My personal style signifier is a scarf in my hair – either wrapped around my head or woven into a braid. I’ve worn my hair up like this since I was about 11, and have an extensive collection of scarves: skinny ones for the braids and colourful larger ones. 

The last thing I bought and loved was a yellow linen double-breasted men’s suit. I bought it in West Palm Beach, Florida, which has some of the best thrift stores. It’s a really strong colour and a good fit. I wore it recently to a friend’s opening in New York, and on the way there a couple on the street complimented me. There’s nothing nicer than that kind of intimacy from strangers.

Francesca DiMattio at her studio in Hilldale, New York, wearing her yellow thrift store suit
Francesca DiMattio at her studio in Hilldale, New York, wearing her yellow thrift store suit © Will Pippin

The place that means a lot to me is the home my husband Garth [Weiser], who is also an artist, and I built in Hillsdale, New York, two hours from the city. We bought the land in 2011, and custom-built studios to create the space we couldn’t find in the city – a place we can work in any season and have good light, good air and quiet. It’s a real sanctuary.

My dream party is an outdoor Christmas-tree dinner party; I’d collect a ridiculous amount of snow suits, like 80, and then give them to people so we could eat outside in the snow. I’d always had this fantasy, and when we were looking at buying our property, we discovered that it was a former Christmas tree farm. It’s covered in rows of overgrown evergreens. Garth was like, “Dude, this would be amazing for your outdoor Christmas-tree party!” 

An espalier tree in the courtyard
An espalier tree in the courtyard © Will Pippin
Succulent cuttings from her father
Succulent cuttings from her father © Will Pippin

The best souvenirs I have brought home are pieces of other people’s plants. I’ve been slowly taking cuttings and watching them mature and develop in my garden. I have peonies from my mom, succulents from my dad, and all these little pieces from different people. When I look at them I think about where every plant came from. 

The best book I’ve read in the past year is actually a book I listened to – I’ve never been a reader reader, and I have a lot of ear space while I’m working in the studio. Ninth Street Women is about five artists after the second world war: Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning and others. It was amazing, and reminded me of how change is made by people who know who they are. These women didn’t subscribe to activism in any kind of direct way, they just were [activists] by their actions. It was good to remember that their largest act of being a feminist was actually not adhering to the bullshit norms of the time. 

My style icons are Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo – for the same reasons. They both really knew who they were. And that’s the sexiest, most empowered kind of style. They defined themselves with what they wore. And they had a strong inner sense of self. 

DiMattio’s style icon Frida Kahlo
DiMattio’s style icon Frida Kahlo © Getty Images
A French rococo-inspired candelabra, a gift DiMattio made for her husband Garth Weiser
A French rococo-inspired candelabra, a gift DiMattio made for her husband Garth Weiser © Will Pippin

The best gift I have given recently was a really over-the-top candelabra – very French rococo – that I made for my husband. He really loves lighting; he’s always the one who dims the lights in the evening and gets the candles out. 

And the best gift I have received, by far, was just recently. I was really behind on a deadline, and my husband took the kids to our house in the city and did the whole school thing for three weeks – as a gift to me to allow me to finish what I needed to. And he did it in a way that made it feel so normal. Even though I felt uneasy because I’ve never been apart from them for so long, he was just like, “No, this is totally fine.” 

The track that always gets me dancing is “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat. That definitely starts the party. Also LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean”. I love songs that have a lot of variety in them, almost like a collage, and this starts out really quiet, almost like a whisper and just as you go to change the volume, it breaks down so loud – it really gets to you. 

DiMattio’s go-to song to start a party
DiMattio’s go-to song to start a party

I have a collection of clogs and wooden platform shoes. You never count these things, but I’d say I have around 50 pairs. My mum wore clogs when I was growing up, and Dr Scholl’s in the summer; I like the noise of them, and like how solid they are. I think I’m just bonded to them. I also think I’m meant to be a couple of inches taller than I am. 

In my fridge you’ll always find Greek yoghurt, pitta and cheese – my personal staples are pretty simple. But also limes, to make drinks. When friends come over at the end of the day, I always have to have limes to drink with tequila. 

An indulgence I would never forgo is dressing up. I lived in the country for six years and I missed it. I found myself wearing rags every day, making them dirty, and I think, having stopped dressing up, that I realised there’s more to it than we think. It’s a daily practice of creativity.  

