When Peggy Merck moved into an 18th-century Connecticut farmhouse last year with partner Brad Leone and their two young sons, the first thing she did was hang the art.
The formerly Jersey City/NYC-based family had been looking to make a move for a while when they found the home in a picturesque coastal town near Mystic, CT. Peggy recalled, “We had lived in 4 apartments between us from Brooklyn to Palisade Ave and the plan was always to get some more space for the boys to grow up, the pandemic just accelerated the process. I’d been in the city since 2005 and wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the energy. The day we came up we saw 4 places and this one just felt right.
A year in, it's like, ‘maybe we should have tried for a newer home with fewer projects?’ but we really love it. The house has been here for many families, I feel like we’re just its current stewards. At the same time, we are building something permanent for our family.”
Peggy, director of marketing and PR for the Jessica Simpson Collection, and her partner, chef Brad Leone, Bon Appetit video host and New York Times best-selling cookbook author, met in 2010 through a hometown friend and share two sons, Grif and Cal, who will turn 6 and 4 in May.
The couple’s eclectic style shines throughout their sprawling Connecticut homestead. From a signed Warhol to anonymous thrifted treasures, their home radiates a cool, collected vibe that’s utterly charming. The Get’s Founder Beth Tully chatted with Peggy recently about how they got started collecting and the stories behind some of the special pieces they’ve acquired over the years.
The Get: Tell us a little about yourself and how you first fell in love with art.
Peggy Merk: Hello! I’m Peggy, a full-time WFH mom. My partner Brad Leone and I just bought our first home and moved out of the city with our two young sons. We found an old homestead in coastal CT that was built in 1750. We’re having fun honoring the space, while making it our own.
Growing up, both of my grandmothers kept really thoughtfully decorated homes filled with objects and original art. Several of us on both sides inherited the collector gene - for better or worse! My great grandfather on my mom’s side painted sceneries, and my dad’s parents were painters, too. I wouldn’t have called them artists, meaning it wasn’t a defining part of their character that I knew growing up, but we have these examples of their artwork. Our home is like this, too. I have a few things of my own framed and Brad was painting a lot when we met.
TG: How did you get started collecting?
PM: I've collected since before I can remember. I am very visually stimulated and always trying to fill every inch of wall space, pictures, posters, magazine clippings, etc. But, I’d say I really wanted to start accumulating art when I moved to New York right after college.
We were young and going to galleries - oh hey, Beth! - (Editor's note: Peggy and Beth met at Leo Kesting Gallery in 2009) but we were buying our original art at flea markets, sidewalk sales and places like J.U.N.K. in Williamsburg.
At the time, one of my roommate's cousins was a fine art and furniture dealer and we both did some work for him. He let us fill our place on loan with some large-scale pieces, things that you could sit for hours and talk about; and then there was no turning back. I wanted all the things that held a story! He gifted me a double-sided piece by an artist named Benny Collins and I still have it on one of our mantles.
TG: How do you know when you just have to get something?
PM: I am impulsive and react emotionally to things. I’ve learned that I don’t regret the things I’ve done, I regret the things I didn’t get.
TG: Who are your favorite artists to follow?
PM: I love the internet and I love watching creators use it as both a mode of and a medium for art.
This summer, I bought Lemons by Erica Reade from The Get, she’s a great follow! I think that series was genius and so creative in the time of Covid, and the more casual mirror stuff she shares is so accessible and made for Instagram!
TG: What are your favorite sources for original artwork?
PM: Everywhere I look! I really love scrolling EBTH, Chairish, and Antique stores. And the past few years have brought me a little closer to the source, purchasing through galleries - The Get! - and I’ve also started to dabble a bit more in photography.
Erica Reade, Lemons, The Get Gallery
TG: Would you say your collection has any common threads running through it?
PM: Probably several - but color above all. I really LOVE a still life. Nothing is better to me than a gorgeous painting of a mundane slice of life. I love folk art. I love flowers, plants, buildings, portraits. What else is there?!
Now that I have more wall space and room, I’ve been trying to curate. We have an ‘ocean wall,’ for example. In our family room I have this lithograph of a duck taking flight. If you follow his flight path with your eyes, you’ll see a photo taken by our friend, photographer Pat O’Malley, of Brad and a group of birdwatchers. Below it, I framed a paper cutout of a bird's nest Cal made in pre-k. I also found this amazing, carved goose-in-flight that I hung from a beam. Little moments like that give me so much pride and joy.
We have a hallway I’ve deemed “Reproduction Row” where I’ve hung a Modigliani portrait found on Craigslist, a Matisse drawn by me, a Botero purchased from the artist in Cartagena and a Van Gogh-inspired Sunflowers embroidery, found this summer at a thrift store.
TG: Can you share a favorite work in your collection and how you got it?
PM: We have an incomplete Claire Collinet, “The Juggler,” bronze on this huge rock base. I discovered last year that Anna Nicole Smith had the same one, hers in perfect condition, a gift from her billionaire husband. Ours is missing an arm and she’s lost all her balls, I thought she was just a dancer at first. I spotted her in the front window of an antique store in Beacon, NY and just lusted after it each time we visited. After Grif was born, she was still there, so we brought her home. I carried her to the car like a second baby.
TG: Any artists currently on your wishlist?
PM: I have my eye on a black and white “I Love Lucy” print from Donald Robertson.
TG: Any funny stories related to acquiring an artwork?
PM: Not so much funny, but something I think about all the time. One of my favorite pieces, and one of the few abstracts in our collection, I got at a sidewalk sale in Brooklyn. We lived right by Napolitano's bakery (the best Americano I’ve ever had), and it’s signed C. Napolitano. It’s a 3ft x 3ft framed canvas that was part of a pair, and at the time my 250 sq ft apartment could only house one!! I regret I only have one and I think about it all the time.
The subject of the work is up for conversation, but I’ve always thought it to be a storm, and there is a deep-blue, cloud-like figure on the left that almost takes the shape of a head blowing out. In the spring, as we were preparing to move, I wanted to invest in some bigger pieces. I came across a Dali lithograph, Atomo from Colibri and, in the left hand corner, I instantly recognized an abstract, deep-blue figure. It literally looks as if two artists were interpreting the exact same thing. I won it at an auction, and then later found out it was also one half of a pair!
TG: How has your collection evolved over the years?
PM: It’s only gotten better with age and of course more savings to invest in art. Owning a home, building a family has inspired my collection. These are the things our boys will grow up looking at.
All photos by Peggy Merck.