IN THE EARLY 1970S, the Brutalist artist Paul Rudolph advised a dining table for a abode in Westport, Connecticut, that sums up that complicated decade. Its top, a aboriginal egg-shaped of white artificial laminate, looms like a colossal jet over three Plexiglas legs in the appearance of oil drums. Back the allotment came up for bargain about 10 years ago, the autogenous artist Rafael de Cárdenas knew it would be his. “You accept to accept the history of it to adulation it,” says de Cárdenas, who was built-in in 1974 and came beyond Rudolph’s assignment as a apprentice at the Rhode Island School of Design. “I was bedeviled with it.”
After advantageous about $10,000 for the table, de Cárdenas put it in storage, cat-and-mouse until he had aloof the appropriate home for it. About two years ago, he assuredly did. Motivated by a ambiguous anxious to alive in a added awkward zip cipher and to absorb added often, the Manhattan-born-and-bred artist confused from his longtime Chinatown attic into a railroad accommodation on the parlor attic of an 1890s brownstone in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn. In came the table, which now occupies the grandest of six sunny, high-ceilinged rooms.
“I’ve never lived in a abode this old,” says the 43-year-old de Cárdenas, dressed in a collared sweater and Birkenstocks and casual from the table’s antibacterial apparent bottomward at copse floors aching by ancestors of tenants. “I’m never activity to accept a ball affair here. But I do like actuality able to accept 10 bodies over for dinner.” His guests can accept amidst Mario Bellini’s 1977 covering Cab chairs, a 1920s Swedish armchair with a adherence to a antecedent buyer cacographic on its base or two circa-1968 fiberglass seats advised by Michel Boyer for the cafeteria of the Rothschild Bank in Paris.
“Raf was attractive at those chairs for a continued time,” says Suzanne Demisch, who awash him the brace and whose Greenwich Village arcade (Demisch Danant, specializing in French modernism) de Cárdenas advised not continued ago. “He cast our program,” she says. “Our speed, in a way, and our storytelling. What we get abaft is not on everyone’s radar—he cast that. He cast to be in the know.”
The aforementioned active intelligence informs Rafael de Cárdenas/Architecture at Large (RDC/AAL for short), the close de Cárdenas founded in 2006. Back again he’s overseen advancement of 100 projects, from art installations, pop-up shops and an East Village accommodation for the extra Parker Posey to boutiques and environments for Cartier, Baccarat, Nike and, best recently, the 25,000-square-foot Manhattan abode for Glossier, a adorableness cast advantaged by clammy millennials.
“A lot of our able lives bisect with what’s air-conditioned and fashionable,” says de Cárdenas of his partner, Cale Harrison, an abettor for photographers and stylists in the appearance apple who divides his time amidst Paris and Brooklyn. “It’s nice that our clandestine lives don’t at all. Cale and I watch Pee-wee Herman. And Moonlighting. It’s the best TV show.”
De Cárdenas approaches autogenous architecture as a awful akin game, and the influences he cites best generally are late-20th-century film, TV, art, music and fashion. Given the abreast cast assignment he does, accepting in blow with the Victorian ambience of his new home, as a commencement to capacity it, acquainted like a treacherously adopted exercise. “I was so borderline at the beginning,” he says. “That’s never happened before.”
He absitively to do what his audience do: He assassin someone. Through an intern at his office, he’d addled up a accord with a Brooklyn-based autogenous designer, Adam Charlap Hyman, a adolescent RISD alum 15 years his junior. The two appear at architecture from adverse ends of the timeline—Charlap Hyman cast to bacchanal in its actual byways—but they allotment an audacious, fantasy-fueled angle and a pet abhorrence for avant-garde decorating conventions (throw pillows, accompanying nightstands), not to acknowledgment an aweless faculty of humor.
To alpha off, they advised the appliance de Cárdenas had in accumulator and combed through references Charlap Hyman proposed. “We’d accelerate through 200 to 300 images per sitting,” the adolescent artist recalls. “From there we would allocution about what we were aggravating to do. We developed a vibe, a narrative.”
Pinning these six accommodation bottomward to a distinct storyline, however, is hopeless. In the active room, the aboriginal of the spaces, two pikestaff benches face off beyond a bottle table that displays a 1920s Baccarat canteen abounding with tequila and six analogous glasses. An abaca carpeting lies underfoot, and houseplants in chrome tubs army the bay window. It’s a ambience David Hockney ability accept staged for one of his bifold portraits.
In the adjoining media room—the brightest space, with windows on two sides—faux-fur bolsters snake beyond a louche Christian Liaigre daybed adverse a wall-mounted TV, its affairs aggregate on the floor, postgrad fashion, amidst books and remotes. De Cárdenas resisted the abstraction of a console. “It was too abundant appliance in the room,” he says. “I’m cat-and-mouse for new technology.”
The one connected to these layered spaces is the abreast art that de Cárdenas has been accession back his academy days. Pieces by Ron Nagle, Wyatt Kahn, Isabelle Cornaro and others accept a constructivist affluence that ancestor adjoin the age-old white walls, a adverse that is absolutely intentional.
According to Charlap Hyman, the dingy, overpainted Paris apartments of French New Wave cinema became a above touchpoint for the décor. “It’s array of careless—almost a adolescent admission to decorating a admirable apartment,” he says of the reference. “There was article adventurous about it that we both responded to.”
Since the abode is a rental, the accommodation not to active up the walls (which de Cárdenas calls “an American inclination”) additionally fabricated applied sense. The one modification the new tenants insisted aloft was a kitchen overhaul.
On de Cárdenas’s aboriginal appointment to the brownstone, he’d noticed a aperture to the alfresco blocked abaft the refrigerator; back he asked about it, the freeholder said he’d never apparent it open. The acknowledgment lodged in the designer’s apperception like the accepted red banderole afore a bull. He wasn’t annoyed until he’d rearranged the allowance to admission the door, which opens assimilate a landing and a access bottomward to the street.
“This is the access we use, admitting it doesn’t accept an address,” says de Cárdenas, dispatch out into the algid bounce air. He has been flirting with the abstraction of affairs a barbecue and barbecuing here. “As far as I’m concerned, I accept a terrace!” he says, afore closing the aperture with a bang and branch off to the subway.
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