Rafael de Cárdenas, Ltd.

Essentially Manhattan

Sometimes the appeal of a room lies as much in what’s not there as in what is. This showroom in downtown Manhattan, conjured by architect Rafael de Cárdenas (left) and firm partner and design director, Robert Passov, for fashion designer Ulla Johnson, is a study in reductive luxury. Hand-troweled plaster walls give the space a cloudlike sense of movement and, says de Cárdenas, “a slight shimmering warmth,”  which his custom velvet sofa and a marble table by Angelo Mangiarotti accentuate with color (the sofa) and texture (the table). Though additional seating is scarce and lighting is limited to Ingo Maurer’s poetic bamboo pendant lamp, the room feels radiantly complete, with or without Kazunori Hamana’s heroic stoneware vessel in the foreground.

Photo by Weston Wells

“Comfort is key, of course, but discomfort can keep you on your toes — and sometimes you want that.”
— Rafael de Cárdenas

Designer Picks

Ingo Maurer for Design M Cork Lamp, 1974, Offered by Beton Brut Ltd
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Ingo Maurer for Design M Cork Lamp, 1974, Offered by Beton Brut Ltd

“Cork is an organic material, and I like that it’s used here in a streamlined way. It’s clean but textured.”

American Round Wicker Wall Mirror, 20th Century, Offered by Newel
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American Round Wicker Wall Mirror, 20th Century, Offered by Newel

“A round, clean form with expressive handwork, which we sampled throughout the Ulla Johnson showroom.”

Mario Botta for Artemide Pair of Shogun Parete Wall Lights, 1960s, Offered by muromant
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Mario Botta for Artemide Pair of Shogun Parete Wall Lights, 1960s, Offered by muromant

“The gold version of these lights transcends form and materiality to elegant effect.”

Josef Hoffmann for J. & J. Kohn Bench, 1901, Offered by Woka Gallery
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Josef Hoffmann for J. & J. Kohn Bench, 1901, Offered by Woka Gallery

“It is classic but contemporary. The subtle rake of the back leg is very evocative.”

Maison Leleu Pair of Side Tables, 1963, Offered by Maison Gerard
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Maison Leleu Pair of Side Tables, 1963, Offered by Maison Gerard

“The apparent imbalance creates a subtle discomfort.”

Japanese Shou Sugi Ban Cedar Coffee Table, 1900, Offered by Nicholas Wells Antiques Ltd
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Japanese Shou Sugi Ban Cedar Coffee Table, 1900, Offered by Nicholas Wells Antiques Ltd

“The low height creates a zone somewhere between rug and table. It also features a handworked texture, which was a touchstone for the Ulla Johnson showroom.”

Pair of Butaque Lounge Chairs Attributed to Clara Porset, 1947, Offered by MORENTZ
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Pair of Butaque Lounge Chairs Attributed to Clara Porset, 1947, Offered by MORENTZ

“Classic early-twentieth-century Latin American design using organic materials. Noteworthy that Clara Porset furniture was the only furniture Luis Barragán used in his projects, other than his own designs.”

Ward Bennet Pair of Cane Bentwood Chairs, 1960s, Offered by Glen Leroux Antiques Inc
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Ward Bennet Pair of Cane Bentwood Chairs, 1960s, Offered by Glen Leroux Antiques Inc

“These chairs feature the cleanness of mid-century design but are also soft and fluid. Caning adds natural lightness to the seat and back.”

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