Our aesthetic is narrative, emotional, and historically engaged. We try to make spaces that touch people and also make them laugh.
Is there a project that you’re proudest of?
One of our first projects, a Victorian house for a young family in Brooklyn. The couple is in the art world and brought a lot of creativity to the project. They pushed me to think about color and materials in ways that felt very exciting and new. The house had to be renovated from top to bottom but we intentionally made different areas look like they had been done in different periods, creating the illusion of an evolving history to the building instead of the single gut job that is was. For the kitchen, we were inspired by the functionalism of the kitchen in Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan [where the Luca Guadagnino movie I am Love was shot]. We did the bathrooms to look Victorian in that way that things from Victorian period look when they were just beginning to develop modern hygienic and clinical standards—in fact, all the fixtures and fittings in the bathrooms are vintage, as is the stove in the kitchen. The red and white tile floor in the master was taken from the pictures of Cy Twombly's apartment in Vogue in the 60's. The dining room table is covered with a lace table cloth in a nod to "Nona" style. The lavender color that we used on the walls in the boys bedroom was taken from a Vuillard painting of a child's room.
What places have you visited in the past year that really blew you away, design-wise?
This past summer I went to Berlin to look for Weimar-era furniture for a client, and the search took me to some of the most startlingly unique buildings and rooms I have ever seen. It is a period that is in many respects forgotten. I was extremely taken by the fusion of certain classical standards of proportion with extraordinarily radical and bizarre decorative elements, especially in the Renaissance Theater by Oskar Kauffman and Cesar Klein, and the Kreuzkirche by Ernst Paulus
Part of your process involves making detailed watercolors of your projects. Did you always do it that way?
I started doing the watercolors at the beginning. I was looking at Renzo Mongiardino's gouache maquettes and could see how they would have been fantastic tools for communicating ideas to clients in a way that was inspiring to them, clear, but also changeable and not so set-in-stone. In my experience, clients seem to get nervous when they think they can't change things or get involved in the way a room comes together.
What did you do before you decided to start your own firm?
I worked for Ralph Lauren Home, finding inspirational reference images and materials for their design team. It was a lot of fun and I learned so much. I pored over old books, magazines and films; did a lot of antiquing; and practiced researching online into obscure areas of design history. It was truly a dream job for me. After Ralph Lauren, I worked briefly for an interior designer before starting my own firm with my friend from RISD, Andre Herrero.
Did you have a specific moment when you were like, this is happening, I’m ready to go off and do my own thing now?
I was working on a small job (little kids’ bedrooms) for a family on the Upper West Side when they decided to move into a large townhouse and asked me to design the entire interior. When I went to the first meeting with the architecture firm they had settled on, I was pleasantly surprised that the young architect sent by the firm to oversee the project was my friend from college, Andre Herrero. We hadn't known each other too well, but I had admired his work—and he mine. It was a wonderful coincidence. We enjoyed the process of collaborating on this house so much that when the next project came my way, I asked him to do it with me and that was that!
Tell us about the fabrics you designed for Schumacher. How did you come up with the idea to use motifs like snakes, insects, olive leaves and arrows?
I designed the fabrics with my mother Pilar Almon, and we started with files of reference material: film stills, old textiles, images of furniture, rooms, and paintings in which we saw something that spoke to us about pattern. With a surge of visual cues running through our heads, we then had a kind of conversation through sketches, sharing and building on each other's ideas until we had something!
What’s the most challenging part of your day-to-day work?
A challenge we face regularly is keeping the myriad vendors and talented people involved in a given project both engaged and inspired about what they are doing. Projects can go on for long periods of time and have ups and downs. Making sure that everyone is compelled to do their best work every step of the way can is not necessarily difficult, but it’s something I have to constantly consider, remember and put effort into.
As you’ve become busier and busier, how do you make sure to make time for the headier or more creative part of your work?
Burning the midnight oil! The most solitary and creative work I do has to be done outside of prime email hours—whenever those may be.
What architects have had the biggest influence on your work?
We’re inspired by designers and architects who have considered every aspect of a space: Emilio Terry, Pierre Chareau, Jean Michel Frank, Dante Feretti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, and Piero Portaluppi.
Whose style do you admire most?
Yves Saint Laurent, Ricardo Bofill, Dominique de Menil, Helena Rubinstein, Marie-Laure de Noailles, Javier Corbero, Pauline de Rothschild.
If you could own any piece of furniture ever made, what would it be?
The pair of French children's armchairs that Alice B. Toklas upholstered in the 1930s with needlepoints of designs by Picasso that were in her apartment with Gertrude Stein.
If you weren’t an architect, what do you think you'd be?
I think I would be working for a magazine or would have started my own. I love collecting images and stories and doing research.
Favorite paint color?
I do return to the color eau de nil. It’s a kind of celadon that is at once off-putting and beautiful to me—it confuses me and I like it.
Design materials, colors or motifs that are due for a comeback: Amber translucent plastic, rubber, eggplant.
What design “thing” do you think is going to define the current moment?
Coolest piece of furniture ever: The duck bed by Francois-Xavier & Claude Lalanne.
Every room needs: Shells, cabbage, something green.
The antique finds you love the most: Victorian papier-mâché furniture and Heywood-Wakefield wicker chairs.
Best Instagram account for design inspiration: @nice_shells
One interiors book you love: The Winter Palace by Madame Korshunova, a book with 128 watercolors of the interiors of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
Old building with great bones or start from scratch? One of each—an old apartment in the city and a new house in the country.
Movies with the best interiors: Plein Soleil, La Piscine, Roberte, Le Mépris, Salò.
Dream home: Casa Malaparte.