Archive for interiors

Curiouser & curiouser (FT How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

Window dressing is largely about storytelling. The festive displays at New York and London department stores are grand static theatre, while fashion designers have risen to fairy‑tale acclaim following debuts behind the glass at Browns on South Molton Street. One of the most influential window spaces in the world is at Dover Street Market, the London offshoot of the avant-garde Comme des Garçons style empire. The store is a barometer for design and visual culture: fashion aside, it was ahead of the curve by showcasing Victorian-style taxidermy years before it colonised the city’s bars and lounges. When the imposing four-storey space gave over its window display to the team behind pop-salvage company M Goldstein last June and July, it was an endorsement of much more than just the company’s approach to art direction. It pointed to a growing popularity for incorporating mainly 20th-century curios, with unique narrative resonance, within interior design projects. These are pieces that tell bold, evocative tales. They are less about the magpie’s capricious eye, more about the modern collector’s gaze.

Simon Costin's home, London

Simon Costin’s home, London

Entitled Scale & Distortion, the Dover Street Market installation – by M Goldstein owners Pippa Brooks and Nathaniel Lee Jones – included an 8ft robot called Cygan, built in Turin in 1957, a pair of supersized, perfectly detailed Balmoral leather boots from Rhodes Rawling of Halifax, a miniature raincoat by Wetherdair from the 1930s, and sets of concave and convex mirrors. They are typical of the pieces in the company’s shop on Hackney Road. “We want to avoid the word ‘vintage’,” says Brooks. “We believe it’s more accurate to say that we sell art, antiques and attire.”

The style of M Goldstein brings to mind some of the antiques stores in Clignancourt Market in Paris; many of the smaller pieces look like curios that have surfaced at street markets. For Brooks and Lee Jones, running a shop is crucial. “It’s about having a permanent showroom, rather then setting up a beautiful stall and then packing it all away again,” says Brooks. It also dictates their kind of customer. “We are a little out of the way here,” she says, “so people really have to want to seek us out.”

Visitors to M Goldstein are drawn to the atmosphere of the space, which is filled with old commercial lettering, paintings, flags and neons, displayed around and on the rescued Victorian mahogany shop fittings. Alongside these sit paintings and ephemera belonging to the late “outsider” artist, recluse and hoarder Reginald Alan Westaway, who died in 2008. Part of the collection includes the single set of clothes that he wore and repaired time and time again, until the individual items became overstitched sculptures in their own right.

Whether placed in a stark and modern interior, or an artfully decorated one, there is a growing demand for the salvaged objects on display at M Goldstein. “The ‘curiosity’ trend is popular,” says Lee Jones, “but our interest is to do with pieces that are more useful or decorative than just a stuffed squirrel playing cards, which I find boring. I’d rather sell a pair of second world war aircraft seats that look like they originated in Rodchenko’s studio.” Many pieces started out life as shop or commercial fittings; their battered edges speak of decades of robust use.

Circus Antiques in London’s Kensal Rise recently sold a gigantic pair of metal spectacles – originally the signage for an optometrist in France – for £1,400. “There’s always been an interest in high-end architectural pieces,” says the store’s owner, Mark Slade. “Now it’s about a more eclectic approach. People in the creative industries, in particular, appreciate the graphic qualities of these objects. Before we sold the spectacles, we had them repaired and then surrounded by neon. We also had a set of signs recently from a circus in Blackpool that were very comic-book in style, which lit up and read ‘flash’, ‘bang’ and ‘wallop’. They sold for £2,500 to a writer who has a house in the countryside.”

Industrial and commercial lettering is particularly popular. M Goldstein has had several McDonald’s letter Ms pass through the shop, while the online store often has sets of wooden public house sign letters, and 1970s red Odeon/ABC cinema signage lettering (from £8 per letter) available. In the US, sells old movie theatre marquee lettering (from $3 to around $60) that is the very essence of romantic, popcorn-scented Americana.

