New Yorkers have always been apartment-obsessed, the kind of people who see decorating as a competitive sport. Recently, buoyed by the economy and weary of all that cookie-cutter minimalism, we've been yearning for one-of-a-kind personal spaces: rooms with drama, detail, an element of surprise. And behind New York's most spectacular interiors are special-effects dream teams -- the upholsterers, furniture-makers, decorative painters, metalworkers, and floor experts whose names are carefully guarded in the Rolodexes of the city's top architects and interior designers. In their studios and workshops around the city, these highly skilled craftspeople keep arcane decorative-arts traditions alive and devise entirely new ones, using twenty-first-century materials and moxie. Here, we've tracked down a few of the virtuosos whose behind-the-scenes wizardry -- from witty postmodern panoramas to mood- and shape-
altering slipcovers to floors embedded with mirrors -- makes the front-room magic possible.
Anandamali derives its name from a Sanskrit term that means "blissful garland," a necklace composed of charms accumulated over a lifetime. Assembling objects that had previous lives into something new and whimsical is exactly what owner Cheryl Hazen and her colleague Cecile Arnaud do. They remake ordinary furniture with a technique called picassiete -- French for "stolen plates" -- which involves cutting plates into mosaics, much the same way that old drapes and clothes are cut up to create quilts. What makes these Anandamali dressers, backsplashes, dining tables, side tables, mantelpieces, and murals so extraordinary is that the porcelain shards -- even if they're patterned delft or Limoges -- are used as a painter uses pigment for virtuoso effects. Their sense of style can be campy, like a mirror framed by celebrity Marilyn Monroe and Kennedy plates. Or it can be modernist chic, like a white-on-white composition for a Peter Marino client in the south of France. No matter what, each work is ingenious (note the mug handles used as drawer pulls) and one-of-a-kind.
Today, a client can buy a ready-made piece from the gallery, or bring in fabrics and paint samples and Anandamali can create something to order. They stock more than 10,000 plates, thousands of mosaics, and dozens of colored grouts and have a warehouse of furniture ready to customize. Years of this work have given Hazen a deconstructionist eye: "Every plate I see at a flea market, I imagine how it would look broken."
(Anandamali, 35 North Moore Street; 212-343-8964. Prices range from $100 for small frames and hurricane lamps to $15,000 and higher for a custom mantelpiece.)
Adam Cvijanovic not only is capable of painting like a Renaissance master but is himself a twenty-first-century autodidact version of a Renaissance man. A high-school dropout, Cvijanovic taught himself to use artistic techniques from oils to tempera, and his commissioned portraits and murals employ a keen sense of postmodern wit in the Mark Tansey vein. In the atrium of photographer-philanthropist Henry Buhl's loft, for example, he created a frieze that at first glance appears to be stolen off a Roman temple. Closer examination, however, reveals that Cvijanovic has painted a complex still life of photography equipment. For another mural series, Cvijanovic did a riff on Giovanni Battista Piranesi's "Views of Rome," studying New York's greatest structures to anticipate how they might deteriorate -- imagine sheep grazing by a picturesque ruin of Grand Central station. But the most ambitious project is his "Extreme Environments" wallpaper, for which he takes what he calls "the kind of places you see in car commercials" and tweaks their larger-than-life qualities. "Monument Valley," "Greenland Ice Cap," "Tropical Rain Forest," and "Pebble Beach" are inspired by Zuber wallpaper, the Museum of Natural History's taxidermy backdrops, even Western movies. Cvijanovic has developed a system that allows the client to mix and match panels from within each series. With "Monument Valley," for example, one could order the scenic panels of flowering desert plants, or an Indian-warrior scene, or throw in a John Ford crew filming that very scene for his 1956 film The Searchers.
Cvijanovic uses archival paint on Tyvek, meaning that a panorama for an entire room can be removed and stored in rolls that weigh only about twenty pounds -- and fit in the bottom of a closet. "Commercial art has never been my primary agenda, but the wallpaper project is one that bridges both worlds," says Cvijanovic. "It can be either provocative or completely innocuous, and that's fine with me."
