I’m always resistant to the idea that my studio has a specific style,” says AD100 talent Rafael de Cárdenas. “But Ulla definitely does.” He is referring to the fashion designer Ulla Johnson, whose brand of refined bohemian garments is now celebrating 22 years in business. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a new private showroom for her downtown Manhattan headquarters—a place for collaborators and VIP guests to connect. Ulla Johnson at her brand’s new showroom, designed by Rafael de Cárdenas. Pernille Loof Johnson, of course, is well known for her spaces, whether her exquisitely crafted boutiques or her blush-toned Brooklyn brownstone (AD, September 2019). “We have a well-articulated point of view, but we always want to evolve,” she says. “It’s important to challenge ourselves, work with new people, have different conversations.” Part of what drew her to de Cárdenas was how seamlessly his practice, whose clients include Cartier and Glossier, straddles commercial and residential projects. “He’s uniquely well positioned to know how those things can speak to each other. From the beginning of our conversations it was like, How can we not work off the traditional model?” Handmade gold glass tiles line an accessories display; De Sede sofas, Tuareg rug. Pernille Loof The answer becomes clear upon entering the expansive loft, where a series of inviting lounges unfold. Pearlescent plaster creates what Johnson calls “cloudlike movement” across walls; expressive stone forms beams and displays; and hand-carved mahogany screens by Green River Project nimbly divide the reception area. “I wanted air for everything to breathe and express itself, but also moments of intimacy,” says Johnson. Adds de Cárdenas: “Ulla treats her business in a way that most people treat a home. It’s very personal to her.” ullajohnson.com
It's yet another cozy Sunday afternoon during quarantine, and Serena Williams is lounging in her newly decorated home office on Zoom with her big sister Venus. It’s just two months after the tennis titans went toe to toe at the Top Seed Open in Kentucky, which was their first time back on the court since the forced hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The world-famous pair, who have played many roles in each other’s lives in the 23 years since their first match against each other—best friends, former teammates, competitors, and longtime roommates—are giggling as they reflect on the five-year journey of collaborating on their greatest joint effort yet: designing Serena’s dream home. After co-owning a Palm Beach Gardens property where the Grand Slam duo lived together on and off since 1998, with Serena splitting her time between secondary homes from Bel-Air to Paris, she purchased a sprawling waterfront property of her own, with breathtaking views in a coveted enclave north of Miami, just minutes away from Venus and their parents. To help make the house ideal for her own family, naturally she turned to V Starr, Venus’s world-class design firm. A grouping of pendant lamps by Tom Dixon (brass) and Simon Legald for Normann Copenhagen (Glass) sets the tone in the dining room. Artwork by Serena Williams. Lelanie Foster The Sérénade Karaoke room features a bespoke neon sign designed by V Starr. Wall covering by Phillip Jeffries; custom Banquette and Fama chairs in a Brentano velvet. Lelanie Foster “I was moving away from Venus for the first time in my life, so I wanted it to be really meaningful,” Serena says. While mixing family with business can be risky, the secret to their success as siblings and creative collaborators is simple: “You have to know your lane. I’m really good at playing tennis; I’m not as good at interiors. But I was able to learn through just watching Venus.” As with any other client, Venus says, her priority was catering to Serena’s vision—which did a complete 180 during the design process. After she purchased the 14,500-square-foot Spanish Mediterranean–style home, Serena’s traditional tastes suddenly felt out of step with this new phase of life. She credits her love of modern art and technology for ushering in a more modern, minimalist aesthetic. Then, of course, there was the burgeoning romance with tech tycoon Alexis Ohanian. The high-profile couple had only recently begun dating just after Serena embarked upon this massive real estate project, but Sonya Haffey, principal of V Starr, says Serena’s future family goals were an integral part of the design plans all along. Last July—after three years, including a gut renovation—Serena finally moved into the completely reimagined, ultra-modern, intracoastal property with a husband and toddler in tow. As the old adage goes, “If you build it, they will come.” Though, they all maintain, it was mostly Serena’s singular imagination—with guidance from V Starr—that spearheaded the design. “We had just met,” Serena says regarding Ohanian. “And I wasn’t going to be like, ‘Hey, let’s do this together.’ That would have been really weird for him,” she says with a chuckle. “Yeah. That would’ve been kind of creepy,” Venus chimes in. While Ohanian played the easygoing, supporting role to Serena’s more hands-on approach, one space the doting dad took the lead on perfecting was their three-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Both parents agree the pièce de résistance of their entire home is Olympia’s pink custom-designed castle bed complete with a built-in slide and an equally spectacular, one-of-a-kind chandelier created by blown-glass artist Josh Fradis. Indeed, it is positively fit for a princess. “She goes down the slide every night while we’re thinking, Man, we shouldn’t have done that, because now at bedtime, she just wants to slide,” Serena admits. “But whatever makes her happy makes me happy.” While Olympia’s room is decidedly the most extravagant space in the house, Serena insisted on exercising a bit more restraint in other areas. The marriage of sleek, clean lines and high-end features with warm woods and casual touches that complement Serena’s laid-back vibe resulted in a cohesive visual narrative that embodies Serena’s newly evolved design aesthetic, which Haffey calls “livable luxury,” adding that the client was a well of creativity, serving up references from hotels she’s stayed at all over the world.