While there’s certainly the demand for these items, acquiring the perfect object for a room isn’t a precise science. Much of the sourcing is a case of rummaging and falling in love with something you never knew you wanted, and the more substantial pieces are generally price on request and subject to negotiation. For many people, active pursuit of pop salvage is simply too time-consuming, but there are some locations worthy of expeditions. Clignancourt in Paris is one of them, as is Sunbury Antiques Market in Kempton Park, the stores along Lillie Road in London and Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market in New York City. It’s also worth looking at and, which, along with some of the more obscure local markets and auctions in the UK, are favourite hunting grounds for the interior designer Russell Sage, a man well known for incorporating quirky elements into his projects. “Often with items like this,” he says, “people have a justifiably romantic idea of them, but they have gone through a dozen different dealers and started out as something that was part of a clearance sale and sold for £10.” The use of macabre Victorian taxidermy is something of a Sage trademark, and while he spends weeks scouring auctions for remarkable objects, it’s also possible to visit Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors in London’s East End to pick up an off-the-shelf eight-legged stuffed lamb (£2,000) or a two-headed calf (£3,500).

Simon Costin's home, London

Simon Costin’s home, London

Sage acquired several pieces when the Brading Waxworks on the Isle of Wight closed in 2010, as did Simon Costin, an art director for Fabergé, Yves Saint Laurent and Hermès, who has them on display in his home in London’s Dalston. Costin’s house is a paradigm of the salvage style, but with an emphasis on the darker end of the spectrum. When he bought the house, the previous occupant had painted many of the rooms in a colour he describes as “eye-grating cerise”. Now it’s a shadowy gothic fairy tale. “I’m a collector, but I don’t really focus on anything in particular,” says Costin. “I like things with a story.” An 18th-century glass-topped Italian funeral coffin acts as a focal point for the living room, while shelves on every floor of the house are filled with carnival flourishes, old toys and Doctor Who props. “Visitors always respond to the toys, like my 1920s devil Punch and Judy puppets,” he says.

Playthings from the early 20th century may well have been passed down as family heirlooms, and come charged with nostalgia. In the same way, more recent objects can have great pop currency, particularly if they were never intended for the home. The artist and designer Misha Milovanovich has oversized ice-cream displays and a giant fibreglass teddy bear on show in her home in London’s Ladbroke Grove, next to original artwork by the likes of Julian Opie and Charles Avery. She recently bought a toy shop prop from Circus Antiques – a scaled-up, life-size, Playmobil Indiana Jones – which stands next to her desk. “When I moved in here, it was an empty shell with concrete floors,” she says. “I wanted to create my own little playhouse.”

Milovanovich’s aesthetic will seem too extreme for many, but these items from the recent past serve as a great alternative to contemporary art for interior designers. M Goldstein recently took stock of an illuminated sign from the late 1960s, from a defunct strip joint in Tisbury Court that reads: “Soho’s Live Girls”. At the time, it would have been an invitation into one of London’s less salubrious venues; now, it has a charming, almost melancholy quality to it. In its way, it’s an elegiac piece of social history.

Several designers are experts in the field of salvage. Henri Fitzwilliam-Lay works on particularly refined and high-end interiors. Her style mixes the plush, grand elements of Dorothy Draper with the clean, corporate modernism of Florence Knoll and contemporary bespoke pieces by the likes of Rupert Bevan, but she’s increasingly working with collections of 20th- and 21st-century items. “I particularly like working on children’s rooms,” she says. “Collections of items can turn chaos into order, by giving objects definition. Vintage toys also work well in arrangements around the house. I think you can make a collection of just about anything – even my children’s tiny Japanese plastic Gogos figures – and the skill lies in the displaying of objects to create what I often refer to as the ‘still life’. I hunt at antiques fairs, and after a first purchase the rest of the day may be spent finding more and more complementing pieces.” The weathered appearance of an item is also important; Fitzwilliam-Lay has started using old survey maps as wallpaper, “because I love the faded colours.”