(Adam Cvijanovic, 718-522-4028; firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices for original murals vary; each 40-inch wallpaper panel is $3,250.)
Demi Adeniran of Fabrica graduated from FIT with a degree in marketing and styling. She became a fashion coordinator for Bloomingdale's but gravitated to the home department -- "The people there were so much nicer to deal with!" she explains. Though she didn't pursue sewing at FIT, Adeniran says, "I was the kind of person who could make a dress the same day for a party that night." So she didn't have to apprentice long with upholsterers' shops before she felt confident enough to open her own, making custom window treatments, bedding, and upholstery. Now she does a range of pieces: drapes in pin-striped wool or antique embroidered silk, a chic earth-tone duvet, a white cashmere window seat. Adeniran works on grand-scale jobs for Robert A.M. Stern and Annabelle Selldorf Architects, plus smaller residential projects like her next one: Claudia Schiffer's Kips Bay carriage house.
(Fabrica, 212-587-6340. All work is custom; window treatments start at $850; custom silk fabric is $1,800 a bolt.)
Cameron Prather is another fashion-world dropout who has found a happier home for himself in the world of interiors. Known as "the fabric genie" among his friends, Prather makes house calls, and upholsters anything from walls and ceilings to headboards. Though only 33, he's been at this for twelve years, ever since interior designer Muriel Brandolini discovered him working retail at Paul Smith. Since then, Prather has astonished many clients with his clever solutions, such as covering walls with beautifully detailed appliqués and quiltlike strips of fabric, or mounting hand-painted Asian flags in swags on a wall. But his favorite client is still his first. "Muriel has a wonderful, eclectic eye," enthuses Prather, who most recently made her several patchwork cashmere-felt blankets for a country house, and a pleated ceiling pieced from three saris. Despite his home-design successes, Prather's fashion training still comes in handy. "Making slipcovers for a sofa is very similar to making a dress for a woman," he says. "You're fitting and draping fabric over a form."
(Cameron Prather, 917-834-8711. Prices vary by the job, but his hourly rate is approximately $40-$50.)
As a high-school student in northern Virginia, Kristin Ordahl was used to seeing painted floorcloths in historic homes -- Thomas Jefferson even had them in the West Wing of the White House. But when Ordahl, a Philadelphia College of Art graduate, decided to make a floorcloth as a wedding present for a friend in 1999, she didn't resort to traditional palettes or folksy stencils. Instead she created an abstract work in an intense color key, and an entrepreneurial concept was born. Ordahl and a furniture-designer friend, Kelly Bortoluzzi, merged the first syllables of their last names and dubbed their company Orbo Design. Orbo floorcloths stand out for their custom-color stains, which have a luminous, watercolor quality; their heavy-duty canvas graining; and the contrasting pin-striping, which they apply with a car-detailer tool that draws hair-thin lines. And then there's the pair's remarkably wide range of influences: "We're inspired by madras, by op art, by vintage mattress ticking, early Marimekko, Mark Rothko, and Agnes Martin," says Ordahl.
Their artfulness has paid off: Among their early fans are Robert A.M. Stern, who ordered a custom rug for a client in Nantucket, and Martha Stewart, who is so thrilled with the pieces Orbo made for her TV show's permanent set that she's invited Ordahl and Bortoluzzi to be guests on her program. "A guy from London called in an order," says Bortoluzzi, "on the condition that our rugs could withstand his wild parties for sloppy friends who spilled red wine all over the place. We conducted a test, and with four layers of floor varnish, the rug wiped clean as new." Plus, the cloths are so reasonably priced, it's tempting to order different ones for different seasons. And soon there will be more stock lines to choose from. "Next," Ordahl says, "we're going to experiment with organic forms and iridescent paints."
(Orbo Design, 718-384-7404; www.orbodesign.com. Rugs are roughly $46 a square foot; custom rugs start at $75 a square foot.)