Take a Seat: Rafael de Cárdenas Does Furniture

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Published May 13, 2011

PHOTO BY TIM BARBER

For those who’ve followed the work of architect and multi-hyphenate design virtuoso Rafael de Cárdenas and his firm Architecture at Large, it may come as a surprise that he’s never done a line of furniture. That is finally about to change tonight when de Cárdenas’s work opens view with a kaleidoscopic bang at Johnson Trading Gallery in New York.

Taking inspiration from sources as diverse as organic architecture hero Bruce Goff, the geometries of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style, and the founding fathers of American Art Deco would seem  overly ambitious for most. But de Cárdenas pulls it off with shocking ease, creating an eclectic mix of no fewer than 25 pieces that include consoles, dining tables, a variety of lighting fixtures, benches, night stands, and an ingenious planter chair.

De Cárdenas is widely known for his impeccable way with color and bold geometries, and there is plenty of both in the show. Take, for example, “Baby” and “Hulk,” two minutely-detailed cabinets whose perfectly flashy finish in gradient turquoise belies their complicated underlying structure, in which cubes are twisted, rotated, and mirrored; or the side tables finished with multi-color tape appliqué that the designer has used to great effect in many of his residential and commercial projects.

For every one of de Cardenas’s showstoppers, there are plenty of quieter moments, such as a hexagonal dining table with nesting triangular chairs made in plywood of three opposing grains (one of which is painted black); a stack of simple plywood box-lamps that loosely stack to form an indoor camp fire of sorts; or a set of nightstands that almost resemble primitive child’s blocks until they reveal beautifully rich gold-leaf interiors.

If the show is de Cardenas’s freshman foray in limited-edition furniture design, it certainly doesn’t read like it. Says dealer Paul Johnson, “What I love about Rafael is that he always comes at everything with an architect’s eye, but then he turns it into a language all his own. It’s very refreshing and unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.”