,500-square-foot apartment is a rectangle that opens up just after you pass through the narrow entrance hall. The first thing that grabs your attention is not the bank of double-hung windows that run the length of the place, but the hardwood that runs horizontally up the wall of the entrance hall and wraps around the open kitchen. The wood, which came from the floor of a former ballet studio in the back of the building, seems to grow organically out of the old honey-hued strip oak flooring.
"Before the Cruzes renovated, this was an old car dealership and garage," Shiner says.
The architects took out the ceiling so your eye runs up to the peaked roof and rafters. Think Swedish sauna coupled with a Japanese sojo with a bit of barn ambiance.
"It definitely has a Scandinavian, Japanese feel to it," Shiner agrees. "And it really sounds great in here when it rains."
He spent six years in Japan, where he earned a graduate degree and interned at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto. He then went on to Yale for a doctorate in the history of art.
He didn't need three degrees to know he wanted a desk under the Jackie painting and wanted to balance the room.
"I wanted it to be portraiture so I hung Kim Dorland's portrait of his ex-girlfriend on the far opposite wall. He uses tons of heavy oil paint, and it takes a long, long time to dry. I had been looking for one of his paintings and was so happy to find it."
With opposing portraits flanking the room, he installed a disco ball where a chandelier would hang. Then he built his own version of a John Chamberlain sculpture that is on exhibit at the Warhol and doubles as a sofa.
"I bought a nine-piece sectional for $75 and topped it with a king-size futon. Then I bought a parachute on eBay and draped it over the whole thing," he says.
His version looks nearly identical to the Chamberlain piece. Guests love to plop on it when visiting.
On the other side of the apartment is a tiny alcove with its own window that houses a platform bed and creates a private room for overnight guests. His own bedroom is near the kitchen and bathroom and features more of his favorite art finds.
The final touch was his apartment-scaled pooch Nero, who has the run of the place. Nero is one of the few things not found on Craigslist, eBay, local auction houses or various flea markets.
Shiner learned to scour the markets and estate sales at his mother's knee and has a well-developed eye for quality and kitsch. His search for artwork is different:
"I either buy direct from the artist or from galleries or art fairs," he says.
He knows many of the artists whose work hangs in his home from his time at Yale or in Japan. There is a story behind every piece.
A sculpture called "Speed Boat" by Franco Mondini-Ruiz works as a centerpiece for his dining table. It's a plastic model of a speed boat with white powder spilled all over the back of it.
"It's funny when friends come over. They can't help but put a finger in there to see what it is," he laughs.