When it comes to matters of the heart and home, take your cues from fashion designer Thaddeus O’Neil and his wife, model Pania Rose: if it feels right, don’t think twice.
They fell in love on the very first date (“pies at Harry’s Café de Wheels”). Pania Rose, the Perth-born beauty with that wide toothy smile, and Thaddeus O’Neil, the Long Island native, in Australia chasing waves. “We met whilst on a Bonds shoot in 2003,” remembers Rose. “Thad walked in to interview with [photographer] Richard Bailey to be his assistant. I looked up and even though I was with someone at the time, was instantly taken by him.”
A month after that encounter, Rose was sent to New York to meet with Next Model Management. “Thad surprised me by arriving a week later on the doorstop of the model apartment. We spent five glorious weeks in the city together; he showed me his home town of Long Island,” she says. And today, this is where you’ll find them – O’Neil, Rose, their three-year-old son, Cassius Benjamin, and their dogs, Hemingway and Shirley – splitting their time between an apartment in New York’s East Village and a cottage on Eastern Long Island.
Time has seen them grow together, fall into step with one another. “When we first moved back from Australia we lived in a 1000 square foot box in a knitting factory,” says O’Neil. “If we got into an argument, we had nowhere to run ... We’d skulk in separate corners of the room brooding like caged animals. We had to reckon with each other or suffer … It was very romantic, actually, and it made us very strong together. We carried those lessons with us.”
“We’re very good at being around each other but doing our own thing,” adds Rose. “I like to potter, Thad loves to read.” In the afternoons you will find them snuggled up in a vintage leather loveseat bought at specialist art and object store John Derian Company. “Thad carried it home on his shoulders … It’s like being in a very cozy bathtub together.”
Vintage is a clear constant in the East Village apartment; there is the giant clamshell – “It is precious because you can only obtain vintage ones these days. You’re not allowed to harvest from the ocean, as they’re protected” – and the spindle bed found at Brimfield, the biggest antique show in the United States, for just $140. “We had scoured the market for days not having any luck until I spied this gem; another bidder hesitated and I scooped it right up,” says Rose.
Among the couple’s various prized possessions to be kept, savoured and expanded on are surf-inspired O’Neil’s surfboard collection from local Long Island shaper and 70s surf legend Rick Rasmussen, along with a compendium of disparate objects: “No genus or category in particular, just things, usually imperfect things, garbage probably, that attracts me. It’s sort of like those scenes from The Castle – beloved banalities that go straight to the pool room.” There are also the works gifted over the years by artist friends including an ever-expanding collection of whimsical prints by good friend and neighbour Hugo Guinness.
Rose holds the especially sentimental gestures closest: “I collect all the hand-written notes and cards from many dear friends and family over the years, and every six months I proudly print out photos for our family albums. Those physical albums are precious to me.”
An ever-mindful mother wolf, Rose guards her pack with fierce devotion. “We have such a hectic life in New York and I take the role of protecting us, our marriage, our little family, very seriously. I am the mum of the household and I make sure that family time is the first priority,” she says.
And on the days when work doesn’t call her away, Rose loves nothing more than having the laundry done and the dinner ready. “We both know that if we have a happy and strong marriage, everything else will fall into place,” says Rose. “He is, truly, my perfect man.”
WORDS Edwina Hagon
PHOTOGRAPHY Ryan Brabazon