A designing 'Mad Men' actor

Actor and designer Bryan Batt will be the featured speaker at an American Craft Council event in Baltimore Tuesday.

As Salvatore Romano, the closeted art director at the turbulent Sterling Cooper ad agency in the TV series "Mad Men," Bryan Batt struck out — his character, cruelly compromised by a client, was fired partway through the third season of the much-admired cable show in 2009.

But as an interior designer and author, Batt has enjoyed steady success, and that brings him this week to Baltimore, hometown of the fictional Sal.

Batt will be the featured speaker at a reception Tuesday for the 36th annual American Craft Council Show that opens the next day. He'll talk about his recent book, "Big, Easy Style: Creating Rooms You Love to Live In."

"I haven't been to Baltimore in ages," Batt said, "and I have never been to the Craft Council Show, so I'm really looking forward to this."

He is no stranger to fine things. Although most widely known for his acting, Batt has had his eye on design for a long time. As a kid in his native New Orleans, he adorned his treehouse with items that attempted to duplicate designs he admired in the homes of family and friends — "My tin-can sconces were killer," he writes in "Big, Easy Style."

His interest in decor intensified during his early years when he regularly accompanied his mother to antiques shops. (Batt commemorated her in what he calls his "mom-oir," "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother, published in 2010.)

New Orleans left a clear imprint on the actor's sense of style.

"I grew up in a very celebratory town," said Batt, 48. "We celebrate everything, from life to death and everything in between. So a lot of dramatics come into my aesthetic. And I'm an actor, so that adds more to the dramatic — I don't mean over-the-top. The main thing is never to be boring."

For Batt, the primary goal for each room is to reflect the personality of the homeowner, not the designer.

"No one is a plain white room," Batt said. "I hate going into a home that is done to the nines but has nothing do with the homeowner — no knickknacks, no art that has anything to say about the person who lives there."

Batt's passion for design led to a commercial outlet. He and Tom Cianfichi, his partner of more than 20 years, opened Hazelnut, a home furnishings store in New Orleans, in 2003.

"I was scared about doing it," Batt said. "But when a window opens up, you have to jump out of it. This turned out to be more freeing than anything I ever did. It's a wonderful creative outlet. I'm still acting, though, so my partner is really running the business. I come and go."

There is expansion ahead for Hazelnut (named for Batt's grandmother, Hazel Nuss).

"I thought we would have a store in every city by now, like Gap," the actor said with a laugh. "But it looks like we will have a new location soon. And the website is very strong. We're selling goods all over the country — all over the world, really."

Speaking of all over the country, "Mad Men" fans will be gathering in front of TV sets everywhere next month for the start of Season Five. Once again, Batt's fans will be disappointed. Sal Romano will still be missing from the clawing and pawing characters on the show.

"They did tell me that [Sal] is not dead, so who knows?" Batt said about future seasons.

The actor left quite a mark with his sensitive, nuanced portrayal of a married man struggling to deal with his gay identity.

"So many people come up to me, daily," Batt said. "It's wonderful they love the show so much. To me, that says 'job well done.'"

It's fitting that an actor with a sideline in design should have played a role on such a design-conscious and influential series, with its faithfully re-created 1960s look.

"Men come into stores asking for the narrow lapels, the narrow ties, the tie bar, the cuff links — the whole nine yards," Batt said. "And all that mid-century [furnishing] was just sitting there, waiting to come back into style. Everything is cyclical."

Batt, who just did a reading of A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" with actress Patricia Clarkson in New York to benefit The Actors Fund, plans to reprise that performance in Los Angeles. Occasional TV work is on his schedule, too, along with more appearances around the country to promote "Big, Easy Style."

"It's a fun read," Batt said. "And it hammers home what I believe, that you have to make your surroundings pleasing to yourself and don't worry about what other people think. If it looks good, it is."

If you go

A wine-and-cheese reception with Bryan Batt will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Tickets are $14. Go to