James Russell and Hannah Plumb work together as the interior design duo James Plumb, and their rough-hewn aesthetic and use of scavenged items is contemporary yet artfully cobwebbed. “We have just created a new space called The Chalk Room for the menswear store Hostem using discarded items,” says Russell. “Their stories – real or imagined – inspired us. We combined objects so that they felt like they might always have existed like this.” Among the items they used was an old harp case, from Wurlitzer Co of Cincinnati, which they turned into a wardrobe, and a crate designed for carrying a prize stud pig, marked in faded lettering: “Ashville Herd – Pedigree Large White Pig”. The imagery the crate conjures up is eclipsed by the possibilities surrounding it. It could have been a theatrical prop, or integral to a farmer’s fortunes. Like the nostalgia of an old Soho fluorescent sign, abandoned cinema façade letters, a once state-of-the-art robot from a mid-20th-century technology expo, or a set of discarded toys, it may have exhausted its original use, but its dynamic visual energy can be channelled into a new context.


Houses of fashion (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2011 by markcoflaherty

If it’s mid-April, it must be Milan. The annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair now rivals the prêt a porter and couture shows for scale, influence and glamour. The grandest hotel in the city, the Principe Di Savoia, sells out all of its rooms for the week – €17,000 a night penthouse included – six months earlier, while Twitter’s timeline scrolls at an excitable pace with design discoveries and party gossip. The boundary between fashion and furniture has been blurring, and this year it became almost imperceptible. Sales of “designer furniture” are growing faster than sales of clothing, and some of the most exciting interiors pieces showcased in April were from profoundly forward-thinking Paris-based couture houses. The notion of investment dressing is yielding to investment interiors – £15,000 sofas and limited edition armoires that will age beautifully and hold their value, aligned with the most prestigious names in the clothing industry. It’s a difficult, design sorcery: the product has to be simultaneously au courant and timeless.

Jean Paul Gaultier/Roche Robois

Every year since the launch of Armani Casa in 2000, the most influential labels in the world have expanded to encompass a lifestyle universe. Armani – like Calvin Klein and Fendi – is known for restrained luxury with a sharp sense of lounge-friendly texture and minimalism. Armani’s celebrated “greige” palate is a custom fit for the modern interior and has expanded from cushions and lampshades to whole Armani-branded hotels. But the new names heading for the living room floor are more intriguing.

A few years ago, seeing anything by Maison Martin Margiela outside of the most esoteric of fashion stores was, to the initiated, nothing short of shocking. Here is an aggressively “insider label”, known for a self-consciously intellectual approach to design: its stores are roughly whitewashed and all of the workers at its 11th Arondissement HQ wear lab coats. At its latest couture show, models wore flesh-coloured transparent belted Macs with unsettling black masks. In 2009 it began working with furniture manufacturer Cerruti-Baleri on two items that had appeared already as purely conceptual pieces: the Emmanuelle Chair (£1,750) and the Groupe sofa (from £5,060). This year it expanded the range with the Undersized sofa (from £5,000), Sbilenco coffee table (£1,500), trompe l’œil monochrome adhesive wall murals of distressed wooden doors (£290) and blank white Matriochka dolls (£130). The pieces are arresting and bordering on sinister, their skewed proportions reminiscent of Dutch designers Droog, or in the case of the Groupe sofa, mismatched (it resembles three odd armchairs) but unified by Margiela’s trademark raw snow-white cotton toile covering. “By clothing the furniture, the intention is to offer some history and past life, or vécu as we say in French,” explains one of the Maison collective. “The cotton is treated so it doesn’t appear brand new. But these are still luxury items. They are delicate and sumptuous.”

