This Design Duo Will Seduce You With Materials

Apparatus cofounders Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson imbue their elegant objects with emotion and a narrative twist.

You two started designing objects for your apartment out of necessity. What made you decide to start a studio together?

Gabriel Hendifar: When we moved in together in 2010, we were living in L.A. and couldn’t afford amazing things at the time. Jeremy has always been a tinkerer—he’s a potter and has a never-ending supply of energy—and I’d been designing interiors and making womenswear. We made some lights and a friend, who owns a gallery called L7, came over for dinner one night and asked, “Who makes these lights? I think we can sell them.” From the beginning, we were interested in creating things that combined modern sculptural forms with materials that feel like they have a soul—something we felt was absent in the [design landscape] at the time.

Jeremy Anderson: We wanted to figure out how to get the soul into the thing.

Hendifar: Right. So we moved to New York and acted like we had a business, which resulted in having a business. One of our first orders was for a restaurant in Shanghai that wanted three of our Compass fixtures. How do you wire something for 240-volt electricity? We had no idea. We just said yes and figured things out.

Was there a reason you started with lighting?

Hendifar: Lighting is accessible to make, sort of like jewelry. When you make a table, it has to be stable and perform a certain way. With lighting, you can really experiment with form. You don’t have to do much, but it’s the most magical thing in the room.

Jeremy Anderson and Gabriel Hendifar.

Today, you have a 47-person team, showrooms in New York and Milan, and create everything from furniture to entire environments for clients including the Four Seasons, Soho House, Paris’s Lutetia hotel, and architect Annabelle Selldorf. How has your process changed?

Hendifar: The beginning was about asking ourselves what we need and what we wanted to live with. That’s still the litmus test. But today we talk about collections as “acts,” which indicates [that] we’re more invested in narrative than we were at the beginning. The collections reference specific moments in time. Acts II and III, for example, explore end-of-empire moments, when culture feels like it’s flourishing right before it all disappears. This results in collections that feel richer and have a place outside the design realm.

Anderson: On an operations level, Gabriel has always been the ideas man. I was very involved in the making aspects early on: Wiring the fixtures, applying the patina and all the leather details, packaging it all up. I was also doing all the administrative work. As we grew, that part of the work started taking over. It’s been great to bring others on board to take that on.

Apparatus’s New York showroom is a 10,000-square-foot loft on 30th Street that you gut-renovated and designed everything inside, down to the candleholders. It’s a bona fide gesamtkunstwerk. Wasn’t this space originally a gymnasium?

Hendifar: The building was built as a school at the turn of the century. It was the studio of [American artist] Philip Taaffe for about twenty years before we took it over. You show up, walk through an odd lobby, ride an elevator that feels like it’s about to break, open a copper door that looks like an old bank [vault], and walk into our space, where a double-height ceiling creates a sense of volume that keeps getting bigger and bigger—it’s magical.

Apparatus’s New York showroom.

Having such a large space enabled you to bring all the elements of Apparatus—a showroom, workshop, and offices—together under one roof for the first time. Why was that important to you?

Hendifar: We’ve always been focused on creating a specific culture. The best way to do that is to make sure everyone has the same sense of investment. That means making sure someone on our shipping team understands [that] he is as connected to the client as someone who has a face-to-face interaction with them—the way you pack a box is the first thing a client encounters. Being here has helped us to define what’s important to us, which goes far beyond aesthetics.

How do you maintain balance in your creative partnership?

Hendifar: I develop the concepts, but there’s always a point in that process where it is critical to have Jeremy’s feedback. He’s the eagle-eye editor and able to immediately find the weak link, which always results in the object becoming better. Over the years we’ve found more effective ways to have that conversation but, we’re a couple, and there are moments when that’s more or less difficult depending on everything else going on in our lives.

The workshop at Apparatus’s Madison Avenue space.
Detail of the Cloud pendant.

Jeremy, as Gabriel mentioned earlier, you’re also a ceramist. Is that something you see integrating with Apparatus, or do you prefer to keep them separate?

Anderson: That’s an interesting question. Everything lives in the same world here, so there will be some overlap. But I’ve kind of found my voice in what I’ve been working on personally, and I’m really into that.

Gabriel, Apparatus’s most recent collection, Act III, takes an distinctly personal approach: You used it as a springboard to explore your Middle Eastern origins. Was that fruitful for you?

Hendifar: I was trying to imagine a world that I only knew second- and thirdhand—a place my parents left in a hurry, like many people who left Iran in the late ’70s. Growing up, it was a place that was sort of suspended in amber. That was very different from the interactions I’ve had with it as an American, viewing it as a scary place where bad things happen. Trying to reconcile the two created a desire to populate those memories with things that exist in a fantasy space.

Act III has been one of the most rewarding and most difficult collections—on both a personal level and the circumstances of it. For instance, we tried to create a series of objects in Iran but realized that, because we’re an American entity, it was illegal. I had a sense that, at the end of the whole process, I would somehow feel whole. That’s a lot of weight to put on something. I don’t know if there will be another collection that feels as to-the-bone as this one. But maybe I’m wrong.

In each of Apparatus’s objects, there’s a palpable reverence for the materials used to make it. Where does that come from?

Hendifar: I learned how to make things by putting them on my body. That moment when you put something on and decide you have to have it and can’t take it off—that electric moment where a thing becomes a feeling—that’s what we really strive to capture. The way to do that is through seduction, and the way we seduce is through materials. That’s kind of the through-line in all the collections. Whether we’re using suede or alabaster or horse hair, there should be a moment of not knowing entirely what you’re looking at, so you come closer.

A room in Apparatus’s showroom.
Apparatus’s own lighting and homeware enhance the space.
A detail from the studio's showroom.
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