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Rock and Roil

The delicate art of co-designing Lou Reed’s furniture—with Lou Reed.

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Client: Lou Reed
Designers: Jim Zivic
Location: West Village
Objects: Furniture

Lou Reed first met the furniture designer Jim Zivic nine years ago, when he noticed one of Zivic’s tables advertised in the paper. It was made of wood and steel, and shaped like a piano on top. Reed loved the table, but he wanted a few things changed. “I went to his place and said, ‘Why don’t you put a bottom on that?’ ” says Reed.

Zivic, 43, took his advice, and they started working together. “There’s always a lot of ‘Can we do this? Can we do that?’ with Lou,” says Zivic. “And so we change things around.” At Reed’s suggestion, that table was dipped in hot zinc and put up on his roof for picnics. That was the beginning of a long collaboration that has since furnished quite a lot of Reed’s West Village duplex loft. “Since it’s a real person I know making the furniture,” says Reed, “it becomes like, ‘Why not?’ He likes that. That’s why we get along.”

They do, however, have their differences sometimes. “Once Lou and I were having not an argument exactly, but a disagreement,” says Zivic, “about something design-wise, and I just told him about these lyrics he wrote that were wrong. It had always bothered me. It’s a song about Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Warhol, where he sings, ‘You get less time for stealing a car / I remember thinking as I heard my own record in a bar.’ And I said to him, ‘Listen, Lou. You should have said “more time.” ’ And he looked at me like, Oh, shit. And now he introduces me as the only person to find a mistake in one of his songs.”

Designing Men: For the most part, Reed and Zivic are aesthetically simpatico. “I like leather and steel,” says Reed, holding up a German microphone stand and admiring its many notches and subtle shine. Has he ever shown it to Zivic? “I don’t have to,” he says. “He knows.”

Gearheads: “My aesthetic is pretty masculine,” agrees Zivic. “Lou likes electricity, welding. That’s where he and I meet. It’s this mechanical, electrical, metals stuff that’s so very much a guy thing, with a soft edge here and there.”

My Idea! The centerpiece of the living room is, in fact, a very soft $15,000 purple velvet sofa nestled in a steel frame. Based on the Zivic piano shape that first caught Reed’s eye, it’s supplemented by a rolling black-velvet appendage that connects by four strong magnets.

Lou: All I wanted was something that wouldn’t interrupt the view from either direction, and that was big enough for two people to lie down on, but Jim didn’t design it properly. One person kept falling off. I said, “Why don’t you add on? You could do it with magnets—”

Jim: No!

Lou: He said, “But how is it going to stay there, Lou? Locking wheels?”

Jim: The magnets were my idea!

Lou: So I said . . . magnets!

Soft Rock: The heated granite floor in the living room is covered in large patches of hand-stitched suede. It was originally done in leather, but Reed asked Zivic for something that would feel softer on bare feet. “It’s actually the third attempt,” Zivic says of the rug. “First, we had leather, but it was too slippery and it didn’t let the heat through. Then we were crawling around on the floor for a day and a half trying to design something suede. We were both cutting up swatches for some sort of colorful suede patchwork thing. We were arguing the whole time. I was like, ‘No, that looks like a river,’ and he was like, ‘You don’t know anything, that’s great,’ and I was like, ‘That’s putrid, I won’t do it.’ ” The resolution was solid orange suede that, at $6,000, was far cheaper than something more intricate.

“But then the suede started shedding and getting all over Laurie, so he complained,” Zivic says. (Anderson, Lou Reed’s longtime companion, is, of course, a frequent visitor to the apartment.) He also worried that it wasn’t conducting the heat.

The other day, however, they brought it back for yet another try. “He stands on it and says, ‘Jim! I can feel the heat!’ ” Zivic says, exhausted but satisfied.

Photos of Lou Reed's home office >>>

A Designer’s Education

Starting Out: Jim Zivic studied sculpture and painting at Ohio Wesleyan University and got into design while helping his friend, the fashion designer Morgan Puett, with her stores.

Big Break: “This guy Warner Wada commissioned me to make a table out of a piano lid. We became partners, and that table wound up in Harper’s Bazaar. Then we met Lou, and everything expanded.” Zivic went out on his own in 2001.

Coal Mine: “Coal has been really big for me,” he says. Bill Sofield, the designer in charge of all the Yves Saint Laurent boutiques, has been furnishing them with Zivic’s coal pieces (like the table in the photograph above). Other buyers include Matthew Barney, Björk, and Tom Ford. Lately, though, Zivic says he’s also been intrigued by “aluminum” and “his grandfather’s lunchbox.”

Toughest Part of Being a Designer: “It’s difficult to sell design in the art world, and it’s difficult to sell artistic stuff in the design world,” says Zivic, who shows in Leslie Tonkonow’s gallery. “Hovering between different disciplines is kind of hard.”


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