The Brooklyn Designer Who Finds Beauty in Austerity

For interior designer Loren Daye, stripping a space back to its most essential elements is an aesthetic practice to live by.

Article by Kurt Soller

In Daye’s living area, a 1950s Karl Springer chair, an artist’s table from Kyoto, a 1970s Bernard Govin Cube chair for Saporiti and a side table Daye commissioned from Tshidi Matale. Photography by Chris Mottalini

From the beginning, Brooklyn-based interior designer Loren Daye appreciated the invisible. “I love anonymity and seeing without being seen,” she says. “The door you don’t notice until it’s open, the building you never realised was there, the quiet person at the party.” Growing up in Bowling Green, Ohio, she often hung out in her parents’ closets. After her father, a professor of Buddhist philosophy, was hired by the University of East Anglia, the family moved to its concrete campus in Norwich, England, where, in the attic of their new home, Daye transformed a giant cupboard into a reading room. From there, she taught herself about Denys Lasdun, the Brutalist English architect who in the 1960s designed the iconic, tiered postwar structures that surrounded their apartment.

Back then, Daye was mesmerised by the legend of “Brigadoon,” a 1947 Broadway musical and 1954 Gene Kelly movie about a mythical village in the Scottish Highlands that could only be glimpsed and visited by outsiders once every hundred years. So it’s fitting that, today, the 46-year-old designer’s studio is hidden in plain sight on a quiet street in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, which until the mid-1940s had been the borough’s shoe-manufacturing district. More recently, the ivy-covered, two-story, six-unit brick building where Daye has a 50-square-metre live-work space has welcomed a rotating cast of furniture builders, decorators and artisans, including the owner of the Callidus Guild, which installs bespoke wallpaper and other surface finishes for some of the world’s top architects.

The building conjures a certain nostalgia for a New York when craftspeople worked side by side in loftlike environments with few finishes and faulty heating. Since the mid-1980s, it’s been owned by the local artist Tom Clancy, who fixed up the studios and recruited makers for them, then set up a shared garden in the back, decorated with leveled-off milk crates and wisteria, where the residents can socialise.

A mix of chairs — a pair by Fabricius & Kastholm in chrome and wicker, one from Loren Daye’s grandmother in black rattan and a fourth, from the Victorian era circa 1900 — surround a goatskin-and-resin dining table. The amaranth floral arrangement is by Asmite, and the lamp is George Kovacs, from the 1970s. Photography by Chris Mottalini.

This sense of community, with its rules and structure — Clancy only allows specific shades of brown and white paint throughout the building — is what drew Daye to the space in 2009, a few years after she’d graduated from the interior design master’s program at nearby Pratt Institute. Her career took off: first with the Manhattan-based firm Roman and Williams, where she learned to create cafes, lobbies and other public spaces both sumptuous and pragmatic, and then with the Ace Hotel Group, where she became the company’s creative director and head of interiors. For much of the past decade she travelled nonstop, and was thus always searching for ways to restore order to her life: Every day, for instance, she wore a uniform, one of 13 cotton poplin dresses in black, navy or white, sewn by the London patternmaker Sophie McGinn. But by 2018, not long before Pratt asked her to teach in its graduate programme, Daye had decided to forgo “the extreme austerity of that era,” broadening her wardrobe and reclaiming the studio that she had relinquished in 2011 (by coincidence, it had recently been vacated) — as well as relaunching her own firm, LoveIsEnough, which she’d put on hiatus.

A custom table designed by Daye and Samantha Mink for Sister City New York beside a bed in Matouk linens and a vintage hand-knotted lace bedspread. Photography by Chris Mottalini

Today, she collaborates with a small group of like-minded designers and artisans on restaurants, residences and other projects that are united both by their efficiency — all spare furnishings, hand-brushed plaster walls, original stone masonry and an almost complete disavowal of painted, flat drywall — and their understated beauty: Brooklyn’s Bar Bête, which seems to glow like a lantern on a corner in Cobble Hill, is clad in forest green-coloured wood that contrasts against the oak dining chairs and marble tables; the Ducie Street Warehouse in Manchester, England, combines a cosy bar, lounge, restaurant, cinema and hotel under one massive roof, with exposed galvanised ductwork and imposing steel columns that remind visitors of the building’s industrial history. Her firm’s name is taken from the title of William Morris’s 1872 poem and morality play, but can double as a reference to “Brigadoon,” where the only thing keeping the villagers in their mirage of a town is their affection for it. “Love is enough” is also a guiding mandate for the firm’s work: “It’s this idea of being the glue that holds this space in the world that you can’t see,” Daye explains. She says the biggest compliment one might give her and her colleagues’ work is “not noticing the design, or feeling like it was left over or always like that.”

