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<< Back to Home & Style, March 2014

Form & Fancy

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

David Wiseman has transformed a four-story staircase in a Manhattan apartment into a work of art. Plaster linden branches bearing porcelain wisteria blossoms ascend with the stairs, and a thick trunk, fashioned from fiberglass to keep its weight light, appears to pierce a flight from below. The design appears natural and at the same time stylized: The linden branches and wisteria blossoms are cast or sculpted in pure white, matching the color of the walls. The work is not intended to depict a grim, postapocalyptic vision of nature reclaiming the land. Rather, it celebrates the union of nature and architecture.

The staircase also tells a story for the clients who commissioned it. “It became a living family tree for them,” says Wiseman, explaining that genealogical research revealed references to lindens and wisterias in the names of the couple’s ancestors. A snow-white porcelain owl perched outside a window and overlooking the staircase represents their firstborn son. The installation, which required a year of planning, a year for fabrication, and a month and a half to put in place, is still evolving. The family recently welcomed twins, and Wiseman will fashion animal avatars for them, too, but not right away. “We’re waiting to get to know them more, and see what their personalities are,” says Wiseman. In the meantime, Wiseman designed a suite of Judaica objects that will include silver kiddush cups for all the children, decorated with depictions of wisteria blossoms to match the staircase.

Wiseman, who is 32 and based in Los Angeles, is one of several artists and designers of contemporary furnishings and decorative objects who are transforming the field by imbuing their work with playful, artistic touches. They draw inspiration from a wide range of sources—from shapes and sounds found in nature to creatures of fiction and legend.

The 29-year-old fraternal twins Nikolai and Simon Haas of Los Angeles, also known as the Haas Brothers, recently released their Beast collection, which was influenced by the stories of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. Many of the furnishings are upholstered in Icelandic sheepskin, Finnish reindeer fur, or Wyoming buffalo fur and fitted with bronze feet that resemble hooves or cheetah paws. Parisian Hubert le Gall’s Mon Yeti lamp is sheathed in sheep’s wool and features a gold-colored chain that tethers it to the wall, in case the elusive creature tries to run away. Hervé Van der Straeten, another Frenchman, has created abstract pieces that subtly reference crystals and natural geometric forms. The artist and interior decorator Kathy Taslitz, who works from Los Angeles and Chicago, casts delicate, lattice-like sculptures of leaves in bronze. Her latest project was inspired by listening to the sounds of seashells. It features a series of oversize seashells fitted with audio tracks that play not just the sound of the ocean but also the sounds of children laughing, a heartbeat, fingers alighting on a keyboard—“what you hear through the ages,” she says. “There’s a calming sensation when you sit with [the shells].”

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