The appearance of Hermès’ La Maison line at this year’s Salone in Milan shouldn’t be surprising. The house was producing furniture with Jean-Michel Frank 80 years ago, and the 1980s Rena Dumas-designed capsule Pippa trio of folding leather chair, console and stool, as well as its tableware, are much loved classics. But it was the scale of the presentation in Milan that was dramatic: wallpapers, chairs, carpets, tables, sofas, glass and ceramics, all echoing the classic prints and the irresistible, boldly-seamed chocolate and orange leather that the brand is known for. The launch followed last year’s reissue of its Jean Michel Frank pieces, in collaboration with B&B Italia. “Those pieces were the starting point,” says Hélène Dubrule, the MD of Hermès’ La Maison department. “Then we brought the range up to date with new work from Enzo Mari, Antonio Citterio and architect Denis Montel.” Hermès is a house that is acutely aware of progressive design (Martin Margiela was creative director from 1997 to 2003), and the La Maison pieces unveiled this spring have a bold sense of modernity as well as stately, masculine tradition. Antonio Cittero’s Meridienne for Unwinding (£17,670) is a chaise longue with elements of Dumas apparent in its crossed safari-style legs. Mari’s Table Ovale (£20,460), in marble with smooth calfskin legs, has the gorgeous, elegant, tapered 1920s sweep of deco designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, while Montel’s leather Sellier dining chair (£4,650) is, as Dubrele says, “quintessentially Hermès”. “We liked the idea of a saddler working on something to sit on,” she says. “It adds a touch of fantasy to the collection and we hope it will become an iconic signature object.”

Hermès: La Maison

Like Hermès, some of the most directional fashion designers working on furniture lines are harking back to the 20s and 30s. The attraction should be obvious – the era of arch-modernism and muscular deco was the pinnacle of avant-garde design in the 20th century. No contemporary fashion designer has a stronger, or more influential aesthetic than Rick Owens, and while his work is synonymous with washed leather, asymmetry, monochrome and a blend of sci-fi, Berlin techno, the industrial and the occult, it’s also rooted in the early 20th century. He creates furniture for himself, and for limited editions selling (price on application) next to Prouve and Corbusier originals at Galerie Jousse Enterprise in Paris. They have a disturbing but artful and angular heft to them, exaggerated with animal antlers and offbeat materials: an alabaster bed looks like a sacrificial altar, and a stained black Curial chair resembles a pagan chalice. But then there are sofas and tables with a deco delicacy to them. “I like blunt rational simplicity in raw simple materials,” says Owens. “And every once in a while, a slightly ridiculous flourish. I oversized and simplified the silhouettes of Ruhlmann, Mallet Stevens and Jean Michel Frank with a hint of California skate parks and leather bar interiors. This furniture is my version of couture, it’s time-consumingly artisanal in a mix of base and rare materials.” He’ll be unveiling a new range of pieces – mixing prosaic blackened plywood and rarefied alabaster to striking effect – in London during Frieze week and in LA in December.

Rick Owens

Stockholm-based street fashion and creative brand Acne looked to mid-century Swedish design for inspiration for its furniture line. Creative director Jonny Johansson took Carl Malmsten’s 1958 Nya Berlin sofa, warped its axis, stretched it and upholstered the result in denim to create a selection of pieces (from €4,000–€15,000) that make a distinctly Scandinavian style statement. “These are pieces that need their own space,” says Johansson. “We called this project a study, because it’s a perspective play and the search for something very Swedish. Furniture isn’t just functional today. It’s more of an object, perhaps a sculpture.”

While there is a tendency for fashion designers to veer towards the conceptual, some of the new pieces appearing are more straightforward and literally comfortable translations of celebrated silhouettes and prints. Jean Paul Gaultier’s aesthetic couldn’t be further removed from the fabulously austere menace of Rick Owens, or the Scandic ascetism of Acne. The limited edition range of furniture he has produced with Roche Robois draws from thirty years of Breton stripes, sailors’ tattoos, Horst P Horst corset lacing and breezy Gallic bon chic, bon genre. The hand-stitched Mah Jong modular sofa (units from £895), with navy and white horizontal lines, kissing couples and Pierre et Gilles-style florals couldn’t look more Gaultier unless Jean Paul himself was sitting on it. “I started, as I do with all my collections, with the idea of dressing someone,” says Gaultier. “Except in this case it was furniture. And in the end, designing furniture is not that different – you have to think about the human body and how it will react to its environment.” For all the humour in his work, Gaultier is a deeply serious, master designer. His couture shows send critics into raptures, and he was design director of Hermès for seven years after Margiela’s departure. Amongst the Roche Robois collection is an elegant tattoo-motif wardrobe (£11,500) with internal mirrors that are part magic act and part old Hollywood, and two leather-upholstered sets of drawers (£4,995-£7,935) in the shape of a stack of suitcases – witty, but still exceedingly beautiful.

