Murano glass vases designed by the Danish jeweller Sophie Bille Brahe take their cues from the spiral motifs and freshwater pearls she uses in her jewellery. Photograph by Casper Sejersen.
The Danish jeweller Sophie Bille Brahe is known for her delicate designs featuring diamonds and pearls set in inventive combinations that often seem to float above the body. Now she’s lending her diaphanous aesthetic to glass, working with craftspeople on the island of Murano, in Venice, to create a 10-piece collection of limited-edition vases launching Oct. 25. Spherical iridescent vases in pink and cream recall the freshwater pearls Bille Brahe uses in her jewellery designs, while others reference spiralling shell shapes, a motif she has returned to frequently, most memorably in a row of graduating diamonds for her Escargot ring.
Bille Brahe jokes that it took all her powers of diplomacy to coax the Venetian artisans into reviving the glazes and techniques she had come across while inspecting archival designs in the family-run Venice workshop where the pieces were ultimately made. “The artisans kept blowing these shapes that were super old-school Murano, which is lovely, but it’s just not me,” she recalls. It took her four days, for instance, to persuade a glassblower to try a specific shade of gumdrop pink. “It reminded me of when I trained as a goldsmith. There are rules, you have to follow the rules,” she says. “When they knew that I understood the rules, then they were ready to change.” Next on her list? “I would love to do chandeliers.” From $315,sophiebillebrahe.com.
Left: one of the cinematic vignettes created by Dimore Studio with carpets designed by Pierre Frey. Right: a detail of one of the Dimore Studio x Pierre Frey carpets, Emblem. Photograph by Stephanie Bourgeois.
Lines formed around the block during Milan Design Week in April for the cinematic vignettes created by Dimore Studio, the design firm known for its layered interiors, which cleverly incorporate historical references. Once patient visitors got inside Dimore’s Brera headquarters and gallery, they were invited to peer through holes in the wall to see rooms including a psychiatrist’s office, a collector’s pied-à-terre and a seaside apartment. Dimore collaborated with the French fabric house Pierre Frey to make carpets for the installation, which are now available to purchase. There are five designs in total: Broadlooms, in warm shades of gold and bronze, set a louche, ’70s-inspired mood, while the scale of the geometric or stylised floral motifs provide just the right amount of texture for wall-to-wall carpet or, if you’re as bold as the Dimore designers, the walls themselves. Price on request,pierrefrey.com.
In a new space off an alleyway in San Miguel de Allende, the designer Daniel Valero showcases the pieces he makes in collaboration with Mexican artisans. Photograph Pepe Molina.
Last month, the architect and designer Daniel Valero opened a showroom off an alleyway in San Miguel de Allende’s Centro neighborhood, filling it with exuberant pieces inspired by Mexico’s artisans and natural surroundings. A red triangular table, set with spiky ceramic bowls, sits under a bendy fuchsia wicker lamp. Born in Saltillo, Mexico, Valero studied architecture at Tecnológico de Monterrey and earned a master’s degree in textile design from the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris before founding his company, Mestiz, in 2015. When Valero collaborates with craftspeople, he adheres to their traditional techniques. “I try to use the same tools they have always used to create new things,” he says. Mestiz’s wooden pieces are made in San Miguel, while the ceramics are created in nearby Dolores and wool rugs are woven in his hometown. They are open editions, meaning he will make these pieces indefinitely, unlike his unique and closed-edition works sold through AGO Projects, a design gallery in Mexico City. The showroom is open by appointment, and lucky visitors might also get a glance at Valero’s equally colorful studio, located in the same alleyway. From $65 for a small ceramic bowl,mestiz.mx.
“Horses were my first love, even before jewellery,” says the designer Irene Neuwirth. “I’ve always loved incorporating animals into my work, so it was a natural choice for this collaboration.” Photograph courtesy of The Ingalls.
