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A Master of the Instagram Still-Life in Her (Perfectly Styled) Natural Habitat

PHOTOS BY PIPPA DRUMMOND

We’re told the universe expands because empty space has its own energy, a shapeless force that doesn’t dilute but spills over the edges. Whether it’s the distance we put between ourselves and others or the space between two buildings, these intervals exist as objects without boundaries — formless and invisible. Since the launch of her ceramic accessories line ARC Objects in 2014, the interaction of space and ideas through the black box of process has been a framework for Daniela Jacobs, whose work you might be familiar with from the thoughtfully rendered still-lifes that populate her Instagram.

That would be appropriate, considering how crucial a part Instagram has played in catapulting Jacobs to fame. Before founding ARC Objects, Jacobs studied at Parsons — later in the Integrated Design Curriculum but first in a pre-college fashion class with designer Lisa Mayock as one of her professors. The two became friends, and Jacobs became an intern at Mayock’s former clothing line Vena Cava. On the day of her senior thesis showcase, Mayock came to support Jacobs and shared photos of her project on the then brand-new app. By evening, she’d received an email from a buyer at Saks, inquiring about the soon-to-be-graduate’s collection. It was then that Jacobs decided to propel her craft-making into a meaningful career, creating jewelry and housewares with an approach that’s both thoughtful and experimental. Since childhood the artist has split her time between Spain and New York, sojourning between continents with her family and often bringing back woven goods from the street markets there. We caught up with her in her 1970’s loft in Tribeca — a serene, raw space that traces classic elements of her time in both Mallorca and Manhattan.

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This building is amazing. How long has it been around?
The building is a former shoe warehouse, built in the 1850’s. When my father bought the place in the ’70s, it was basically a big rectangle. The kitchen and the bathroom were added and my room was built when I was born. It came as a very raw space, except the columns were already here. It’s amazing, the kind of care that went into the architecture of a simple shoe warehouse.

What was it like growing up in Tribeca?
A lot of people in the neighborhood were artists. Families gravitated here because it was cheaper. I remember going to friends’ houses after school and it seemed normal and obvious that there’d be a shared studio space in their apartments and that all the parents were artists. A part of me always felt a little bit like an outsider, though, because I was also spending a lot of time in Mallorca and couldn’t share that with others. Tribeca also changed a lot especially after September 11th. Now it’s kind of unrecognizable from what I saw when I was little.

Where were you during 9/11?
My parents were here at the apartment but I was at school. We had to leave the neighborhood for a while. Everything below Canal Street was sanctioned off so we stayed with a family friend. A lot of people ended up moving out of the area and it hurt a lot of businesses.

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You’ve spent most of your life between New York and Spain. How often do you go to Mallorca?
Up until now it’s been summers. I’ve been going since I was an infant. My mother first went when she was 19 and fell in love with it. She went back to live for a few years and my grandparents went and fell in love with it as well and then bought a house there in the ’70s. So those are my roots. It’s not like we are Mallorcan but I speak the language and I’ve been going since I was born. It’s been a huge part of my life. I feel very much like I am from New York and Mallorca.

What inspired the look and feel of your pieces? Why bone-colored porcelain?
I’m inspired by colors, shapes, and textures found in nature. My designs are almost always inspired initially by one of these three things, and I like the materials I work with to stay the colors they naturally are. I like the idea of just using clear glaze, hence the white porcelain remaining white. But in the future, I’d love to work with other clays that are naturally other colors, thus expanding the ARC “color scheme.”

Did you always intend to make both jewelry and housewares?
Initially, I thought I’d just be focusing on jewelry. But at Parsons, I took all of my technical classes, like ceramics and metal, with product design students, and all the assignments were product-centric. For this purpose, I started designing home objects, and I realized my design interests and inspirations went far beyond just the wearable realm. I haven’t wanted to limit myself to the “wearable” category ever since.

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You mentioned that you made the dress you’re wearing. Do you still make your own clothes?
I learned how to sew after I was disgusted by how things were made by these big corporations. And then I made some of my own clothes but now I moreso try to be conscious and get all my clothes from secondhand stores so as not to contribute to giant mass corporations.

