The New York–based design darling Anna Karlin is having a moment. She has worked in an array of fields—from design and art direction to furniture and fine objects—aiming to tell emotional stories through temporary spaces and permanent pieces. Recently, she designed the interiors of ten model apartments in One Manhattan Square, a residential building in New York, and launched her first fine jewelry collection.
In April during Milan Design Week, the gallery Rossana Orlandi presented an exhibition of Karlin’s work entitled “Subverting Domestic Familiarity.” It was there that we caught sight of her two new lighting pieces— the Form and the Dimple—that transformed lamps into luxury items.
Whitewall spoke with Karlin to learn more about her practice, her inaugural jewelry collection, and how design can tell an emotional story.
WHITEWALL: Your work varies—working in print, art direction, fashion shows, interiors, set design, and more. Tell us a bit about your background leading up to today.
ANNA KARLIN: I started in the art direction field and then I really decided I wanted to make more permanent works. I was doing set design, graphics, installations, windows, and all sorts of special projects, but they were always in a more temporary nature. Permanence just came calling. So I decided to launch furniture and fine jewelry.
WW: Why did these experiences lead you to furniture and object design?
AK: I love the difference in the two. One is almost always an answer to a brief and the other is always looking from within. One is inside and one is outside. I think if you have it in you, you have got to sort of look there. I really felt it was time to generate works not from a brief standpoint.
WW: You’ve mentioned that design should tell a story, and an underlying motivation of yours is to provoke emotional reactions with your pieces. What kind of story do you typically aim to tell?
AK: There are many stories. The story can be an emotional one. If you can generate an emotional response, essentially from an inanimate object, I think that is a really interesting part that I find incredibly satisfying. The people who are looking and using the work also take great pleasure in that. It is an emotional response that you are trying to harness.
I know when a piece of work is finished, or if it is successful or not, if it generates that reaction in me. When I look at it, I know in my gut if that piece is right or wrong. That is about our emotional connection to objects, shape, and really our emotional connection to aesthetics. It is that that you are trying to thrill them with. Otherwise, it is a surface design and it is truly not a successful work.
WW: Tell us about “Subverting Domestic Familiarity,” which was presented at Rossana Orlandi during Milan Design Week.
AK: Essentially, we as humans are a lot more basic than we like to think of ourselves. As human beings, we crave certain connections. The natural world—and natural materials—is one of them; it is fundamental. At the same time, familiarity is just as important to each of us and gives us a way in.
Some of the pieces might be very challenging, but there is something in them that gives you a way in. We feel like it resonates with something we have seen in our childhood or our past. It is familiar to their eye and then you twist it and take them on a journey, rather than just confronting them with something alien and leading them to feel affronted by it (which they will not be able to connect with at all). The other way to give people a way in is to utilize and celebrate the natural materials. Looking at materiality, there is just something about natural materials that people really respond to, something they can really identify—what it is made from.
As for the domestic sphere, these are essentially domestic products. Yes, they are sculpture, but they are very much made to be presented in the domestic sphere. So you are taking the domestic context, which is familiar and can be “ignored,” and subverting our expectations and experience of it.
WW: You also recently launched a fine jewelry collection.
AK: It was a natural progression. Furniture is usable sculpture and that is exactly what I see jewelry as, as well. I love wearing jewelry. I love the whole aesthetic assemblage of a person’s outward aesthetic. I love dressing up. Every day is a different look. I don’t have a uniform by any means. That is one of the great pleasures of being a woman, and jewelry is a part of that. It was just something I wanted to do.