Irene Neuwirth, the jewellery designer known for her many-coloured baubles and custom pet portraits, debuted a limited run of equine plates and bowls this past weekend at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, N.Y. The collection was made in partnership with the Los Angeles-based ceramist Anthony Dominici, also a TV showrunner and cousin to Neuwirth’s longtime boyfriend Phil Lord. Dominici took up ceramics about five years ago and makes everything by hand at his home studio, where he throws on a wheel and sculpts whimsical details such as tiny squirrels and snakes. After coming up with the idea during a New Year’s celebration, the two began trading sketches and paintings in March and landed on this first run of 16 one-of-a-kind place settings. In addition to carrots and portraits of Neuwirth’s horses, the plates and bowls feature themes from Neuwirth’s jewellery like gumballs (hers are typically carved from turquoise and opal) and botanical motifs. “I was drawn to the colour palette Irene creates,” says Dominici. “I tested all sorts of glazes and clays to try and match the lightness and translucency of her work.” From approximately $930, ireneneuwirth.com.
The maximalist Drawing Room at The Glenburn Penthouse, Kolkata.
Exploring a vibrant new city can be a grand adventure: strolling along unfamiliar streets, wandering through galleries and museums, letting the bright lights lure you out for after-dinner explorations. You can, however, have too much of a good thing, which is why the best city breaks include a tranquil place to sleep.
Kolkata: The Glenburn Penthouse
With their chaotic street life and colourful celebrations, snarled traffic and slums, India’s cities are not particularly relaxing places. Unless, of course, you check into the sky-high retreat that is The Glenburn Penthouse. The hotel, which has just nine rooms, sits high above the bustling streets of central Kolkata, with views across the sprawling parklands of the Maidan as well as the monumental Victoria Memorial. The talented kitchen team prepares afternoon teas as well as breakfasts and dinners (which can be served on the roof terrace), but the heart of the hotel is the lounge area, decorated with a delightfully unpredictable tropical flair: think wicker-back armchairs, parrot-print fabrics and extraordinary frescoes. glenburnpenthouse.com
New York: Aman New York
Fifth Avenue is known for many things, but tranquillity is not one of them. That has changed with the recent opening of Aman New York. Tucked into a glorious Beaux-Arts building, this all-suites retreat delivers an experience unlike any other Manhattan hotel, starting with lashings of space (love that ceiling height) and continuing with fireplaces in every suite, a sprawling green terrace and soundproofing that screens out the noise of the city. The sleekly minimalist interiors — drawing on Aman’s Asian pedigree, they feature design elements inspired by tatami mats and shoji screens — have a distinctly Zen vibe, while a visit to the three-storey spa, which has its own medi-wellness program, turbocharges the sense of release. Price no object? Then book yourself into one of the spa suites for a half- or full-day experience. Each comes complete with a double treatment room, a living/dining area with day bed and either a Moroccan-style hammam or east European-style banya.
