This Design Studio Knows How to Party
Posted July 18, 2018 4:59 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — There is a mood board in the wood-paneled office of Gabriel Hendifar that does much to explain why Apparatus, the lighting studio he founded with his husband, Jeremy Anderson, has become one of the most buzzed-about design firms.
Plenty of designers gather images to inspire new projects. But Hendifar, 36, and Anderson, 42, approach their work with creative gusto, changing not just their collection from year to year but also their entire environment.
Each May, the Apparatus showroom in Chelsea gets an exhaustive makeover. The carpeting may be cream colored and plush one year, with low leather sofas and lots of velvet to evoke a fantasy of Halston’s 1970s New York apartment. And in the next, its black and striped carpet, and the furniture and lighting call to mind turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna.
“They think like fashion designers, in that they seasonally change,” said Noemi Bonazzi, a set designer who has worked with Hendifar and Anderson.
And like fashion designers, the Apparatus guys know how to give a party. They call their yearly makeovers “Acts”; each one is ushered in with an over-the-top “disco” that matches the theme of the latest collection and is held in their studio showroom.
For weeks beforehand, Hendifar and Anderson will drop mood board image hints on Instagram, and the 900 or so attendees are given a one-word dress code, like “Finished” or “Lacquered,” and strongly encouraged to come decked out. Three years in, the party has for many become the highlight of New York Design Week.
“There are old friends, new friends, people from fashion, drag queens — it’s very inclusive,” said Athena Calderone, an interior designer and founder of the lifestyle site EyeSwoon, who has been a guest. “Because of the dress code and the opulence of the space, this is what I imagine New York was like in the Studio 54 days.”
Before meeting Anderson and starting Apparatus, Hendifar studied costume design at UCLA and worked for two small womenswear lines in his native Los Angeles. Hendifar’s fashion background “allows us to venture confidently into this world of fantasy,” said Anderson, who worked in public relations and who has helped to shape strategy as the studio has grown.
For the pair, the parties are not so much promotional events for the studio or an opportunity to be outrageous (though they definitely serve as both), but, rather, they are about “creating a 360 world” around the brand, Hendifar said.
“The question you always ask as a fashion designer is, Who’s the girl? You kind of build this narrative so you can design for this fantasy person,” Hendifar said. “Similarly, there’s a practice we have here where it’s not just, What’s the light fixture? but, What’s the room? We are so invested in creating environments in which the objects live.”
Apparatus creates gorgeous objects too — not only lighting but also furniture — like its “Segment” coffee table made of translucent resin blocks bound together with fluted brass hardware, and smaller objects including heavy brass candle holders and a porcelain tea set. All of it feels masculine and sexy and somehow manages to evoke the past but also look futuristic.
Michael Reynolds, an editor at large for Architectural Digest, first became aware of Apparatus as part of the wave of new lighting designers that included Lindsey Adelman, Bec Brittain and Jason Miller. What makes the studio’s work stand out, Reynolds said, is its sophisticated craftsmanship.
“The quality and the tailoring is what makes it so luxe,” Reynolds said. “Like a piece you’d see created by Hermès, it’s not over the top.” One notable difference between a luxury fashion brand and Apparatus, however, is that Hendifar and Anderson don’t anticipate or follow trends, but rather pursue their own muse, however specific or personal.
“These guys have created a lifestyle, a world, a bubble that is definitely theirs,” Reynolds said.
For their latest collection, or “Act 3,” Hendifar looked to his family history as the son of Iranian immigrants. His parents fled Iran after the 1979 revolution, and in designing a six-legged table that evokes nomadic tray tables found across the Middle East, along with other pieces with a pan-Middle Eastern vibe, he was “creating this modernist futurist villa in the desert of Iran, and creating all the things that belong in that world.”
For Hendifar, who has never been to his parents’ homeland, the collection “is about longing, and interpreting the sense of longing in objects.” (With a growing team to handle the business side, Anderson is creating, too, focusing on his love of ceramics.)
Not surprisingly, this year’s showroom party in May had a Persian theme, with big food bowls spilling over with figs, and guests including Justin Vivian Bond and Rify Royalty dressed in colorful robes or, in some cases, almost nothing at all.
“I am currently recovering from a turban zit on my forehead, from sweating my brains out and wearing probably the worst turban in the room,” Reynolds said.
The hosts wore costumes that were embroidered and gold, including, in Hendifar’s case, his mother’s jewelry that she brought with her from Iran. Many of his family members were at the dance party, and his father could be found in his son’s office, playing drums deep into the night.
"We’re here to build things that people want to live with,” Hendifar said. “But they’re just things. It’s the experience around those things that is so important.”