When Gino Circiello, Guy Avventuriero, and Emilio Torre opened Gino of Capri, an Italian restaurant on New York City’s Lexington Avenue, in 1945, Circiello asked his friend Valentino Crescenzi to design something dashing for the walls. The results: 314 leaping zebras set against spaghetti-sauce red. “I chose it because I love to hunt,” Circiello later told The New York Times about the pattern, which was also punctuated by teeny, tiny flying arrows. “And it is something that people will remember.” Scalamandré’s Zebras Wallpaper in a Newton, Massachusetts, powder room by Liz Caan. Photo by Joe St. Pierre. Joe St.Pierre Photography A Tulsa bungalow by Bailey Austin Design. Photo by Alyssa Rosenheck Alyssa Rosenheck Photography, LLC It worked. The zebras became the restaurant’s hallmark until a fire ravaged the place in 1973. Gino’s wasn’t Gino’s without the zebras, so Circiello turned to artist and designer Flora Scalamandré, cofounder with husband Franco of their namesake fabric-and-wallpaper company. She fastidiously redrew the zebras and cut new screens, creating a spitting image of Crescenzi’s original. Well, almost—at some point in the printing process, a stripe was left off the smaller zebra’s rump.Nobody noticed until the pattern, straightforwardly known as Zebras, was back on the walls, so it was decided to leave it as is—another charming detail of a place where Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, and Barbra Streisand might have slurped spaghetti next to everyday New Yorkers. Zebras in Serengeti Green Zebras in Denim Circiello died in 2001, and his legendary restaurant was shuttered nine years later due in large part to an exorbitant rent increase (it was replaced by a cupcake shop). But the zebras, it turns out, had legs of their own. They appeared in films (Woody Allen’s 1995 Mighty Aphrodite, Wes Anderson’s 2001 The Royal Tenenbaums) and interiors around the world. Now printed in a range of hues on paper, fabric, grass cloth, and, most recently, peel-and-stick NuWallpaper, Zebras remains a best seller at Scalamandré (the missing stripe is back). People love it for the same reason they loved Gino’s—it’s a tried-and-true classic. scalamandre.com —Hannah Martin
As coastal resiliency takes on new urgency, updating urban shores will require a total shift in thought. “The water is not just there to be looked at,” says Kate Orff of SCAPE. “We’re trying to expose water as a healthy ecosystem.” In lieu of vertical bulkheads, which treat the harbor like a bathtub set to overflow, SCAPE hopes to integrate the water and promote vegetation—whether in Greenpoint, with a swath of concrete tidal basins, or off the coast of Staten Island, with a series of Living Breakwaters (part storm-surge protection, part oyster restoration). “Ours is a layered approach: breaking down wave action, dissipating it with intertidal units, and increasing people’s perception of the water’s edge as a dynamic space,” says Orff. Also important, Susannah C. Drake of DLANDstudio emphasizes, is the creation of infrastructure that absorbs and manages stormwater, preventing com-bined sewer overflow. The 2020 Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards winner’s modular Sponge Park, a pilot for which can be found on the Gowanus Canal, uses a system of plants and engineered soil to filter and contain runoff water in the event of heavy rain. “Plants and microorganisms in the soil can clean pollution,” says Drake, who estimates the pilot can absorb two million gallons of stormwater a year. Hunter’s Point South Park in Queens, by Weiss/Manfredi in collaboration with Arup and SWA/Balsley. Albert Vecerka Living Breakwaters was one of seven projects funded by Rebuild by Design, the competition launched by President Obama after Hurricane Sandy to plan for climate uncertainties. In New York, other competition winners included The BIG U, Bjarke Ingels’s proposal to protect Lower Manhattan, and the OLIN-designed Hunts Point Lifelines—flood protection for the city’s largest food hub, in the South Bronx, which remains vulnerable to storms. All throughout the city, in fact, the future of the waterfront hangs precariously in the balance. In Queens, for example, a consortium of developers controls the 28-acre site that Amazon abandoned in 2019, while at East River Park, plans for a berm were scrapped, over outcry from local activists, in favor of an elevated scheme that would disrupt community access but obviate the need for highway shutdowns. Given that outdoor dining and pedestrian streets have successfully reclaimed precious space from the grips of the automobile, it’s tempting to imagine a future unencumbered by cars. “A connected waterfront would be a dream,” says Weiss, envisioning uninterrupted bike rides borough to borough. New Yorkers can think big, right? They always do.