At Philippe Starck's latest Taschen store, a loft space in New York, bookshelves make way for murals by Beatriz Milhazes
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Irreverent, trendsetting, prolific.
Those traits are shared in heaping doses by Taschen and Philippe Starck, which is why the saucy German publisher and the bad-boy French designer make such an electric pair. The cover of Starck's own Taschen-published monograph shows him shirtless and defiant—with his head on backward. Now, having whipped up Taschen bookshops in Paris and Los Angeles, the firm known simply as Starck has moved on to New York for number three.
The 2,700-square-foot two-level space is surprisingly straightforward. Compared with the dark woods, organic squiggles, and lavish flourishes of the earlier Taschen interiors, this one is noticeably cooler, sparer, and, well, more New York. But anyone reading that as contextualism would be making a mistake. "I never try to make New York in New York, Tokyo in Tokyo, or Paris in Paris," the designer says with signature superabundance.
Starck's style and Taschen's business have actually evolved in opposite directions over the course of the three projects. Back when the earlier stores were on the boards, the publisher was known for cheap-and-cheerful books that, to Starck's way of thinking, called for a "paradox between their prices and the shops' luxe." But with such recent titles as Goat, a 75-pound Muhammad Ali tribute—the $12,500 special edition comes with a Jeff Koons sculpture-cum-stand—Taschen inspired in Starck an art-world logic: Precious objects would be displayed with an economy of means.
In other words, he says, "The New York shop is more like a gallery." Its SoHo neighborhood was, of course, once a gallery hub, and Starck's meticulously raw sensibility and humble materials channel that gone-but-not-forgotten past. Matters were helped by the existing concrete sidewalls—a little patching and sealing, and they were ready to go. The blond pear-wood veneer on the bookcases is meant to evoke plywood, while their trumpet bases of polished concrete rise seamlessly from the floor. "Everything is the minimum, minimum, minimum," Starck says, "to give primacy to the site-specific artwork."
Or more like artwork, artwork, artwork. Beatriz Milhazes's skater-pop graphics wrap the interior like a psychedelic landscape. Printed on canvases approximately 12 feet tall, the murals were personally commissioned by Benedikt Taschen, who began collecting Milhazes's work 10 years ago. "Her South American sense of vibrant color, rhythm, and mythology is a perfect fit for the optimism of this store—and a perfect representation of the Taschen philosophy," he says. "Variety is the spice of life." A counterpoint to the visual cacophony, the ceiling's monochrome grid of acoustical tile also serves as a barrier against real noise.
If Starck declares his only style to be "freedom and fantasy" or "my thinking, my philosophy," then it's completely feasible that his creative grab bag might hold both Brazilian contemporary art and references to Scandinavian university libraries of the mid-20th century. "I love this feeling of a place for intelligence and knowledge," he says. A vintage Chieftain chair by Finn Juhl and Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen flesh out the analogy.
The Egg chair sits in the skylit rear of the shop, where a concrete stair leads down to a small space for periodic exhibitions including a recent one devoted to photographs by Interior Design Hall of Fame member Julius Shulman. Bracketed by two 20-foot-tall concrete slabs, like giant bookends, the small space manages to contain a 1970's Paco Rabanne cocktail table and a set of 1958 Joaquim Tenreiro seating, armchairs and a settee. Like all the store's vintage furnishings, these were handpicked by Benedikt Taschen himself.
Separated from the gallery by glass, the office offers the only flashbacks to Starck's previous Taschen interiors: a twisting cast-bronze structural column and matching door handle. Besides that motif and Milhazes's overscale swirls on the back wall, the space is "very simple," Starck says—furnished with little more than a conference table by Jean Nouvel and task chairs by Charles and Ray Eames.
Is the mercurial virtuoso edging toward minimalism? "No," he says. "I create what I want, when I want." Tomorrow that will, undoubtedly, be something else.
PROJECT ARCHITECT: BRUNO BORRIONE. CHAIRS, TABLE (OFFICE): HERMAN MILLER. LINEAR FIXTURES: FLOS. CEILING FIXTURES (SALES FLOOR): ZUMTOBEL LIGHTING. RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES: OSRAM SYLVANIA. CEILING TILE: TECTUM. PAINT: BENJAMIN MOORE & CO. MILLWORK: LA BRUNA INDUSTRIES. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: 3D LABORATORIES.