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Publication Date: 2011-10-24

Behind the Design

Q&A with Evan Lobel of Lobel Modern

If gallery owner and designer Evan Lobel had his way, more interiors would be bold,1980s-inspired, and full of mixed metals and big-personality furniture. “I find ordinary boring,” he says. Lobel opened his renowned Lobel Modern gallery in Manhattan in 1988, showcasing eye-catching furnishings, lighting, and art from the ’40s through the ’80s. In recent years, he’s begun doing more interior design work and creating his own line of furniture (Lobel Originals)—splurge-worthy, statement pieces made with luxe materials like lacquered goatskin, mother of pearl, and Macassar ebony.

Q: You are widely recognized as the go-to dealer for pieces by Karl Springer, a designer known for cladding simple forms in sumptuous skins. Judging from your collection for Dering Hall, he must have inspired you!

A: Karl Springer is one of my favorite designers. I really admire the quality of his pieces, the simplicity of the designs, and the luxuriousness of the materials he used. A lot of people don’t really understand why his pieces are so successful, but the reason is this: Springer marries understated forms with exotic materials. There is a perfect balance. I believe in the same philosophy—the highest possible craftsmanship used in conjunction with expensive and exotic materials.

Q: How do your designs diverge from Springer’s?

A: I feel like my designs are a little more updated and I like to mix materials more. Springer was a purist. I can’t recall any large piece he did that combined goat skin and Macassar ebony. I really like mixing—for example, rich woods set against skin. And I really like beautiful veneer work, like the doors on my Night Star Commode or the top of my Night Star Coffee Table. I am attracted to radiating patterns so you can see that in a lot of my designs. There’s a desk I’ll be adding to my Dering Hall storefront soon which has radiating goatskin on the top, and it’s amazing!

Q: What about the ’80s influences you, and what are your favorite pieces from that time?

A: My own homes are ’80s-inspired because I’m a child of that decade. I liked New Wave music, Punk Rock, Fiorucci—and a lot of other things I’ll keep private for now! But they’re not totally over-the-top ’80s—I don’t think anybody could handle that. I don’t think glass blocks are coming back anytime soon, thank goodness! During that era, interior design featured homes with large spaces and over-scaled furniture. There is a certain appeal for me in that. And there was a lot of glam in that decade, which I find attractive—it’s edgy.

Q: What past design trends do you want to see come back? What do you wish would go away?

A: A trend I wish would come back is mixing metals, which you saw a lot of in ’70s and ’80s interiors. I think brass and nickel look so good together. Interior designers today tend to be orthodox about keeping all metals in a room the same. I personally think there is a sexiness in having them mixed—a yin and yang. I always mix metals in my own interiors.

Q: The pieces you sell at Lobel Modern in New York and online on Dering Hall tend to be either big in scale or big in personality—often both. What’s the best way to incorporate statement pieces in one’s home?

A: Good question. I do like large-scale pieces with large personalities. I have a lot of that going on in my gallery. Of course you can’t make everything in a room the star, but I like people to think of Lobel Modern when they are looking for something special. I can’t tell you how many clients tell me their favorite piece in a room came from me. And that makes me so happy! For me to like a piece, there has to be something unique about it. But when you are designing a room there has to be a sense of balance. If a piece is an attention-grabber then it should be balanced by other items that complement it and don’t fight. If I were to place my Night Star Commode in a dining room, I would most probably use dining chairs that were simple and elegant, or extremely modern. In fact, I’m adding some simple, elegant dining chairs to my collection soon, so watch for them!

Q: I was surprised to see the work of photographer Bonnie Edelman in your Dering Hall shop, since you don’t tend to showcase contemporary pieces. What do you like about Edelman’s work and how do you see it fitting into your collection?

A: Bonnie Edelman is an old friend of mine and when I saw her photography I knew it was right for my gallery. She has been making a name for herself in the art world with her highly collectible horse images. Her modern abstract photographs, such as “Carrera, 2010″ and “Forte dei Marmi” get a lot of attention and have sold to important designers. I will be adding other contemporary artists to the mix.

Q: When you’re shopping for furniture—either your own home or to stock your gallery—what do you look for?

A: When it comes to furniture, I look for three things: excellent materials, meticulous construction, and high-quality design. The design itself is critical. I personally am drawn to pieces that are difficult to produce, like Springer furniture and Philip LaVerne tables. With upholstered pieces I am drawn to tufting. Again, it’s not easy to do well.

Q: Designing your own made-to-order pieces, such as the Macassar Ebony Tables and Credenza, is a new step for you. What led you to this, and what have you learned in the process?

A: I’ve always wanted to do this but just recently decided to take the plunge. There is no one who is making the kind of pieces I want to make. They are complicated and expensive, with materials that have personality, texture, and color. I think of them like art—each one is unique.

Q: Right now you have a single upholstered piece in your shop, the Bond Street Chair. Tell me what you like about this piece, what were the challenges, and do you have plans to expand your upholstered offerings in the future?

A: The Bond Street Chair is extremely elegant and cool at the same time. The tufting makes it. It’s a large-scale chair that’s very comfortable for both men and women. And it swivels! I’m expanding the line. The Bond Street Sofa comes in next week as well as another club chair that’s totally different. Making furniture has really showed me how hard it is to design a line. Every element requires thought and there are issues during production that come out of nowhere. For me it’s fun, I like the challenge. The Bond Street Chair took several prototypes to get right.

Q: What are the hallmarks of a well-designed room?

A: For me, a well-designed room is one in which different-style pieces are mixed effortlessly and successfully: Modern, Asian, antiques, contemporary. It’s not easy to do a beautiful interior while mixing it up. I love when I see a room where elements are combined you would never assume go well together but they look completely right. Styles change over time, but a well-done interior is timeless.

Q: What is the most valuable design advice you’ve ever received?

A: Don’t skimp, you will always regret it. That advice was given to me by a guy who made pieces for Karl Springer. He said Karl would come by to see how the production was going and he would say, “Don’t rush. That’s how mistakes happen. I want this to be perfect.” That’s not advice you hear a lot these days but it is 100% true.

- Jaime Gross

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