Objects of Desire

The Apparatus origin story is rather unusual in the world of lighting design: In the midst of renovating their apartment, and unsatisfied with their options, the studio’s founders, Jeremy Anderson, 41, and Gabriel Hendifar, 35, decided to take matters into their own hands. Though neither came from a lighting background—Anderson worked in public relations and Hendifar designed clothes—the couple started toying with salvaged materials and crafting them into one-of-a-kind fixtures. Soon people began asking about the striking designs, and—as these stories often go—Apparatus turned into a fully formed entity. Nearly five years in, it has grown into one of the country’s most talked-about design studios, with a staff of 35, a new showroom in New York, and work installed in swank hotels and restaurants around the world.

What Anderson and Hendifar may have lacked in experience they make up for with their eye for material, texture, and the unexpected. Their pieces are at once retro leaning and forward thinking, whimsical and utilitarian, altogether uncommonly chic. The Cloud light, one of their best known, features dangling orbs bunched together in a modernist puff. Others utilize chains made of materials like porcelain and horsehair.

Anderson and Hendifar recently spoke with the multi-hyphenate talent (actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist) Justin Vivian Bond. They discussed the studio’s beginnings, storytelling through design, and queer history, something that perhaps unknowingly informs their work.

JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND: Where are you guys right now?

JEREMY ANDERSON: We’re actually sitting in what we like to call the Alexis Carrington suite on speakerphone at my desk.

BOND: [laughs] Oh, very nice.

ANDERSON: Yes. Where are you?

BOND: I’m at Bard College. I just finished teaching my live-art-installation class. So if I seem a little brain dead, it’s because I’ve been paying attention to and being interested in a bunch of students for the last three hours. So you’re in the Alexis Carrington suite now, but you guys met in Los Angeles, right?

ANDERSON: We did, yeah.

GABRIEL HENDIFAR: We actually met the old-fashioned way—on Manhunt.

BOND: [laughs] Well, as long as it worked.

HENDIFAR: It’s true. We met in 2010. We actually had sort of seen each other online for a while, but both of us were in other relationships. It took us a while to meet, and it was one of those things where we kind of knew that it was either going to be worth the wait or it would be disastrous and not really go anywhere.

ANDERSON: I think it was worth the wait.

HENDIFAR: Yeah, it was worth the wait. We knew something was happening as soon as we met.

BOND: How long did it take you before you started collaborating?

ANDERSON: We moved in together six months after we started dating. And it was when we moved in together that we decided to redo Gabriel’s apartment, which is where we were living. And so that’s when we started making things together.

HENDIFAR: Yeah, there was a lot of flea-market hunting. I mean, we were very crafty gays. And we just sort of decided it was like, new relationship, new life, new look. I think it was out of necessity. We really didn’t have access to the things that we thought were the most beautiful things in the world, and we also felt like there was a gap. There was a sense of imperfection that was fused with modern form that we thought was missing in the lighting world. And so we, on a total whim, decided to start tinkering and playing with things. And a lot of those first experiments were taking apart vintage things and learning how to put them back together, and playing with jewelry and hardware and—

ANDERSON: And I think what we learned by working together is that Gabriel is the ideas guy, and he’s amazing at coming up with an idea and a shape and how best to do it. But he doesn’t necessarily have the patience to actually—

HENDIFAR: [laughs] I’m not interested in actually doing it.

ANDERSON: And that’s where I feel like I add a lot of value, because it’s the task that I really enjoy. I enjoy the making part.

HENDIFAR: I’m the thinker and he’s the doer. He’s very squirrelly. He needs a project.

BOND: A task bottom. [laughs] I feel like the work that I’ve seen in your studio, it’s very cohesive. Not to say that it’s in any way repetitive. Each piece is extremely unique, but obviously there’s a vision that is pretty consistent. How did you combine your sensibility to forge such a consistent aesthetic? And what were the main inspirations for that?

HENDIFAR: I think we both bring very different backgrounds to the table. I studied costume and scenic design and have always been really invested in what it means to create an emotional experience through design—the idea of creating an entire world, not just a specific piece. What does the light look like? And what does the room smell like? And I think that actually aligns very amazingly with Jeremy’s background, which is that he was a studio potter, and he has a lot of varied interests when it comes to handy crafts. So my desire to create things that tell a story beyond the moment that they’re in aligns very nicely with his ability to make that story with his hands.

ANDERSON: It also evolved with the spaces that we live in. I think a lot of the pieces come from trying to solve a specific need in a specific room. That was definitely the case in the very beginning, when we were just making things for our apartment. And it kind of becomes the litmus test. Do we need this? Do we want to live with this? It all starts there.

