Ulla Johnson recently crossed a major milestone: two decades in business. Best known for exuberant womenswear that makes deft use of natural fibers, intricate embroideries, and refined tailoring, the ascendant fashion designer had long been searching for her next showroom. She sought an understated yet transportive space that would showcase her latest collections in the best possible light to clients while honoring the artists, designers, and craftspeople that have long influenced her namesake label. Unbeknownst to her, the ideal space was sitting directly across the hall from her design studio, in a sun-drenched loft complete with sweeping views of surrounding SoHo.
The raw interior required a total overhaul, so she turned to local designer and longtime friend Rafael de Cárdenas. “To have a true home for the collection in this way was a long-awaited and much anticipated moment for us,” Johnson says, noting her admiration for how his practice seamlessly balances commercial and residential projects. “Many of the things that were important to me when opening our two stores were also key with this showroom: creating a transportive space that feels intimate and inviting, with places for the eye to pause, and areas for one to occupy that feel residential rather than commercial.”
Thanks to the duo’s keen curatorial eye and affinity for handicraft, such moments are in ample supply. Immediately grabbing attention upon entry is a warm, inviting vignette that abounds with textural panache: it’s anchored by a travertine Angelo Mangiarotti table, bamboo Ingo Maurer pendant (from Johnson’s own collection), large-scale ceramic vessel by Kazunori Hamana, and sinuous blush-toned sofa. “Within both the collections and our interiors, I’m always very interested in using natural and hand-touched materials and finishes that possess a lasting and unique character,” Johnson says. “It’s exciting to explore layering them in ways that both honor their history and feel unexpected and modern.”
Nearby, a pair of creamy Gerard Lange sofas reupholstered in vintage Dedar bouclé wool face off atop a traditional Tuareg bamboo-and-leather rug. That setup is backdropped by shelving that displays an array of her label’s latest accessories against a wall of lustrous Italian handmade gilt mirror tiles and travertine stone display benches. That contrasts with the cloud-like walls, which are finished throughout in a hand-troweled white plaster mixed with mother-of-pearl to create a subtle luster. Windows are dressed with two styles of custom hand-woven blinds by Alexis Brown, the designer who masterminded her nearby boutique’s breezy interiors.
For more low-key digs, a perforated Filipino mahogany screen—hand-carved by rising Brooklyn woodworkers Green River Project—delineates a cozy nook near reception. The standout? A custom sofa upholstered in an amber-hued jacquard velvet, also by Dedar, that wouldn’t look out of place in her label’s Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection, which is proudly displayed on hanging satin-finished brass rails. “We wanted to create a domestic style of familiarity and comfort,” says de Cárdenas. “No detail obtrudes so much as to interrupt the simple breadth and warmth of the overall space. There’s a kind of quiet exuberance throughout.”