Tokyo: Hoshinoya Tokyo
Shoes off, kimono on. That’s the dress code at Hoshinoya Tokyo, which offers a contemporary interpretation of a traditional ryokan, or Japanese inn, in the heart of the country’s most vibrant city. The rooms may be located in a high-rise tower next to Tokyo Station, but within this haven of old-school hospitality, ancient customs are given a modern twist. Rooms feature Western beds as well as tatami matting and bamboo cupboards; jersey kimonos are provided for guests to wear as they relax in their lofty haven. Try one of the cultural experiences on offer, from calligraphy to ikebana or a tea ceremony, for a deep dive into mindfulness. The imperial gardens across the road are the perfect place for an early-morning walk; round off the day with a soak in the rooftop onsen and watch the lights of Tokyo glitter before you.hoshinoya.com
Berlin: The Mandala Hotel
Don’t let the location fool you. The Mandala Hotel may be located right on bustling Potsdamer Platz, an easy walk from attractions including the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Philharmonie concert hall, but everything about this hotel has been designed to create a cocoon of calm, from the decor — think soft shades of grey and taupe — to the generously-sized apartment-style accommodations. Guests are welcome to use the sauna or steam room at the onsite ONO spa — why not treat yourself to a massage, too? — but perhaps the most relaxing corner of the hotel is its restaurant. The two-Michelin-starred Facil, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and is surrounded by swathes of greenery, does double duty as the hotel’s breakfast room and is a wonderfully serene place to start the day. themandala.de
Mexico City: La Valise
Sometimes it pays to think small. If you are looking for somewhere in the buzzing megalopolis of Mexico City where you can relax and exhale, a tiny boutique hotel on a tree-lined street in the hip Roma neighbourhood — home to some of the city’s best galleries, boutiques and bars — is the place to go. Tucked into a townhouse made of sculpted stone, La Valise has just three stylish, generously-sized rooms, but each one is an inviting retreat with its own signature feature: El Patio has a hammock and a swing, while the bed in La Terraza can be rolled out onto your terrace for a sleep beneath the stars. As you would expect from a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the staff go the extra mile, and room service is sourced from nearby Rosetta, one of the city’s best restaurants. lavalisecdmx.com
Bella Janssens (right) and, next to her, Dong-Ping Wong with friends and colleagues during the recent Food Mahjong Club tournament hosted by Wong’s architecture and design firm, Food New York. Photograph by David Chow.
The idea for an office mahjong league came unexpectedly to Bella Janssens, the director of the architectural design firm Food New York, which has collaborated with Virgil Abloh, Axel Vervoordt and Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art. During a flight from Amsterdam in 2021, as post-pandemic travel resumed, she felt inspired while watching “The Joy Luck Club,” the 1993 film adaptation of Amy Tan’s 1989 novel, wherein the intermingling stories of four Chinese women and their daughters unfold over rounds of the four-player, tile-based game.
Though it originated in China in the 19th century, mahjong has long been popular throughout Southeast Asia, Japan and America; it was brought stateside by a Standard Oil company representative returning from Shanghai in the 1920s. Janssens, who’s from the Netherlands but grew up between the United Kingdom and Singapore, decided she and her colleagues should start playing after meetings or during lunch in Food’s Chinatown office; eventually, those pickup games grew into an amateur-friendly mahjong tournament that the firm’s founding director, Dong-Ping Wong, 43, and Janssens, 34, have organised twice a year since late 2021. Wong, who was born and raised in San Diego, had a typical second-generation immigrant’s relationship to mahjong. (His parents are from Hong Kong.) “I played it once, probably with my grandparents and great-aunts, and my memory was that I won that game,” he says, “and only 30 years later did I realise they were probably just [messing] with me.”
The first Food Mahjong Club, in December 2021, was a scrappy affair. Wong and Janssens didn’t prepare much besides buying some mahjong sets, designing a logo and sending out invitations to friends and collaborators in the design, fashion and art worlds. By the third iteration, last September, the ad hoc gathering had become a ticketed event at a defunct dim sum parlor within the 88 East Broadway Mall that benefited the community-building nonprofit Welcome to Chinatown and drew some 150 people. “A lot of our work is trying to engage the public in some way,” says Wong, noting that “a dream project for the office would be to build out a community center in Chinatown.”
Here’s how the most recent tournament came together one weeknight in March, as a few dozen people gathered at Food’s headquarters to learn the game, compete, then socialise — and eat dim sum — once most of them had inevitably lost.
The hosts: Wong and Janssens have worked together for more than five years at Food New York, where Janssens handles operations and Wong leads design. After shepherding the game’s novices toward beginner tables and introducing acquaintances to one another, Wong served as the tournament’s M.C., counting down rounds (“Twenty seconds to choose a winner!”) and guiding those who advanced to their designated tables. Wong’s punctiliousness was a lesson learned from lingerers at the first Food Mahjong Club, when games went long over schedule. “Now I’m yelling at people to ‘get up!’ and ‘move over there!’ and ‘finish your game!’” he says with a laugh.
