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.
Most people, if given the luxury of a third bedroom in a house they share only with a spouse, might choose to turn it into a guestroom, or a studio, or maybe a study. Kristen Lee, a stylist and co-owner of L.A.’s fashion and design emporium TenOverSix, turned hers into a walk-in closet. Step inside and you’ll discover rolling racks of designer and vintage, scarves tossed carelessly around a dress form, shoes lined up in neat little rows, a steamer in the corner, and accessories spilling out over the dresser. And yet for someone so clearly attuned to and obsessed with fashion, it’s not the clothes you first sense when you enter the Ed Fickett–designed, mid-century, Nichols Canyon home she bought last year with her husband and then “renovated the shit out of,” as she says. It’s the incredible proliferation of art. Stephen Shore, Banksy, Leopold Seyffert, Nan Goldin — and that’s just in the living room.
Harry Allen is a happening guy. From his design studio in New York’s East Village, he makes ironic banana bowls and pig banks for Areaware and is one of only three American designers working with the hip Italian furniture brand Skitsch, along with Jason Miller and Todd Bracher. His new Bang perfume bottle is all over the ad pages of major fashion magazines, strategically positioned atop a nude Marc Jacobs, and the skateboarding store Supreme owes its interiors to him. Allen is so evergreen, in fact, that it’s easy to forget the most basic fact of his biography: He’s been doing this for nearly 20 years. “Everyone treats me like I’m some kid, but I’ve been around for a long time,” he says. “When I started in 1993, there was no Moss, no Wallpaper. Philippe Starck was king, and everything was shaped like a horn. I looked at Europe and thought: That’s what I want to be, I want to be like Starck. I want to be Starck.” But while he did follow that model when he set up his own design studio in 1993 — as opposed to joining a corporation like most of his American peers were doing at the time — part of the reason Allen’s presence in the design world always feels so fresh is that unlike Starck, he's constantly reinvented himself along the way.