BOND: Right, because it seems like the materials that you use are raw, and yet the shapes and the designs are very elegant.

HENDIFAR: It’s lovely to hear that communicated. That’s exactly where we want to be. I think pieces that are too perfectly executed don’t really allow a place for you to have any connection to them. There’s something about perfection that is actually … I don’t want to say repulsive, but it creates a barrier.

BOND: It’s not inviting.

HENDIFAR: It’s not inviting. There’s no humanness. There’s no vulnerability. I think the vulnerability in our collection comes from the finishes. We’re very invested in our whole finishing team. We do all of the patinas in house and they create the age and the story on the pieces. We work with things like porcelain—it’s a very technical material, but it doesn’t ever want to be perfect. So you try to do things in porcelain, and you always get 90 percent of the way there. And the distance between the idea and the thing that you actually made is a little tragic in a beautiful way.

BOND: And you use a really interesting combination of textures. Like, you don’t see a lot of lamps with hair.

HENDIFAR: That’s true. Probably because it’s flammable. [laughs] I worked as a womenswear designer for ten years, and it really all comes down to material, and what material does to create a sense of desire. We always want to make things that people want to reach out and touch. And it’s not often that you have occasion to sort of climb up on a ladder and touch your chandelier. But we want you to want to do that. All of that comes from texture and material and contrast and the roughness in the organic quality of the horsehair being contrasted with the precision of the metal. The tension between those things is what makes something dynamic.

BOND: The things with hair, I just love them. And I don’t know if that’s because of my own knowledge; I designed a perfume and it was inspired by the Galli, who were the ancient gender—various priests of the goddess Cybele. They grew their hair very long, and styled it in extravagant ways. So when I see those beautiful pieces with the hair, it immediately makes me think of this hidden queer history.

HENDIFAR: That’s really lovely. Neither of us were aware of that. There is something very magical and mystical about hair as a material.

BOND: Because it holds the whole history of the person whose hair it was. I mean, hair has got all of your DNA and all of your history in it. There’s this tradition of widows cutting off all of their hair—like when John Lennon died and Yoko Ono cut off hers.

ANDERSON: We actually know a woman who breeds horses, and she wanted to use the hair from one of her horses in this lamp I guess in a similar way.

HENDIFAR: It became this very sentimental experience for her, where we had to wait for it. I think it was that she trimmed their tails in the spring. So there was this whole cycle of seasons that we had to wait through. And then she sent us the hair, and we cleaned it, and it felt very ceremonial.

ANDERSON: And it was making something that was so personal to the person who was commissioning it from us.

BOND: That’s crazy.

HENDIFAR: I love the reference to secret queer history. We need to know more about that.

BOND: Where do you see your work and designs fitting in within the culture of design and history? And also the history of gay collaborations of partners. Like, how do you ever get away from each other? I mean, I had a boyfriend—we were together a lot and we worked a lot together for, like, seven years—and I would say to him, “It’s very difficult to want intimacy with someone you can never get away from.”

HENDIFAR: When we first started, it’s really just, like, two bright-eyed, enthusiastic people wanting to get something done. So it’s all kind of adrenaline, right? You’re both doing everything and running, and then there was this weird middle point where the business was growing, and there was maybe, like, eight or nine of us on staff. We still really both had to have our hands in everything, but we were also managing a bunch of people and so—

ANDERSON: We butted heads a little more at that time.

HENDIFAR: Yeah. That was a rough patch. But I think we’ve gotten better at knowing what our individual strengths are and letting the other be good at the thing they’re good at.

ANDERSON: We’re also at a point with our studio where we have a nice support staff so Gabriel and I don’t have to interact as much as we did before. [laughs]

HENDIFAR: Our offices are now 40 feet away from each other. It’s nice to have a bit of distance. Jeremy’s been spending a bit more time at our place upstate. And we’re planning on building a pottery studio up there so that he can get back to the smaller scale of interaction with making something, whereas Apparatus has become this beast that we have to feed. It feels like it’s more of the fantasy that I had as a child of what it would feel like to be a creative and be at the helm of a creative machine. And I think, for Jeremy, it’s much more about having a very direct connection to material and making something.

ANDERSON: We also go to different gyms in the morning. So we make sure that we have a few hours at the beginning of the day to be apart.

BOND: It’s such an interesting vibe to be in your studio. It’s like Santa’s workshop, where everyone’s in there making all these things. And it’s so great to be in a place where it’s the showroom and the assembly line all in the same building. So I would imagine that reflects both of your personalities as well.

HENDIFAR: It does. It feels like the pinnacle of this idea that I’ve had in my head since I was a little kid, about what it meant to be a successful,
sophisticated, tasteful designer. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that the studio is very much built with that extra theatrical sense of what a design space should look like and what it should feel like. It’s just
a little extra in a way that I think we’re all kind of in on the gag. There’s a playfulness about it. I mean, I call my office the Alexis Carrington suite.

