If style is a sore subject for the up-and-coming interior designer Rafael de Cardenas, who bristles at the suggestion that he might have one, a therapist would likely lay the blame on his mother. A Polish-Swiss former fashion PR agent — who with his Cuban father moved the family to New York City when de Cardenas was six — she was constantly redecorating, stripping the house bare every time her tastes changed. “She’s into one thing carried throughout, she can’t mix and match,” says de Cardenas. “So once it’s something new, everything’s gotta go. There was an Armani Casa phase, and now it’s all Native American, with blankets and sand-covered vases from Taos. It scared me away from design to a degree.” After spending most of his childhood wanting to be a doctor, he eventually went to RISD to study fashion and painting, and ended up heading the menswear department at Calvin Klein for three years. But although he admits that interiors were something he never put any thought into back then, design began exerting its slow pull: He went to UCLA’s architecture school — more as a means to eventually stage fashion shows than to build houses — found a mentor in Greg Lynn, and ultimately set up his own interiors studio in 2006. Which a therapist might also blame on his mother, but in good way.
If de Cardenas is known for a certain aesthetic now, it’s the ’80s vibe he’s employed in his best-known projects: the New York and Miami outposts of Al Moran and Aaron Bondaroff’s OHWOW alternative art spaces, which vibrate with crazy geometries and neon colors, part WWII dazzle painting and part Max Headroom. He had similar inspirations for his Nike Stadium store on the Bowery earlier this year and a pop-up shop currently residing inside Cappellini’s Soho flagship, but it’s not that he’s necessarily obsessed with the style of that era, he argues, like his mom once was with Roche Bobois or Memphis. What underlies his fascination with all the zig-zags and headache-inducing color schemes is his interest in creating spatial disorientation and a feeling of heterotopia, a tactic he’s employed in residential projects that look nothing like OHWOW. “We always say daydreaming, and how do you induce daydreaming,” he says, pointing to a more conservative interior he did for the makeup artist Jeanine Lobell, where subtly clashing patterns on her living room walls and upholstery create their own form of dazzle. “Every single thing in her bedroom is almost the same color, too, even though they’re in different materials,” he notes. “So the disorientation there has to do with being surrounded or enveloped by something, and separated from the outside world.”
At his own place in downtown Manhattan, which Sight Unseen visited back in September, de Cardenas has lined the entryway in diagonal black-and-white stripes. The rest of the interior, though, owes more to his own interests than to his design philosophies — there’s contemporary art all over the place and nostalgic items filched from his mother’s house, but less of the choreography of his interiors for Jessica Stam, say, or the new Ford Models headquarters uptown. We figured it was the perfect opportunity to gain some insight into the personality behind his designs. Here’s the grand tour.
When Mason McFee and Jessica Clark decided to name their new company Crummy House, referring to their own charmingly ancient one-bedroom rental in Austin, Texas, it was mostly out of admiration rather than denigration. Sure, the paint is cracked in places, the garage has an uneven dirt floor, and in the winter, the cold night air blows through with no regard for shuttered windows. And it was a bit of an inconvenience when, two months after they moved in, an old tree fell directly onto McFee’s car. But with two desks in the living room, a workshop in the garage, and the kitchen basically converted into a studio, the house has become a kind of creative haven for the couple — a getaway from McFee’s responsibilities as an art director at the ad agency Screamer, and Clark’s as a graphic design student at Austin’s Art Institute. They spend weekends making art there, side by side, and with Crummy House they’ll start their first true collaboration.
Someone like JP Williams has enjoyed plenty of validating moments in his 20-year career as a graphic designer: Getting to study under one of his design heros, Paul Rand, at Yale; winning more than 100 awards for projects like his kraft-paper tea packages for Takashimaya; discovering that his collection of baseball cards from 1909 was worth enough to buy his wife and business partner Allison an engagement ring. All well and good, however none of it really compared, he admits, to the feeling of being validated by Martha Stewart.
It's funny, although not altogether inaccurate, to picture a girl like Pascale Gueracague digging around in the trash — she's all long hair, winning smile, French parents, and Margiela bags, and at just 26 years old, she's spent the last three years catapulting to the head of textile design at Helmut Lang. But in her prints as well as the paintings she makes in her spare time, she works with some of the most banal materials imaginable — plastic bags, baby powder, rubber cement — and because she sees beauty in them that others tend to miss, that often entails liberating them from the rubbish pile. "That's how I've learned to design since I was a kid," she explains. "I came from a big family with no money, so I was always drawing on the inside of a cereal box." Of course, Gueracague's artistic gifts lay in the alchemy that happens next, when she's layering and manipulating those materials into rich compositions that evoke her new-age-meets-industrial-chic aesthetic.