While designer Rafael de Cárdenas started out in fashion, he's spent the better part of the past decade making a name for himself as an architect and interior stylist. He's executed mood-driven concepts for an impressive shortlist of celebrity and commercial clients including Jessica Stam, OHWOW gallery and Nike's Bowery Stadium.
This year sees de Cárdenas' first furniture collection, which he launched at Soho's Johnson Trading Gallery in conjunction with NY Design Week. Core77 jumped at the opportunity to have a brief Q&A with the multitalented creative.
Core77: Furniture design is a natural extension of your work in interiors; is there any reason that 2011 marks your first official foray into that world? I know that you've designed at least a few bespoke pieces for clients: is the new collection intended to fill in gaps where you are unable to source vintage or otherwise original pieces, or is furniture design simply another mode of creative expression for you?
Rafael de Cárdenas: The furniture is a natural progression to what I already do—architectural interiors projects. I enjoy the change in scale and its unexpected difficulty. A change in scale is often great, such as with our current work on a ground up 6-story building project with an entirely different set of concerns.
You insist that you don't adhere to any style, but you must admit that there is an overarching aesthetic to your work—namely, a strong sense of color and geometry. Specifically, I'm intrigued by the notion that heterotopia—some element of otherness or disorientation—is one of your design principles regarding spaces. Does this approach translate to furniture?
Hopefully, yes, the heteropic aspects I played with in furniture are mostly in terms of scale, such as in the cabinet "Hulk" and in the airbrushed pieces where we use paint irespective of geometric shapes and planar surfaces. We didn't follow the geometry, suggesting a bit of disorientation.
I suppose this comes up every time you expand your practice in a new direction, but to what degree would you say your background in fashion, architecture and interior design informs your furniture design?
I think my fashion background was particularity influential in this case. The greatest similarity is seen in our treatment of the collection's forms and surfaces—how we took the same form treated each differently (finish and color) to varying effects.
Similarly, I know you're friends with many artists across all mediums: from what I've seen, the furniture collection certainly has sculptural qualities, but do you ever find inspiration in other fine arts, film or even music? And conversely, which furniture designers do you admire?
I'm often inspired by music and film. I've based whole projects around films, namely The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. The pieces in the collection have different 'volumes'—some are Philip Glass-appropriate and others are very Britney.
After he completed his B.A. from R.I.S.D.,Rafael de Cárdenas spent three years at Calvin Klein. By 2002, he completed his Masters in Architecture at UCLA, where he met Greg Lynn, with whom he collaborated on the redesign of the World Trade Center site. Their submission, a series of five buildings interconnected to create a cathedral-like space, was one of the six final entries.
De Cárdenas returned to New York as the creative director for special effects production house Imaginary Forces, working on experience design projects, he oversaw a range of innovative concepts including the BMW Experience at their headquarters in Munich, and the HBO store in New York. In 2005, de Cárdenas opened his own design firm out of an office in New York's Chinatown. His interest in creating environments with moods, as opposed to any specific style, has allowed him to work with an array of clients. Using color, light, and pattern, de Cárdenas has created artful, imaginative interiors for boutiques, restaurants and private residences.
Rafael de Cárdenas' first furniture collection will be on view at Johnson Trading Gallery through June 25.