Is there something about this space that inspires your aesthetic?
I wouldn’t say my space inspires my aesthetic. If anything, it’s the other way around. My aesthetic is more inspired by the organic — by natural elements like sand, the sea, the sky, the mountains, weeds, dirt…

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Tell me about your mood board.
Well, it consists of shapes and textures or colors that are inspiring to me. What’s on the board tends to shift and evolve. Some are old photographs that my dad or I took and flea market finds or prototypes. A few shards of palm tree from my trips abroad. Really just random things that I don’t think too much about. If it feels right it goes up, and as soon as things feel old or stale it comes down.

There’s one note that reads: “Transparency, big shapes, small refine, define, detail, scale, shapes, and — checkmark mistakes!“ It’s from my thesis journal from my senior year at Parsons. I don’t really remember why I made that list but I think it came to be when I had one of my meetings with my advisor and I just wrote things down as we were talking. I rediscovered it a few months ago and I thought they were good words.

I have several childhood photos up there. One taken in Ellen Von Unwerth’s loft upstairs for her daughter’s birthday. Every kid had a turn poking our faces in it.

Would you say you work intuitively or strategically?
My creative process comes from so many angles! A lot of it just has to do with being inspired —be it by a shape, a landscape, a texture, or a sound. Usually the “spark” comes from something abstract. And then designs come into my head, and throughout the iteration process they turn into an idea I can start to imagine the creation of a wearable or functional thing.

The way I work is that for an idea to become an actual thing, it has to go through several processes. Making a mold and prototyping something can take a while. So a lot of times I start to prototype something and realize it’s not working in real life as it did in my head. But I do feel that I have a good sense of when things are on or off balance.

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How often do you get the urge to change your place around?
Most things have been here a while. My dad made the kitchen table, and I think the chairs are from a flea market when we first moved in the ’70s. Everything kind of has a funny story to it. Definitely when I come back from Mallorca, though, I see things with fresh eyes. Distance helps. Coming back helps me see things with clarity and then it becomes faster to tell “Oh why do I still have this” or “I never use this” or “This set up makes no sense!”

How does your Instagramming relate to your process?
Instagram has become sort of a public sketchbook. I share a fraction of the photos I take and would be taking anyway, regardless of ARC. I really enjoy taking photos, and appreciating moments of incidental beauty, surprise, or interest throughout the day. I don’t take photos for Instagram — rather, I take photos and end up posting some of them to Instagram. I enjoy the setup of things sometimes as much as the thing itself — the crescendo as much as the finale, so to speak — and usually the “still lifes” I photograph are just parts of a moment in the day I found inspiring and therefore documented.

Would you consider yourself a routine person?
I would say on one hand I’m a go-with-what’s-going-on kind of person. My schedule is never exactly the same from one day to the next. As someone who’s running her own business, it’s a huge advantage when something comes up and I can just go with it. In other ways I enjoy having something that occurs every day, like having my espresso in the morning and a moment so the dreams I might’ve had fade away. My day starts intentionally, but at night it’s different. In Mallorca I love to swim in the sea in the late afternoon and then go to dinner or cook.

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What kind of dishes do you like to cook in Mallorca?
I have this recipe I came up with there in the summer. I get a can of octopus in olive oil, and what I do is I take the olive oil from the can and use it to slow cook some paprika, onion, laurel leaves, garlic, and pepper. Just at the end, I’ll add back the octopus with a little bit of black sea salt and cracked pepper. A glass of wine and then you have a really good dinner. It also travels really well. If I’m going to have a picnic with some friends I’ll make that ahead of time and bring it. The way that I cook tends to be the way I do a lot of things, intuitively. Depends on what’s around, what’s there, and I keep things simple.

Wait. Black sea salt?
It’s black! Sahadi’s in Brooklyn, that’s where I got it. Have you had halva? They also have that there. It’s like cotton candy and looks like white thick hair. Tastes kind of nutty. I did a food installation with Laila Gohar last year and it was black, white, and marble themed. My plates were used and that’s when I first tried halva because it was white and textured.

How did you get involved with food installations?
Laila had just asked if she could use my plates for it and it just came together. I’d love to do more, as I love seeing the way different food interacts with the shapes of things.

Are you familiar with the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill? He’s very keen on spatial sensibility and his design philosophy revolves around treating empty space as a physical entity. “Luxury exists not in objects but the distance between objects” is something he mentions and I feel your work and even your living space resonate with.
Absolutely. I think a negative space is just as important in a room as a positive space. The space around an object is just as important as the object. Or, they’re equally important. There’s a lot that goes into what goes into a room and how to make it feel a certain way. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the space or distance around things.