In the garden, a gravel path lined with ivy and wisteria. Photography by Chris Mottalini.
Daye in the shared garden behind the building. Photography by Chris Mottalini.

That said, her recently reconfigured Brooklyn space is perhaps the best manifestation of Daye’s subtle touch. Situated half underground, in the middle of the building’s first floor, it’s a home reduced to its barest elements: a bed with a lace coverlet; a corner kitchenette with a shop sink; a closet area with a few sweaters and a pair of free weights; a big oval table with mismatched vintage chairs and an oversized lamp; two windows through which afternoon shadows filter onto the eight-and-a-half-foot-high whitewashed brick, rock and plaster walls, their overlapping ridges combed in collaboration with Yolande Milan Batteau, principal of the Callidus Guild. Within the space, one feels a certain fuzziness (which Daye calls, alternatively, “blurriness” or “fogginess”) caused as much by the ghostly palette and layered textured finishes — from the mud-colored terry-cloth upholstery on the Karl Springer armchair to the rug made of woven scrap leather to the pair of side tables in rough concrete that she commissioned from her friend Tshidi Matale, a New York-based artist — as by the crepuscular light, which glints off the aluminum-leaf front door and rounded edges of the resin-and-goatskin table. “When a space is quiet like this, with no starkness or intensity, only the rhythm of its repetition, I feel it’s camouflaged in some way,” Daye says. “The composition of the elements creates a paradox for me of incredible discipline and tenderheartedness.”

What some might see as severity or inhospitality is to its occupant a reminder to live and design deliberately. Not only does everything in the room necessarily have its place but so, too, does every action, due to the inherent challenges presented by, say, a crooked plastic sink or the communal bathroom. “OK, so what are the most essential components of cooking?” Daye asks, glancing at her painted plywood shelving above the dripping faucet. “What are the most essential components of sleeping? What are the comforts I need? And then let’s strip away everything else.” Just like “Brigadoon,” as well as the rooms she creates for herself and for clients, it’s about disappearing — here today, gone tomorrow. Who among us can’t find comfort in that?

A version of this article appears in print in our third edition, Page 40 of T Australia with the headline:
‘The Disappearing Place’
Order a copy | Subscribe

The Designer Who Gives Her Pieces Minds of Their Own

Elizabeth Garouste’s richly layered interiors and fantastical furniture are as appealing now as they were when she first caught Paris’ attention in the ’80s.

Article by Hilary Moss

The furniture designer and artist Elizabeth Garouste photographed at her home in Paris’s 11th Arrondissement. (Photography by Matthew Avignone)

As a girl, the furniture designer and artist Elizabeth Garouste had a profound fear of the furnishings and objects in her home, in Paris’s Montparnasse neighborhood. “I always thought that things around the house would furtively move themselves, that they had their own souls,” she says in her native French. Garouste was born into a Jewish family in 1946, just after World War II ended, and had a grandmother who didn’t mince words when it came to describing the recent atrocities. “I transferred a kind of terror onto everything,” Garouste reflects, “and, really, I may have decided to make furniture as a means of taming those items that I grew up with.” Her primary aim for the pieces she now creates is to endow each with a buoyant personality.

Walking through Garouste’s latest collection at Ralph Pucci’s Manhattan gallery feels like making the rounds at the best kind of party. Her furniture, distinctive and indeed animated, is arranged into intimate vignettes: A floor lamp made from gilded wrought iron, its milky blue glass globe supported by three bent legs, mingles with a patinated iron armoire enclosed in a gilded iron exoskeleton with more than two dozen oversize turquoise and navy blue ceramic disks appended to its doors. A rounded burgundy sofa and teal, egg-shaped armchair — finished with plaid cushions and rough, triangular bronze legs — sit in conversation with an oval coffee table cut from patinated iron and hoisted by trapezoidal legs, its surface inlaid with black and beige mosaic tiles that fall into concentric circles and wavy lines. Against a wall hangs a pair of bronze sconces shaped like ancient Greek theatre masks. The centrepiece, though, is a lone and exaggeratedly curved, almost Seussian chair swing — its back and seat upholstered in black-and-azure striped fabric, its sides in red-orange and cyan stripes — suspended from the ceiling by wrought-iron chains.

Garouste’s living room walls are lined with works made by her husband, her brother and the designer herself — as well as a lithograph by Picasso. (Photography by Matthew Avignone)
On a side table, a pair of pink candles offsets an arrangement of knickknacks and dried flowers. (Photography by Matthew Avignone)

She may be known for combining dissimilar materials and techniques, often within a single work, but Garouste thinks about more than contrast. Every item has its own story: The plaid-accented sofa and armchair, for example, are meant to evoke a buttoned-up British sensibility, while the swing conjures the playfulness of childhood; the floor lamp hints at weightlessness, its globe resembling a floating soap bubble or balloon. As Pucci says, “This work is her own world.”

