Rafael de Cárdenas has been a stalwart on the scene of architecture and design since founding his eponymous firm in 2006. His work as designer and creative director for both private clients and global fashion, art, and culture brands has garnered international renown for its use of material, form, space, and color. Across many typologies—residential, retail, hospitality, workplace—his work continually and delightfully delivers the unexpected through pointed curation and thoughtful detailing. So, it is no surprise that, when tasked with creating his first commercially available collection for American furnishings retailer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (MG + BW), de Cárdenas spared no opportunity for customization or quirk.
AN Interior chatted with de Cárdenas to learn more about the process behind attaining the collection’s unique balance of bold yet subdued elegance and what stepping into the commercial market means for his career.
Sophie Aliece Hollis: How long have you been working on this collection with MG + BW?
Rafael de Cárdenas: The whole process took about 18 months. It began with more formally distinct phases and then for the past six months we had more informal one-on-one Zooms or FaceTimes with key members of the MG + BW production teams.
SAH: Can you speak to some of the inspirations for this collection?
RdC: Our inspiration comes from everything… and everywhere… all at once. (Couldn’t resist—it’s my favorite movie.) We looked at some of our heroes who broke the mold—Philippe Starck, Olivier Mourgue, Pierre Paulin, Dakota Jackson—and others who massaged the vernacular, like Andrée Putman and Angelo Donghia.
We also looked at details we liked and wanted to include in the collection. Our main intent with this collection was for it to be accessible to a large audience with plenty of room for personalization through fabric choices. Some pieces have a bit more attitude than others, but overall, each item is meant to whisper its direction. We chose to produce and photograph the various upholstered pieces in multiple colorways and accessorized them differently in each case. The documentation is a cheat sheet of sorts for the MG + BW consumer to sample from a few different moods. For whatever reason, I also had Demi Moore’s apartment in St. Elmo’s Fire on my mind. It made a lasting impression on 10-year-old me.
SAH: This is a rather large collection: There are 19 pieces. Why such a large quantity? What was the greatest challenge in delivering such a vast and varied collection?
RdC: Many of the items are versions of an initial design i.e., dressers to nightstands, cocktail table to nesting tables, pouf to ottoman, etc. Our studio teases out design through production and reaction. We dive from our inspiration into quick 3D modeling, sketching, prototyping, etc. We produce quite a bit and quickly, then edit just as quickly. In short, our design process yields us volume from which we splice the successful aspects of various items into a new whole.
SAH: Do you have a favorite piece? If so, which one and why?
RdC: The Lotus Table. With its single, off-center leg, it defies its engineering. Its retail price is also quite a testament to MG + BW’s production capabilities.
Inversely, the Lily Pouf is the simplest piece, but it’s still expertly crafted by the awe-inspiring upholsterers at MG + BW in North Carolina. It can be upholstered in multiple fabrics and colors, providing a dynamism that we hope can be added to any space effortlessly.
SAH: Your interior design and architecture projects often play with the juxtaposition of bold and contrasting materials. Can you talk about how that’s at play within this collection? Which materials did you enjoy working with the most in the design of this line?
RdC: My interest in contrast exists in this collection, though perhaps in a softer way. The case pieces are all primarily executed in wood with precise nickel detailing that makes them slightly more buttoned up and crisp. It is that crispness we liked for the case-pieces which was then offset by the soft voluptuousness of the upholstered pieces.
SAH: What does having your designs available to a wider, commercial market mean to you?
RdC: This is our first widely available furniture collection; we’ve only worked on commissioned pieces until now. It’s both exciting and very humbling, but it also allows us to engage with wider audiences and produce aspirational items that can be endlessly interpreted. I can’t stress the humbling part enough. I certainly never expected this!