Model, actress, interior designer, mom, wife, foodie, yogi, blogger: these are all titles that fit Athena Calderone. She juggles a very full schedule as co-founder of the design firm Rawlins Calderone Design, but she also devotes many hours to her critically-acclaimed blog, Eye Swoon, where all of her passions coalesce in a stunning destination that invites her audience into her fabulous world.
Here, Calderone details how she became interested in organic food, how her website and design firm came to be, and why she believes that conflict can lead to an even more successful outcome.
Live The Process: Does your love of fresh food made with care come from your family and upbringing, or is that something you have cultivated as an adult?
Athena Calderone: My awareness of fresh local and seasonal food has been an ongoing process that I have cultivated over time. Most likely beginning with my journey into yoga, I developed an overall awareness of how I treat and honor my body. I realized that concept further after becoming a mom, as I wanted to nurture my child and my family’s health in the most holistic way I can. When you become a mom, you begin to place a microscope over the things you may have often overlooked for years. Also, eating at farm-to-table restaurants—with their awareness of seasonal and local purveyors and a focus on veggies, coupled with living in Amagansett next to some incredible farm stands, deepened my understanding of food. Every day I am in the kitchen, I am learning how to eat cleaner and cook fresher, simpler foods.
LTP: What inspired you to found Eye-Swoon.com and Rawlins Calderone Design?
AC: My interior design firm was born by accident through designing my own spaces with my dear friend and now business partner, John Rawlins. He helped me see that I had a unique eye in curating a room and encouraged me to refine and further that by going back to school. So in 2007, I went back to school and interned for a year at a few boutique design firms in New York before forming RCD, which focused on residential, retail and commercial projects. Over the years, I have been honored to have my work published in Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times Style section, Living Etc., Martha Stewart and Lucky Magazine.
A year and a half ago, after a summer at the beach, I found myself between design projects. I felt a lull in creativity and I started Eye Swoon as the answer to that lull. I love making things beautiful—whether it’s my immediate physical environment or the food I create—and I wanted to share those little sparks of inspiration and see what journeys they would inspire for others. When I’m designing a space I can always trace the inspiration back to a singular moment or image that gave me the vision for the complete room. The same thing happens with an amazing bite of food. Suddenly I’ll find myself running out to recreate it and add my own twist. Eye Swoon became a way for me to group all those fragmented moments together and give them one voice that speaks to all the sides of me: the design-addict, the fashion-lover, the foodie, the mom and the wife. Hopefully, it can do the same for people that share those interests and seek out inspiration for them.
LTP: Is there an unhealthy food or unproductive habit you find difficult to resist, and how do you work to do so?
AC: I try not to restrict myself too much because I feel like being too rigid can backfire. I believe you can and should indulge, in moderation. I am a massive dessert lover and pretty much always order some sort of flaky and buttery fruit tart if I see it on a menu. My husband loves chocolate so there are usually two heavenly desserts to indulge in at every meal eaten out. And I have a difficult time restraining myself from cheese puffs. I mean, I do buy the natural ones at Whole Foods, but I suppose there isn't anything natural about eating half a bag in one sitting!
LTP: What tips would you offer those who wish to educate themselves on cuisine and design and take a more hands-on approach in their own lives, but feel intimidated and don't know how or where to begin?
AC: Having an understanding of what foods are available in a particular season is a great first step. If this confuses you at the grocery store, because they have everything all the time, visit your local farmers’ market. This will be a massive indicator of what is local and seasonal. Also, it’s incredible what a little sea salt and olive oil can do to just about any veggie, whether you steam some broccoli and drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, or roast some squash or cauliflower with extra virgin olive oil and salt in a 400 degree oven. I would be lost in the kitchen without olive oil, sea salt, lemon, garlic, and a little hot red pepper—these few ingredients together with just about anything definitely swoon my world!
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
AC: Happiness looks like laughter and cuddles with my family. Happiness is creating. Happiness is not overthinking, and being present. Happiness is creating beauty. Happiness is swooning.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process," and how do you do that every day?
AC: Well, the name is brilliant, and it’s a reminder to myself that the end result is not the goal. Think about it; once you reach the end, that’s it. If I have learned anything over the past ten years, it's that it’s the journey that defines you and can fill you with pride. The bits that you learn and discover, the failures and the setbacks, it’s those frustrating moments of conflict that actually make the light at the end even brighter and more meaningful. I suppose for years I felt embarrassed by all my creative ramblings, so my advice is to dip your toes in all that you love and all that you can.