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Design Diplomats

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“Suddenly, I was riding around in a limo with her and eating at all these restaurants that, when I was a student, I just looked at as these amazing places,” he says with the schoolboyish enthusiasm of someone who knows he’s gotten lucky. He became Marino’s Karan attaché for several other projects. By 1997, she had taken such a shine to him that she asked him to go in-house. “It was one of those great New York–style opportunities that you take,” he says.

As director of creative services, he designed “nearly twenty” stores all over the world, and worked on a guest house and yogic retreat adjacent to Karan’s home in East Hampton. (She got him and Bonetti to start doing yoga, too.) When the famously real-estate-hesitant Karan finally settled on an apartment she wanted to buy on Central Park West, Kozerski called Bonetti and told him that this could be their opportunity to start their own firm.

Karan had asked another purveyor of fashion Zen, Michael Gabellini, to do the apartment. “But we knew that was not going to go anywhere,” says Bonetti. “So Dominic kept calling me, saying, ‘We’ve got to be ready.’ ” And Kozerski was right: Karan agreed to hear them out.

Their proposal for the low-ceilinged apartment, in the Ghostbusters building on Central Park West, came in the form of a walk-through mock-up. Movable linen walls, of the sort Kozerski had once used for fashion shows, were installed in the gutted, blockwide space. “The apartment was almost built as a three-dimensional theater set,” he says. Karan moved the walls around at different times of the day for about a month until she “got it.”

This being New York, however, there was more than just the client to please. “That apartment is in one of the toughest co-ops on the West Side,” says Antonelli. “That’s when reality starts to hit. Even if the ideas are great, they’re a dollar a pound. The real test is being able to defend it through the obstacles.”

It was a test they passed. And Karan was happy, too. She especially liked the way Bonetti and Kozerski lit it one night with votive candles from the floor—it made the walls glow and the ceiling less oppressive. In the finished apartment, light spills up the wax-coated Venetian plaster walls from chic little gutters where they meet the floor. Along the way, their firm was born. They have since designed the Donna Karan Collections store on 69th Street and Madison, a renovation of a Carrère and Hastings townhouse with a dramatic angled staircase and small meditation garden out back.

“Dominic and I have been collaborating for a very long time,” says Karan. “And working with him is like having a person get into your psyche who creates your desired environment and makes dreams come true.”

Bonetti and Kozerski sit next to each other at a shared desk. The effect is somewhat two-headed, and their gleeful back-and-forth a bit like those grumpy old men from The Muppet Show. But their postures vary: The Italian will lean back, hands behind his head, while the Brit hunches forward, more tensely attentive. Visitors to their concrete-floored office on Lafayette Street sit on red Saarinen chairs and face them (their twin Eames office chairs are black). They moved here a year ago, from a smaller space a block south on the corner of Spring. They just hired their eighth employee (who sits on the other side of the Ikea shelving).

Sometimes in the morning, if they’re expecting a visitor, they call each other from home to make sure they don’t end up wearing the same thing. Often they finish each other’s sentences. When the jazz that’s playing on Bonetti’s computer gets too loud, they both reach for the volume control at the same time.

“We’ve given up on having secrets,” says Kozerski, who also says that they share the design tasks equally, passing plans back and forth.

“It’s a funny mix,” says Barton. “The English one is sort of like the innovator, and the Italian is sort of the one who sees the beauty and the style. They have a totally different cultural background, too.”

Bonetti, whose wife is a correspondent for Italian TV, has two children and lives in one of those gigantic and uninteresting brick apartment towers that lord over Broadway and 8th Street. His grandfather owned a construction company, and he grew up in Bologna and started his architectural career in Venice. In 1995, he moved to the United States because he was convinced that a few more years in Venice and he’d be there the rest of his life. When asked about his inspiration, he reaches above his head and pulls down a book about Gio Ponti, the playful Italian Modernist and industrial designer. (“The quintessence of eclecticism,” says Antonelli. “You could look through that book forever and still not have an idea of his style.”)

Kozerski, who’s unmarried and lives in Dumbo, came to the U.S. after winning a scholarship to finish his architectural education at Cooper Union. His father, who’d immigrated to England from Poland, was an architect. “But a very sort of socially conscious architect in that he only worked on town-planning projects in London,” he says. “So he never really built buildings—he built sort of huge flyovers and city parks and that sort of thing.”


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