Tom Delavan. (Courtesy Beni Rugs)
Tom Delevan with his new Archival rug collection for Beni Rugs. (Courtesy Beni Rugs)

Tom Delavan on What He Watches to Laugh, Relax, and Unwind

The design and interiors director of T magazine talks about his predilection for niche design magazines, slapstick comedy, and the oeuvre of Mike White.
By Emily Jiang
May 11, 2023
11 minute read

As the design and interiors director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Tom Delavan adheres to a schedule of nonstop, high-intensity days that consist of writing, overseeing photoshoots, poring over images, arranging layouts, and meeting with furniture and fabric companies. Previously the editorial and creative director of the shopping and lifestyle website Gilt and editor-at-large of the interiors magazine Domino, Delavan also operates his own interior design practice, drawing on three decades of immersion in the worlds of fine and decorative art, furniture, objects, and interiors. His latest project converges much of his design know-how into a 16-piece collection with the Moroccan rug company Beni Rugs called Archival, which launches next week.

Considering Delavan’s sophisticated taste level and professional prowess, one might not necessarily expect him to indulge in admittedly “lowbrow TikTok,” stand-up comedy, and Mike White movies and TV shows in his free time, but these kinds of content are exactly what he says he needs to balance out his hectic work life. “Sometimes I like to let it just wash over me,” he says. For a middle ground, he also often seeks out documentaries—most recently, films on Nan Goldin and Brooke Shields.

Here, Delevan shares with us an overview of his media intake—from the design magazines Apartamento and Cabana to the sources he turns toward to laugh, relax, and unwind.

How do you start your mornings?

When I first wake up, just like everyone, I reach for my phone. I go straight to the [New York] Times website and go through the top stories—the “front page,” if you will. There will always be a few things I want to go deeper on. I know it’s not the most original, but I feel like it’s important to know the basics.

Then, if I’m really procrastinating hard, I’ll do the Spelling Bee or Wordle. If I’m not procrastinating, I get up and go to the gym and listen to The Daily. I don’t mean to be plugging The New York Times, but for me, it’s funny: The older I get, the less esoteric my media tastes have become. [Laughs] I also try to read the The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, and The New Yorker.

Michael Barbaro is never a bad way to start the day.

That’s right. I do often find that if you go into Instagram or TikTok first thing, it’s hard to get your day going. It’s like eating potato chips or something—there’s no clear cut-off point. It’s meant to suck you in deeper, which it does, and I feel like that’s not the way to go. After work, when I’m trying to just chill and decompress, then I go more into social media. My pop culture [knowledge] is heavily informed by social media.

Any favorite newsletters?

I get some of the newsletters from New York magazine, but I’m also in a fight with my inbox. So I’ve been trying to cut out newsletters. But I’m kind of torn. I leave them in my inbox as a tickler, and I end up deleting them most of the time.

I don’t mean to keep plugging The New York Times, but I really like The T List newsletter. What’s nice about working at a magazine where you’re only one part of the subjects that we cover, is that I’ll read about things that our magazine covers, and it’s news to me. I don’t necessarily know about some great new hotel in the south of France. I cover just design, so there’s a lot that I learn just from what my colleagues at T are suggesting in The T List.

Any favorite magazines?

I like Apartamento, I like Pin-Up, I like Cabana. Then there are the usual suspects, like The World of Interiors. There are ones that are kind of obvious, like Architectural Digest and Elle Decor, just so I kind of know what’s going on with the people in my field.

For the design ones, I think we’re in a bit of an echo chamber, where something gets photographed and pushed through all the channels, and then we’re all looking at the same thing. Actually, what’s nice about my job is it forces me to look for things that are not quite as easily accessible. Sometimes I see Pin-Up or something else, and say, “I wish I had done that story,” because it was something that I feel is new and fresh, or someone that people don’t know about already. That, to me, is the real find—when you don’t know about it, and it’s really good.

I think Cabana is amazing. It’s found a niche. It seemed like that interior space was pretty well covered, but Cabana really went toward the more traditional maximalist style. It might not be what people want to live in, but it’s really great to look at. It makes great pictures, and I think that’s what people want.

Any favorite TV shows?

A lot of what I watch on TV is comedy and stand-up. I like Amy Schumer. I can listen to her forever. I really like Nick Kroll, too.

