At the Armory Show this past November, Cristina Grajales had an original Jean Royère Polar Bear sofa in her booth, which sold for “half a million in minutes,” she recalls. Grajales has had plenty of experience dealing in 20th-century masterpieces like these — both in her decade-long stint directing 1950 for Delorenzo and at the helm of her 12-year-old eponymous gallery in Soho — and yet her own most cherished piece isn’t some icon of modernism at all. It’s not even a design object, but a 19th-century Naga warrior costume she bought at the Tribal Art Fair, and as a mainstay of the large office and presentation room she keeps behind her gallery, only her clients and artists ever get to see it. Of course it’s they, if any, who understand Grajales’s working methods best; they come to her precisely because she looks at objects “as sculptures, for what they are,” and says she’s “not afraid to put together, say, an 18th-century Portuguese table with a contemporary silver tray.” Which is why we figured a privileged peek inside her back room, captured earlier this year by our trusty photographer Mike Vorrasi, might be the ideal way for our readers to get to know her, too.
A quick background check is also key, since like so many latent creatives, finding her true calling turned out to be a full-circle affair. “My mother was always doing things we used to laugh about, like commissioning artists to paint murals in our house, or taking a tree trunk that fell down and carving it into a bench. I thought she was being crazy,” recalls Grajales, who grew up in Colombia in the ’60s, studied communications in Maine, and went on to work in advertising. After she took a job on a whim at a New York gallery, though, inadvertently joining the nascent design-dealing scene of the late ’80s, she was quickly confronted with the folly of her youth: “The first time I walked into a design store and saw the rough wood benches and all these things I’d grown up with, it hit me how talented and brilliant my mother was, and how much she actually influenced me.” These days, Grajales is one of the foremost champions for the kind of craft-based, time-intensive design her mother once espoused, whether it be George Nakashima or textile icon Shiela Hicks or New York newcomer Sebastian Errazuriz, who once made a sprawling desk out of — you guessed it — a felled tree. It’s the thread that ties her pieces together, regardless of period or provenance.
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.
At Fair Folks & a Goat, a new retail gallery and tea salon hybrid on New York’s Upper East Side, everything inside the gracious late 19th-century studio apartment is for sale. Well, almost everything — a small candy dish that reads “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” was a gift from co-owner Anthony Mazzei’s mother and “it’s a million dollars,” he jokes, while the vintage paperbacks lining a wall of shelves constitute an actual lending library. Here, the props and merch blend into a seamless backdrop for a new kind of social gathering. “We wanted to create a space for young people to have a home away from home, where instead of alcohol and loud music it would be more like a physical incarnation of a magazine, with design, art, fashion, and culture,” says Mazzei.
Through April 15, Sight Unseen will be showcasing the work of half a dozen designers and design firms exhibiting together at the Milan Furniture Fair under the umbrella of the soon-to-launch Carwan Gallery in Beirut. Next up are designs from My Bauhaus is Better Than Yours, a loose collective of young German studios — most of whom studied at the Bauhaus University in Weimar — that banded together two years ago as a way to mount exhibitions in design hotspots like Milan and DMY Berlin. The group has since evolved into a full-fledged design label with the ability to manufacture and distribute the designs of its members, and it has plans to launch a webshop later this week. We spoke with Daniel Klapsing, one half of the Berlin-based duo 45 Kilo and de facto leader of the newly formed label, and put together a preview of designs from several of the group’s other members as well.