How Customized Furniture and Commissioned Art Can Transform a Home

"The reason to commission is personalized. It’s like ordering a couture dress, like Coco Chanel designing your wedding gown."

Paravent/Screen (2006) by Maria Pergay. (Photo: Courtesy of Demisch Danant)
Paravent/Screen (2006) by Maria Pergay. (Photo: Courtesy of Demisch Danant)

Contemporary painting, sculpture and furniture are increasingly exhibited side by side in galleries and museums worldwide. Confronted with a minimal gallery or museum white box, artists often see in the void a rich opportunity to solve spatial challenges, propose questions about how we inhabit or exist in personal and private space—often with wit, pathos, drama and elegance. Not unlike moving into an unfurnished home or apartment.

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Why not take a page from their book to design your own space with limited-edition, functional furniture art? Or, consider securing a private commission that reflects your taste and serves as a creative ground for artists to explore innovative design strategies and creative goals.

Installation view of "Sebastian ErraZuriz: Look Again." (Photo: Courtesy of Sabastian ErraZuriz)
Installation view of “Sebastian ErraZuriz: Look Again.” (Photo: Courtesy of Sabastian ErraZuriz)

“It’s the responsibility as an artist to contribute in a positive way,” says Sebastian ErraZuriz. Whether producing a custom-fitted shelving system, a variation on designs that a client already has or collaborating with a museum on a large-scale exhibition, Mr. ErraZuriz employs highly individualistic visual language and design tools that make functionality, the personal and the political seamlessly part of the same practice. For his solo exhibition “Look Again” at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, Mr. ErraZuriz assembled an uncanny and humorous arrangement of found and produced objects, including a taxidermied duck and a coffin, which doubled, respectively, as a lamp and motorboat and referenced the artist’s preoccupation with mortality and utility. “There’s a fluidity between the philosophical, the political and the psychological that fits into a functional piece.” Magistral Cabinet, an armored chest that protects its contents with a carapace made from 80,000 sharpened bamboo skewers demonstrates his “obsession with repetition to the point of beautiful excess.” “I prefer to work based on ideas—when you come up with an idea that causes people to look again at something that you knew,” he says.

Payphones (Ivy) (2005) by Alexis Dahan. (Photo: Courtesy of Bethanie Brady Artist Management)
Payphones (Ivy) (2015) by Alexis Dahan. (Photo: Courtesy of Bethanie Brady Artist Management)

For over 50 years, Maria Pergay has designed furniture, rooms and environments for private clients, including Salvador Dalí, Pierre Cardin and Saudi royalty. Ms. Pergay is widely known and praised for her use of stainless steel, bronze, wood and mother of pearl, blending seemingly disparate materials into harmoniously and lyrically possessive tables, screens and cabinets. “Maria has a much more artistic approach,” admits her dealer Suzanne Demisch of Demisch Danant Gallery. Pergay’s Secret Garden console, constructed from stainless steel, bronze and copper in a limited edition of five, is equipped with interior LED lights. The room-sized, commissioned installation Boiserie is rendered in steel, sliced oak, olive tree and Macassar ebony. Almost 85 years old, Ms. Pergay shows no signs of slowing down. She is currently working on new commissions and producing a collection of furniture made of dark wood and bone, in addition to her signature stainless steel. “The reason to commission is personalized. It’s like ordering a couture dress, like Coco Chanel designing your wedding gown,” said Ms. Demisch. “It’s a unique opportunity to work with any artist. I have clients that have been commissioning pieces for years.”

Untitled (2014) by Paul P. (Photo: Courtesy of Paul P.)
Untitled (2014) by Paul P. (Photo: Courtesy of Paul P.)

Alexis Dahan takes obsolete objects found and associated with a specific exterior locale, like the cobblestone streets of New York and Paris, and gives them new identities and functionality by transitioning them into private, interior spaces. “My main focus is urban furniture, what’s on the street, but specifically urban furniture that is becoming obsolete.” For his current exhibition “Intrusion” at Five Eleven gallery (through November 7), Mr. Dahan has produced chairs, stools, a planter and a coffee table made from decommissioned New York City public pay telephones. The change in form and function of Payphones (Coffee Table) and Payphones (Chair) into domesticated furniture was suggested to Mr. Dahan while he investigated and manipulated their form. “By opening them and looking at the way they were made, I thought that one could be a chair. If I put three next to each other, then it’s a bench. If I bend this piece of metal and now I can have a support to put a piece of glass on top, then it becomes a coffee table. It can go on to change the function of the object into home furniture.” Mr. Dahan doesn’t consider himself a furniture designer per se, but often works with clients to open their space to possibilities for incursions from outside.

Secret Cube (2013) by Maria Pergay. (Photo: Courtesy of Demisch Danant)

For the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Paul P. produced functional, unique and limited edition low mahogany tables and woven woolen rugs, as well as paintings. The artist enjoys teasing out hidden or obscured meanings, histories and biographies embedded in their utility and functionality. “I would tend to designate the work as sculpture and ‘furniture’ as part of the description,” the artist explained. As part of his investigation into how familiar objects carry a personal history, the artist often attaches an imaginative provenance to each piece. “The furniture is bound to my practice somewhat freely, attaching itself to literature and aestheticism and, in that process, alluding to certain lives lived.” A desk sculpture, Escritoire Nancy, was designed with the British author Nancy Mitford in mind. The furniture was inspired by British 19th-century designer and architect E.W. Godwin, a member of the Aesthetic Movement, which included Oscar Wilde and Edward Burne-Jones. Paul P. also produces furniture for site-specific spaces. An upcoming installation of tables, stools, writing desk and shelves at Toronto’s Scrap Metal Gallery will function primarily as a bookstore in which the selection of books will change with the exhibitions. “It’s similar to how a collector would operate in their home. Everything is in service of the artwork so why not bend the space to make it more conducive to appreciating it. To abandon yourself to the artist’s vision completely takes a lot of boldness.” ν


Sebastian Errazuriz: Pieces available via Cristina Grajales Gallery and Salon 94, prices upon request.

Alexis Dahan:

Maria Pergay; Alexis Dahan: Prices and commission inquiries upon request.

Paul P.: Availability, prices and commission inquiries upon request.

How Customized Furniture and Commissioned Art Can Transform a Home