The frame of a bed without a mattress in a gallery room

10 Questions With… Adam Charlap Hyman

A few months ago at Tina Kim Gallery in Manhattan, a countertenor and cellist stood on a double bed by architect John Hejduk (circa 1987) to perform George Frideric Handel’s Ombra mai fu and John Dowland’s In Darkness Let Me Dwell. The crowd that filled the gallery for the opening of the group exhibition, “House for the Inhabitant Who Refused to Participate,” featured a mix of art enthusiasts and architects, as expected by curators Adam Charlap Hyman and Andre Herrero. Since starting their architecture and design office in 2014, the duo have strived to concoct a medley of the two worlds.

Charlap Hyman & Herrero, a New York- and Los Angeles-based architecture and interior design firm, flirts with many adjacent universes around their creative orbit. From designing flamboyant opera sets, such as last summer’s Tristan und Isolde at the Santa Fe Opera to curating sleek exhibitions for Tina Kim Gallery, designing a green-washed room for Vitra, and humorous rugs for Patterson Flynn the duo has woven the potentials of beauty, history, and intimacy into a potpourri of visual statements.

“We really relish overlaps and collaborations,” says Adam Charlap Hyman. Based in New York, he focuses on the firm’s design projects, from interiors to products, such as a recent rug collection. Charlap Hyman’s artist mother, Pilar Almon, even joins in. For their latest rugs, Almon collaborated on the images of playing cards and moon phases that inspired the design. “I just see it as another stab at expanding the world that we’ve been making,” Charlap Hyman says about the new collection. He admits being “drawn to designers and architects throughout history that have been good at making all the parts of the world, those who can design a lamp, a building, and a piece of fabric.”

Adam Charlap Hyman
Adam Charlap Hyman.

From New York to Los Angeles, the duo maintains a blurred distribution of tasks; however, Charlap Hyman asserts: “the buck stops with me if it’s an interiors issue, and the buck stops with Andre if we are talking about architecture.” They met as students at RISD when Herrero photographed Charlap Hyman’s apartment for a project, and today the firm has a staff around 27. Their clients tap the duo for interiors that brim with mystery, romanticism, nuance, and a dash of queer wit—all of which are blended with pastel hues and, often times, monochromatic finishes. Textures mingle and colors silently ooze in the universes they build, whether a group exhibition of works by artists, architects, and designers or a fully functional kitchen.

Adam Chaplap Hyman Shares Insights Into His Design Process 

Interior Design: Building a sense of intimacy is a fundamental element in your design practice and exhibitions. How do you orchestrate it?

Adam Charlap Hyman: This idea of having “a peek inside” is really important in the process by which we design a room. I see this dynamic a little bit like the chicken or the egg. It is not unrelated to being a kid and looking through the windows of a dollhouse and setting up a scene on one side and then running around to the other side to look through the window to see what you have just done. This was my favorite activity to do, which was same with Lego pieces as well because they can be viewed from the outside in. This is also why I like dioramas and, ultimately, set design. A vignette or a portal to look through an opening is suggestive of a whole life, a whole sense of time and the passage of time. That is the way I imagine a room.

I believe set designers are maybe thinking more about other concerns at the beginning of their process, such as experiential ones within the room. I see things from the window or from the door. I also think that curtains are very important in our work in general. We have a real fascination with the idea of a curtain for being suggestive of a stage and also functioning as a deconstructed wall. This tension between hard serious architecture and decor is very interesting, funny, and compelling to us. We are fascinated by the idea of fabric as a mobile and translucent wall—being and looking behind it is very exciting. For the artist Camille Henrot, we’ve done an installation of wallpapers with images of curtains and our former show at Tina Kim Gallery, “For Mario” in 2019, was covered with curtains. Fabric, for us, is soft architecture and related to the idea of intimacy, for sure.

ID: This also ties to your interest in Romanticism and romanticism. Could you share more?

ACH: With regards to the capital R, I think of putting together a room from an interior design standpoint, less architecturally, as essentially the creation of a web of meaning. We have to find all of these pieces to connect in a meaningful way, not just about how they look. This is also about where they come from and what they suggest. Placing a client within this constellation of meanings—of histories, of things—that have belonged to other people is very Romantic. This act honors and embraces the past lives of these things. I guess I am a Romantic in that sense. I really believe that everything is referential, and that it’s important to know what things mean. Also, I feel that softer spaces that are scaled in such a way that there is room for romance are my favorite. I do love to do a big room. I can find a part of myself that is very severe and minimal, but I’m most drawn to a diorama or a niche or a drapery.

The frame of a bed without a mattress in a gallery room
Installation “House for the Inhabitant Who Refused to Participate” at Tina Kim Gallery. Photography by Hyunjung Rhee.

ID: How did your start in the art world shape how you design and curate gallery interiors?