I recently went on a deep dive of Mike White. I first was turned on to him through his acting, when he did that show called Enlightened. Laura Dern[’s character, Amy] is this corporate executive who loses her mind at work, has a breakdown, and she’s sent off to some kind of rehab-touchy-feely place, and she comes back, in theory, “enlightened,” and they give her some crappy job in the windowless basement of this building. And Mike White [plays] her colleague. [Amy] is trying to share her enlightened feelings with everybody, but her job [involves] doing just the opposite. And he’s kind of falling for her. He’s such a good actor. Then, when White Lotus came out, I was like, I really like everything he does. So I went and watched some of his movies. There’s one called Chuck & Buck. He didn’t direct it—he’s the main actor. There’s another one called Brad’s Status. Ben Stiller[’s character, Brad, is] having a midlife crisis, because all of his friends are turning out to be really successful. And he doesn’t have so much promise. He’s just a bit of a loser. I feel like Mike White really portrays a certain kind of—I want to say loser—and he’s so good at creating these characters. They’re men that are kind of trapped in some sort of middle management or sad marriage or sad situation. He does that really well.

People who kind of failed to launch.

Yeah. And then obviously, in White Lotus, he’s just so good at portraying these characters who are wealthy, or aspire to be wealthy.

I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve watched a lot of documentaries. I watched one lately that was really good, which was that Nan Goldin documentary, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. I really admire her, and I’ve always liked her art. But this movie does a great job of weaving her art and her life and her activism all together. I also watched the Brooke Shields docuseries, Pretty Baby. It makes her life look really hard as a child. She was basically the breadwinner, and was sexualized at an early age. Then she was blamed for being too sexual. And her mother was being blamed for [allowing her to be] too sexual, and then she was being held as a paragon of virginity. And this girl is clearly just trying to get through this and not rock the boat, and just keep the paychecks coming in. She was pretty much raised by a single mom—her dad was in the background and was an alcoholic. So this woman—this girl—was made into the perfect people-pleaser, being an actress, a beautiful girl, and the child of an alcoholic. So it’s a miracle that she’s not more fucked up. I completely recommend it.

Another thing that I have been doing, which I’m embarrassed to say, because I’m so busy, is I’ll rewatch things like The Comeback, with Lisa Kudrow. There’s only two seasons. I think it’s some of the best TV ever.

I feel like there were a lot of documentaries during Covid about people whose M.O. is just lying. There was Bernie Madoff [Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street], there was Adam Neumann [WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn], there was Elizabeth Holmes [The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley]. There were all of these people that made it very, very far. And to me, it’s super fascinating. Like, what is it that makes people so comfortable with lying? And why are so few people questioning that? I feel like it didn’t use to be this way. I swear it didn’t use to be this way.

It doesn’t necessarily end badly. Adam Neumann still walked away with a billion dollars. And Donald Trump, I hope it doesn’t end well for him. But he’s certainly been okay so far. He’s just going around lying a lot and not paying people. So I guess I like comedians, and I like liars—or at least I’m curious about liars.

Any favorite social media accounts?

I really like Kelly Behun. She’s a designer, and she has a great Instagram of places that you wouldn’t necessarily know about. There’s also the designer Matthias Vriens. He’s an antiques dealer who used to be an art director. [On his Instagram,] he’ll pick a theme and create a slideshow. And they’re so good. He just has such an incredible visual sense, and great references. For fashion, there’s James Scully, who’s a casting director, and he’ll do deep dives of the shows during fashion week. I really like that, because I’m not really part of that world, but I like to see his take on it. He’s so smart. He really breaks it down, and it’s very well explained and well presented.

My real time-suck is TikTok. I barely follow anybody. It’s mostly just the algorithm servers—it’s a lot of people falling down, or people coming out of anesthesia, or cleaning videos, or people who have what appear to be really banal lives but sing like angels. It’s one of my favorite things. So [the content is] either funny or sweet. There’s a lot of animal humor in there, too. It’s super lowbrow. [Laughs]

Maybe we’re encroaching on the next question a little prematurely, which is, any guilty pleasures?

I honestly have gone past the point where I feel guilty about any media that I consume. I guess my lowbrow TikTok-watching is what I’d be most guilty about. [Laughs] There’s also another category, which is people making fun of their boyfriend or girlfriend’s accent.

Like the girl with the Italian boyfriend.

Yes! I love that one. I’m a sucker for linguistic humor. There’s one guy that makes fun of Dutch people. I think he might be Dutch, so maybe that’s okay. But it’s very fun. People who embrace national stereotypes…. It’s politically incorrect, but somehow still very funny. [Laughs]