BOND: I’m waiting for Dex Dexter to walk in. [laughs]

ANDERSON: There’s a formula to it. You have your desk, you have your table, and you have your sofa sitting area.

HENDIFAR: It’s funny because we actually binge-watched all of Dynasty again, like, in the six months before we were putting this new space together. And the sense of occasion in the offices is definitely something that changes the way you approach your work and the way you interact with people.

BOND: And it makes it fun, I would imagine.

HENDIFAR: That’s what we aim to do more than anything is create things and create environments that have some sort of emotional connection to people. And I think in a lot of ways that is tied to fantasy.

BOND: You talked about Dynasty, but what were the other sources of inspiration that stimulated your fantasies?

HENDIFAR: My parents moved from Iran in 1979 to Los Angeles, and so my whole childhood was steeped in this sense of nostalgia for the late ’70s, and the sort of glamorous, international scene that was happening in Iran at the time. That particular time—the late ’70s, early ’80s—has always held a very interesting place in my head, in the sense of what a fantasy world of glamour and luxury should look and feel like. And then I went to school and studied costume and scenic design and became obsessed with construction of clothing, which led me to diving headlong into the mid-century couturiers and thinking about Christian Dior and his atelier, and then what happened when Yves Saint Laurent took over. So it’s sort of a weird mash-up of nostalgia and rigor and construction.

BOND: And what about you, Jeremy?

ANDERSON: I take a page from Gabriel quite often, to be honest with you. I grew up in suburban Minneapolis, and I didn’t have a lot of the references that Gabriel noted. I didn’t have really references for being gay. I was forced to play baseball. I was very much involved in a lot of things but never enough of one thing to really claim it. And so, for me, it was about kind of getting lost in art. And it was more about creating things with my hands. But it was always more of a hobby. I never actually pursued it as a career; that really wasn’t something that we was encouraged by my parents. So it’s nice to be in a partnership with Gabriel, who has such a creative vision. 

BOND: How did you go from playing baseball to being in L.A.?

ANDERSON: Oh, I would hardly claim baseball playing. I was stuck in the outfield.

BOND: [laughs] Like, enforced baseball. Like, “Get out there and play ball!”

ANDERSON: Oh my God. That’s basically what it was. My father played minor-league baseball, and so it was just an expectation that the boys in the family had to play baseball through their youth. But I went to college in Minneapolis, and the first thing I wanted to do as soon as I graduated was get out of the Midwest. So I moved to Boston, and then from there, I was in New York for a time. And then I went to Los Angeles where Gabriel and I met.

HENDIFAR: I was actually supposed to go to Bard, but at the last minute decided to stay in Los Angeles. And there was another time in my life where I was going to move to New York with a partner and didn’t. Third time’s a charm I guess.

BOND: Yeah, it is. I’m excited to play at your launch dinner. Beyond that, what’s your next big thing?

HENDIFAR: Well, we’re having the dinner that you’ll be performing at; it’s going to be celebrating Block, a new collection of objects that we’ll be launching in the winter. We do these smaller scale object projects once a year, which is a way for us to take these materials and bring them to a more human scale. So we’re working on this really beautiful collection of cast crystal and brass, which is sort of a departure for the studio.

BOND: You started out by creating pieces for your apartment. Is your apartment slowly but surely being completely taken over by your vision of your fantasy world?

HENDIFAR: Yeah, it is. I mean, we’re in the third apartment—

ANDERSON: Since we met, six years ago. But somehow we always ended up moving spaces in a way that inspires new work. So when we first moved to New York, we were all of a sudden on the parlor floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn. And we went from a beautiful apartment in L.A. that had, like, nine-foot ceilings to a space in New York that had 12-foot ceilings. So then the conversation became about scale and making things that felt like they commanded that sort of presence in a room of that size.

BOND: And how is living in the Hudson Valley? Has that influenced you?

HENDIFAR: We bought this small farmhouse that had really low ceilings, and that inspired us to do a more functional line of lighting, which is now our cylinder series. And we just moved into a new apartment in the city. It will be sort of our chic city bachelor-pad fantasy. It’s going to have a sexiness to it.

ANDERSON: We sound kind of schizophrenic, don’t we, darling? [laughs]

BOND: You could say schizophrenic or well-rounded, because, you know, I have my little Doris Day version of the fantasy New York apartment. I’ve got high ceilings and a really big chandelier that has no business being in an East Village apartment. Nonetheless, I’m happy it’s there. Once this woman said, “It’s like Versailles.” [laughs] Country living in the East Village: Versailles.