DiMattio in her Hilldale studio
DiMattio in her Hilldale studio © Will Pippin
Some of her collection of clogs
Some of her collection of clogs © Will Pippin
Wet N Wild Purty Persimmon lipstick, her essential beauty staple
Wet N Wild Purty Persimmon lipstick, her essential beauty staple © Will Pippin

The beauty staple I’m never without is Wet N Wild lipstick in Purty Persimmon. An orange red, not a blue red. It’s this incredible matte, but doesn’t dry out your lips, and you only have to apply it once a day. It used to be a few bucks at the drugstore, but they stopped making it so now I buy it on eBay for lots of money. What started out as a reasonable choice is now… bizarro. 

My favourite room is the crazy kitchen in our house in the city. It’s 25sq m and I covered the whole thing in blue tiles and porcelain relief from floor to ceiling. I wrapped the fridge and the cabinets and made the table. And though it’s a kitchen now, when I was growing up it was my brother’s room, and then for six years it was my apartment with my husband. And now it’s just our kitchen. So it has been a lot of different things. 

My beauty and wellbeing gurus are… I don’t do any of that stuff, really. The last haircut I got in a salon was when I was 12 and they shaved my head, and I never went back again. It was my idea, but it was so traumatic. Now my husband cuts my hair. 

The work of art that changed everything is Louise Bourgeois wearing the shirt covered in boobs – sort of protrusions. I think about her a lot. A couple of years ago, I was invited to go to her house – it was the oddest thing, because the back of her house overlooks the elementary school that I went to. She has always haunted me. She was able to imbue objects with so much feeling, in relatively efficient means, and able to communicate what was inside her into objects. That’s the goal. 

A selection of DiMattio’s ceramics
A selection of DiMattio’s ceramics © Will Pippin
Papier-mâché masks made by DiMattio for Halloween
Papier-mâché masks made by DiMattio for Halloween © Will Pippin

My signature drink is a Margarita. I put chilli, lime zest, sugar and salt on the rim. Then I do a simple sweet syrup, then a lime, a shot of vodka, a little bit of seltzer, and a squeeze of orange. At a certain point you find what agrees with you. I drink a lot less than I used to, so I want that drink to be really satisfying. 

I couldn’t do without thrift stores. I just love them. They ground me. They take me out of my own life and into other people’s lives. I pretty much exclusively shop in thrift stores. I’m a classic Salvation Army girl: the grittier, the better. I don’t know what to do in the curated consignment shops. 

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Morandi. I found myself making copies of his work – quick oil paintings, to show that it was obviously a copy, and then throwing an extravagant frame around it – so that I could live with it, so that must mean that I want to collect it. He’s the opposite of what I do in that he delivers things in simple terms, but he packs them full of story. I’m more of a maximalist. But I appreciate people who exist in the opposite frame. 

In another life, I would have started a children’s clothes company. When my kids were babies, I always made them clothes out of grown-up clothes. I would collect a bunch of cashmere sweaters from The Salvation Army and cut them up and make full outfits. Or cut up a patterned shirt and make a dress. It’s a mental exercise of how to reshape a given thing.  But I also love homewares and I would love to have a whole collection. In fact, I think I’m going to do that: to have my other life in this life. At first I was scared of it, not wanting to undermine what I’ve built. But at a certain point you realise that you make change by just being true to yourself. I’ve made peace with that, so I’m working to find a way to produce my dishes and candlesticks at a price point that is accessible. 

Outside her studio in Hilldale
Outside her studio in Hilldale © Will Pippin

I’ve recently rediscovered being alone. When my husband went away with the kids, it felt a bit alien at first, like you feel like your heart’s been ripped out. And then, it’s comfortable. When you’re making a show, it’s hard to check in and check out of the demands of family life; my partner and I are – as everyone is – trying to figure out how to do it all. I miss my kids and I feel very conflicted about not being with them. But it’s undeniable that when you’re able to stay with the work and not be interrupted, there’s the continuity of thought and dialogue. It just works better. We may try to do more of these concentrated moments of parenting and then concentrated moments of working, and kind of swap back and forth. But we’re still thinking about it – I’m trying to be open-minded. 

The podcasts I’m listening to right now are Talk Art and Sound and Vision. I love to hear stories about people that make things – in any discipline…

My favourite websites are eBay, and resale ones like The RealReal and Poshmark. I love old things. I love used things. I love the randomness of searches.

The best advice I’ve been given was from my mom, who said pick something you love for a job, because it turns out that you spend a lot of time doing it. She worked in the financial aid office at City College for 35 years, and made ceramics and built a garden on the weekends. She had a beautiful life, but all said and done, she was like, you spend a lot of hours at that 9 to 5 job. So pick something that you love. And I did. 

Francesca DiMattio: Wedgwood is at Pippy Houldsworth, London, from 17 November to 23 December

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