One of the most appealing parts of Gaultier’s furniture line is his bed, with screens and linens, in Lace, Sailor and Boudoir styles. A bedroom can lend itself to unbridled fantasy in the way other rooms cannot, which is why many fashion designers focus their attentions on it. Diane von Furstenberg launched a full range of homeware this year and along with the plates and cushions there’s an array of bedware ($150-$300) in bright mosaics and heavily inked lines that could be taken straight from one of her iconic wrap dresses. A black-on-white butterfly silhouette print, meanwhile, demonstrates her incredible graphic strengths. At the same time, high-end lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has, under the auspices of creative director Sarah Shotton, unveiled a collection of striking bed linen, from 550-threadcount white sheets with baby pink piping, to 100% silk black covers and lace-print textiles. Like Gaultier’s Breton stripes, it’s a look taken straight from the label’s DNA. “We’ve applied similar textures and detailing,” says Shotton. “And we’ve translated the craftsmanship and playful irreverence too.”

Maison Martin Margiela

The kitchen and dining room represent the bread and butter of high fashion homeware. Designers known for their prints – like Missoni and Zandra Rhodes – translate hugely successfully to tableware. As with bedroom sets, practical ceramics allow for flights of fancy: You might not want to change your sofa every month, but when it comes to supper, you can choose from a collection of plates according to mood. The market is growing fast: this autumn Bruce Oldfield has produced a range of 14 pieces with Royal Crown Derby while Diane von Furstenberg has a vast range of pieces covered in painterly single brush strokes and her pop arty Miro Flowers. A strong pattern can be taken on a grand tour of the house: Missoni produce stacks of cushions and towels, and Vivienne Westwood has an extensive range of wallpapers with Cole & Son, including her seminal squiggle print from her first catwalk collection in 1981, Pirates. Basso & Brooke, known for their wild, often risqué, digital prints, have taken things further, by offering whole-wall murals, made to order rugs, silk lampshades and chairs and decoupage consoles.

So alluring is the world of interiors that some designers now focus on it exclusively. Russell Sage gave up a successful career in womenswear to become one of London’s most in-demand interior designers, and approaches each interior with mood boards and back stories as he would any collection; and Rifat Ozbek – who created some of the most desirable clothes for women throughout the 80s and 90s – has retired from fashion to create wonderfully ornate, exquisitely bright cushions under his Yastik label. The embroidery is wonderfully, classically Ozbek, mixing central Asian patterns, including the Turkish, cartoonish good luck motif of the Nazar Boncugu. “I’ve also designed the interior of Mark Birley’s new London club,” says Ozbek. “It’s a cross between an opium den, a turn of the century Parisian music hall and a Tibetan temple. I’d never done an interior before, and now there’s talk of me creating a furniture line.” The attraction for the talented designer is clear. If 15 minutes on a catwalk tells the story of a collection, then an interior – whether piece by piece or an entire space – has a quite transcendent sense of permanence. It tells an infinitely bigger story.


Acne, 13 Dover Street, London W1 (020-7629 9374;

Agent Provocateur, 675 Madison Avenue, New York 10065 (+212-840 2436;

Diane Von Furstenberg at Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1 (0800 123 400; and at

Hermès, 155 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7499 8856;

Maison Martin Margiela at Cerruti Baleri, Via Felice Cavallotti 8, Milan 20122 (+39-02 7602 3954;

Rick Owens at Galerie Jousse Enterprise, 18 Rue de Seine, Paris 75006 (+33-1 53 82 13 60;

Roche Robois, 421-425 Finchley Road, London W3 (020-7431 1411;

Yastik by Rifat Ozbek, 8 Holland Street, London W8 (020-3538 7981;

LA interiors: Sam Nazarian (Sunday Times Style)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , on August 6, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Sam Nazarian is the new king of Hollywood nightlife. You might know him from cameo appearances on The Hills and Entourage, but LA’s A-list know him best as the Iranian-born jetsetter who owns and operates their favourite velvet-roped stomping grounds. From various branches of Katsuaya – the futurist-chic Japanese restaurants that have out-Nobu’d Nobu – to the SLS hotel, which opened last year in Beverly Hills, he’s the man making the scene in LA right now.