ACH: We were very fortunate early on to have Tina Kim as our first client—we designed her current gallery and her houses and, along the way, we have worked for a lot of other galleries. This has been a wonderful entry point because we had chance to meet very creative people who wanted to take interesting risks. It has been a very fruitful world to become a part of as young architects and designers. Often times, gallerists have very developed visions for how they want to live or how they want any space of theirs to be. This way, we have developed a skill of being listeners and being collaborative with people that are creative with a lot to bring to the table. Aesthetically, this has made us more collaborative than, let’s say, if we had started working for people that didn’t know so much about what they wanted.

ID: What are similarities between curating exhibitions, which are in mostly artificial spaces, and designing livable interiors?

ACH: This ties back to your question about intimacy because we always try in our exhibition design to create moments that feel small, shrouded or intimate in many ways. The change of scale and pace and the cadence of the work in a room is really important to enabling a visitor to actually see the work. We need to make the experience really dynamic. For the shows we’ve been involved with, the idea of just presenting all the work simply in a large white room is not going to allow people to really appreciate the works. We need individualized moments with the works. With changing scales and carved out of spaces, we tend to create intimate relationships with the pieces. The two shows that we have curated for Tina were both grounded on a bed. There is something cool to me about making this potentially non-domestic space of the gallery into something like a bedroom. There is something queer in turning the gallery into a bedroom, which is also connected to the fact that we like designing people’s houses and bedrooms.

An installation against a white wall
Installation “House for the Inhabitant Who Refused to Participate” at Tina Kim Gallery. Photography by Hyunjung Rhee.
Detail from the VitraHaus collaboration.
Detail from the VitraHaus collaboration. Photography by Clemens Poloczek.

ID: How about color? Monochromatic spaces are one of your signatures as well as pastel tones. 

ACH: Our sense of color is evolving. I’ve been very interested in this idea of monochrome as a way of doing something colorful, but presenting it in a minimal way. This is a method of restraint to pull back a little bit but in an interesting way—maybe a challenge. The same idea goes for patterns. A pattern or color is a tool that can either build out a form or obliterate a form, making a room peaceful and calm or you can draw things out of the room.

ID: What about the role of materials and textures? In your last show at Tina Kim Gallery, musicians performed on a bed as guests sat on it.  You’ve also recently done a rug collaboration with Patterson Flynn, which ties into the element of tactility.

ACH: I love working with different materials and coming up with combinations that are compelling to the touch, specifically in our rug collection. I see textures within rooms as similar to the way an artist would see textures on a canvas, a balancing act. Texture really bleeds into the idea of pattern or color, one discourse or an idea of putting together a composition of elements.

A gray rug with the phases of the moon outlined around the perimeter
The Moon Phases rug at the Everett Austin House in collaboration with Wadsworth Atheneum. Photo credit: Melanie Acevedo
A vintage tufted bench near a tan velvet curtain
The Playing Cards rug at the Everett Austin House in collaboration with Wadsworth Atheneum. Photography by Melanie Acevedo.

ID: What interests you about rug design? 

ACH: I have loved rugs and tapestries for a long time. Generally speaking, rugs and tapestry really show the hand of the maker, and there’s something so wonderful, compelling, and magical to be able to connect with the human on the other end of the process of making this elaborate time-consuming object. This is through the way that the work reveals their hand. In our new collaboration, all the lines are subtly different, all made on the loom. You understand the construction and the time that somebody put into it.

I love artist-made tapestries and rugs, such as the Calder straw tapestries or Picasso woven tapestries, or Art Deco rugs. It is the perfect blurry medium between art and design. Artists usually can’t be the one who makes the rug so there is a collaborative element. I have a tapestry from the 1600s from France in my living room, which I think is an amazing object.

ID: How did you craft your visual language in this new collection?

ACH: The Animal collection of rugs has to do with Surrealistic gestures, this idea of having an enormous animal in your house, like a Les Lalanne sculpture. The decks of cards and the moon phases are from a world of references that is always growing. The cards definitely nod to Cecil Beaton or Emilio Terry’s era of the 1930s. The moon phase is a reference to a Gio Ponti building with moon phases in it. There was an amazing suite within the ship Andrea Doria, which sank, decorated by Piero Fornasetti. The room had a whole world of motifs which was another inspiration in our minds while designing the rugs.

An interior from a Turtle Bay apartment designed by the duo.
An interior from a Turtle Bay apartment designed by the duo. Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson.

ID: Could you talk about the rewards and challenges of running a bicoastal practice?

ACH: The reward is that we get to do projects in very different environments and places. There are things that we’ve done in California that we could have never done here in New York, and vice versa. I just love California, so I have a good reason to constantly go there. The challenge has been to create a viable team on both coasts but I think we have gotten there now. There is a nice flow between the two offices.

ID: How does creating set designs for opera and your interest in the genre inspire your design work?

ACH: A lot of architects, especially pre-1970s, were doing interiors, furnishings, fabrics, and buildings. Opera is a coming together of all these different practices, mediums, and people with creative output. It’s such a wild conglomerate of these different parts. Putting together a house or designing a house is similar. I just love opera, the history of it. Set design is a particular interest of mine, historically, a dream of mine. Having done five or six opera designs so far is unbelievable.

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