Designer of the Month - December - Rafael de CÁrdenas

1 December 2008

Rafael De Cardenas

Native New Yorker, Rafael de Cárdenas began his design career in fashion. After graduating from The Rhode Island School of Design, he took a job at Calvin Klein, working for three years as a designer for the men’s collection. Realizing he was more interested in architecture and interior design, he began classes at Columbia University, later transferring to UCLA where he received a master’s degree in architecture in 2002. His first project following graduation was working with the architect Greg Lynn 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 then began work in the New York offices of special effects production house Imaginary Forces. As a creative director 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 2004, 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 and private residences in London, Chicago, New York, and The Hamptons. His work has been featured in Elle Décor, Surface, Paper, Metropolis, CITY, The New York Observer, Women’s Wear Daily, and The New York Times.

Frette Q&A

What was the design approach for the room featuring the upholstered wall panel and the gilded side tables?

I like spaces that feel definitively contemporary but still index historical, traditional techniques. We experiment with traditional upholstery techniques often to be used in new ways that feel contemporary and add an element of surprise. I have been playing around with nail heads as a decorative tool in a few projects lately. So we integrated the headboard into the wall and upholstered it in the diamond pattern with bright shiny chrome nail heads to add a bit of glamour to the room.

Does fashion influence your commercial and residential designs?

Fashion influences me very much. It was my first career and I like the pace at which it operates. Keeping that in mind, I like for my own projects to be very contemporary and also have the ability to be easily and constantly updated and refreshed to keep up with the times.

Is your use of color serious or playful?

I think color is serious business; something that affects our emotions as much as color does is not to be taken so lightly. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to use color as a vehicle for humor, sometimes I do.

You have designed urban fashion stores such as Ubiq and restaurants like The Charles that cater to hipsters and patrons on the cutting edge of all that is cool. Describe your approach.

I work with brands and what they want to emulate. It is often to captivate a young market in order to create a loyal brand following as they age. But again, people hardly age anymore. Especially in cities like New York, where so many people are youthful in part by being active participants in the culture around them.

Do you include historic objects and patterns in your designs?

I always like to use historical objects, patterns and curiosities. I like spaces that are like a Wunderkammer, that suggest more than being solely tasteful.

Who or what has influenced your work?

There are too many to list, but a few classics are the collaborations between Schiaparelli and Cocteau as well as Philip Johnson and Charles James’s work on the de Menil residence. The Sir John Soane House in London is always a favorite.

What excites you about the creative process?

To incorporate as much of the surrounding culture as possible in my work.