‘We’ve come a long way in a short time,’ says Nazarian. ‘Three years ago it was Paris Hilton turning up at Hyde (his 100-capacity, ultra exclusive hole in the wall lounge bar next to the Chateau Marmont), and this week we had the Beckhams having dinner with Kate Beckinsale at XIV (his lavish, highly acclaimed restaurant with chef Michael Mina). He counts many of his guests as close personal friends, including his neighbours in the Hollywood Hills: ‘Leo (nardo) and Toby (Maguire) live next door to me, we grew up together.’

Nazarian might be the man about town, and the brains of the club, hotel and restaurant operation, but it’s Philipe Starck who has given his company its look. ‘We’re creating the next generation of smart luxury with Starck,’ says Nazarian. ‘When he was working with Schrager some of those projects were done very cheaply, and I think he’s ready for the next chapter… a lot of people questioned my choice and said that Starck is finished, but I felt that he’s just beginning.’

Nazarian’s most exclusive venue is, undoubtedly, his home, which he built from scratch and which he moved to in 2007 after selling his previous mansion (which he bought from Jennifer Lopez) to Gwen Stefani. For his recent 34th birthday party (Nazarian is nothing if not a business prodigy) he threw a party for 175 guests on his pool deck overlooking the city. ‘This house has the best spot on the best ridge in the Hills,’ he says, which would, ipso facto, make it the best house in the city. But then, it’s only fitting that the king of Hollywood has the most impressive castle in La La Land.


The furnishings in the guest bedroom are 1950s in style. ‘We’re a culture based on trends and cycles,’ says Sam. ‘The green upholstery is something you might see in my grandmother’s house, but it’s warm and comfortable.’ The photograph is by Slim Aarons. ‘His work gives me a peek into the 50s, yet some of the beach scenes could have been shot yesterday.’ A red leather chair is vintage Scandic from JF Chen in LA (; try in Nottingham for similar.

Sam Nazarian poses next to an artwork by Milton Glaser, the designer who created the ‘I love NYC’ graphic: ‘It was for my 30th birthday,’ says Sam. ‘He actually hates LA – the pink is supposed to be a Playboy Bunny colour and the grey is smog.’

Sam Nazarian describes his home style as ‘ a mixture of warm contemporary with mid century modern.’ The white oval dining table, by Eero Saarinen, is available from the Conran Shop (£4,395 for the same size as pictured; The chairs are a 1930 Brno design by Mies van der Rohe, made by Knoll. Beach stock reproductions in black or cream for £350 (

Nazarian has a sizeable collection of art – the triptych is by Kirtland Ash and the mirror by the entrance is a Jeff Koons.

Much of Nazarian’s furniture is custom made, including the armchair in the lounge. For similar styles try The black chandelier is a Zenith 24L by Philippe Starck for Baccarat and sells for over £25,000 from Baccarat in Paris. ‘I also have one of Starck’s gun lamps and a crystal floor lamp identical to one at the Delano hotel in Miami.’ Try for a range of black crystal chandeliers, from £124.99.

Many of the walls in Nazarian’s lounge are covered floor to ceiling in framed family photographs: ‘Parts of my life that I never want to forget,’ he says.

The lounge opens up to a vast deck with an incredible view over West Hollywood and the rest of the city.  Much of Nazarian’s furniture is custom made. For similar low L-shaped sofas try the Como and Celano modular ranges at Bo Concept (

The house offers astounding privacy: ‘When I stand in the tub and shower I get to enjoy the view across the city but no one can see me because the house isn’t overlooked,’ says Sam. For a similar bath, try the Cleo Freestanding (£1771 from

When Nazarian has friends over for dinner, they invariably dine at the long dining table on the pool deck. He can also host up to 200 people for private parties. ‘This is actually a serene house for me, not a party house,’ he says. ‘There are stairs to the decking from the front of the house so that people don’t have to go through the house.’