From birth, Garouste has been surrounded by creative people. Her parents, Salomon and Blima Rochline, owned a fashionable shoe store called Tilbury in Saint-Germain-des-Prés; her younger brother, David, went on to become a multifaceted artist, known in particular as an actor and set designer, after gaining recognition in the Parisian underground scene of the 1970s and ’80s. (In a 2015 obituary, his longtime friend, the playwright and director Jean-Michel Ribes, described him somewhere in between Jean Cocteau and Andy Warhol.) In high school, she met Gérard Garouste, whom she would marry in 1970 and who later became a noted painter and sculptor; for university, she studied interior design at the École Camondo, where she cultivated a group of companions that included the architect and designer Philippe Starck and the fashion journalist François Baudot. “I’m happy that I came of age when I did,” Garouste says, “because it was an interesting and complex period. In France, the postwar era was called Les Trente Glorieuses, the 30 years of rebuilding economically and finally achieving peace. And then, of course, there was May ’68, which called into question all of the traditional values.”

At left, a metal floor lamp that Garouste created a few years ago in Gérard's workshop; at center, a Garouste and Bonetti side table. (Photography by Matthew Avignone.)

After college, she spent nearly a decade designing footwear at Tilbury and also created costumes for Ribes’s early productions. But she didn’t try her hand at interiors until 1980, when Gérard asked her and Mattia Bonetti, a Swiss-born photographer and stylist, to help him with the décor for Le Privilège, the smaller club in the basement of Le Palace, often referred to as the Studio 54 of Paris. Gérard had been working on these kinds of projects “to make a living,” she says. “He enjoyed it, of course, but this was really what I’d dreamed of doing.” She and Bonetti hung primitive terra-cotta masks on the walls, dipped fabric in plaster and wrapped it around columns and lined the tables with Moorish-inspired velvet and gilded-wood chairs. Reporting for Le Monde on the opening of Le Privilège four decades ago, Frédéric Edelmann wrote, “One either loves or hates the Palace. One talks about it, in any case” — and so Garouste and Bonetti, too, became subjects of conversation.

The collaboration sparked a lengthy partnership, and Garouste and Bonetti developed a sought-after aesthetic defined by their pieces’ rebelliousness, use of unexpected (and unrefined) materials and delicate surrealist twists. The duo’s 1981 Barbare chair — which comprises a foal’s hide stretched across a rustic, throne-like, wrought-iron frame — earned them the nickname “the New Barbarians.” They made rounded metallic dressers with irregularly placed drawers and handles, sofas that ran the gamut from shapely and inviting to pared-back and studded and gilded candlesticks that looked like ancient artifacts. In 1987, Garouste and Bonetti brought their touch to Christian Lacroix’s new couture salon (they also designed all of his boutiques), a commission for which they created graphic curtains from off-white linen and black velour and stately chairs with spindly black wrought-iron frames that culminated in insect-like antennae. “The shapes and the colours were luxurious, but the materials themselves weren’t,” Garouste says. “It was quite atypical for a couture salon.”

In 2002, Garouste split from Bonetti; after half a lifetime defining herself, or being defined, in relationship to her brother, her husband or her design partner, “I had to exist on my own terms,” she says, which, she’s found, comes with a lot of freedom. She keeps a home in Paris’s 11th Arrondissement and spends long weekends at her and Gérard’s country house, a 17th-century chateau in Marcilly-sur-Eure, in Normandy (Gérard lives there full time). She has studios in both places, where she works on limited-edition pieces — like those at Ralph Pucci — or commissions for private clients. She likes to garden and read (she finishes a book per week and recently devoured “The Notebook,” “The Proof” and “The Third Lie,” a trilogy by the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof) and has four grandchildren; she is dedicated to La Source, the organization founded by Gérard in 1991 that brings art programs to children across France who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them.

Garouste has also used the last two decades to further develop her more personal artistic practice. She makes intricate line drawings of fanciful creatures — many of which appear to riff on mythological figures — and surrealist papier-mâché sculptures, covered in detailed faces, abstract shapes and forms found in nature. At Gérard’s urging, she has started to exhibit some of these works. Part of the appeal of these projects is, she says, that she can accomplish them on her own, whereas her furniture relies on a certain number of craftsmen. “I don’t have to think about whether these things are functional, or usable,” she adds. “I don’t need to worry about where in a space they’ll go. It’s imagination for imagination’s sake.”