The rules: This tournament began with 32 players. After a quarter- and semifinal round, the remaining four players (the creative strategist Brendan Chareoncharutkun, the producer Wei-Li Wang, the casting director Najia Li Saad and — completely coincidentally — this writer), played for a prize of a new mahjong set, which ultimately went to Wang. Food Mahjong Club plays a Cantonese version of the game, in which players begin with 13 tiles and win by completing a 14-tile hand of four three-tile sets (called melds, similar to hands in poker) and one pair called eyes. Cantonese style is regarded as the easiest for beginners, as opposed to, say, Taiwanese style, which requires winning with a 16-tile hand and has more complicated scoring conventions. For nonspeakers, Wong and Janssens also designed cards that translated the Chinese symbols for numerical characters and necessary vocabulary: pong when a player nabs three of a kind, or tingpai when they’re one tile away from victory (the Mandarin equivalent of “uno”).
The venue: The game took place at Food’s headquarters off Chatham Square, a ninth-floor studio that fits only six square tables, with just enough space to cram in extra stools for spectators, a buffet for food and drink and some standing room for those more focused on industry gossip. Wong and Janssens set the mood with red lights that evoked a Wong Kar-wai film (or an “underground parlour,” as Wong says), though the exact shade took trial and error. “The lights were sort of orangy and blue before we switched to red and pink, which helped it look coherent,” Janssens says. “You couldn’t tell there was a messy architectural office behind you.”
The food and drink: The caterer Jamie Cheung of Edible Affairs organised a spread based on Hong Kong-style street food, with smaller bites and nongreasy finger fare (the better to eat while drawing tiles), including har gow shrimp dumplings, curry fish balls and tea eggs. The centrepiece was a croquembouche made not of profiteroles but of shoutao (longevity peach buns filled with lotus paste, typically eaten during birthday celebrations for elders). In keeping with the evening’s lychee martinis — the club’s signature drink — Cheung also served lychee-filled goji berry and chrysanthemum agar-agar jellies in the shape of mahjong tiles.
The music: Wong created a Spotify playlist inspired by the Hong Kong pop singer Sammi Cheng’s 1995 song “Du Jiang Shi Chang” (“獨家試唱”), which became the club’s anthem after Wong and Janssens were listening to a track list that the Chinatown community organizer Rochelle Kwan curated for the streaming radio station NTS. Wong’s playlist’s mostly mid-tempo tracks — Cantopop hits from the 1990s and 2000s by Gigi Leung, Faye Wong and Ekin Cheung — struck the mainly 30- and 40-something attendees with a wave of Chinese-inflected nostalgia. “A few told us they felt almost emotional,” Janssens says.
The equipment: While some Chinese Americans are lucky enough to play with vintage resin mahjong sets inherited from their parents (which are actually similar to versions you can find on Amazon), Wong and Janssens had to get creative, given the number of tiles required. They borrowed sets from friends and family; Wong, asking his parents to lend him theirs, discovered an oversize set his grandparents owned decades earlier in Hong Kong (but they didn’t send it from San Diego). The co-hosts also bought new sets from Walmart and Yellow Mountain Imports: glittery champagne versions and emerald ones that resemble pandan jellies. Slightly controversial to the purists were the American sets, which have numerals printed on tiles featuring Chinese characters, so non-Chinese speakers don’t have to guess, for instance, whether a character means five or six.
The architectural touch: Wong says that although some mahjong players forgo them, pushers — the ruler-like sticks used not just to organise the tiles into straight lines but also to count them — are essential. Depending on the style of mahjong, the pushers are the length of 13 or 16 tiles lined up side by side; because preferences differ, the implements often need to be purchased separately. Instead, some employees at Food New York crafted their own out of balsa wood, the lightweight material used for design maquettes. “We make a lot of models in the office,” Wong says, “so that was easy.”