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Though he works as a quantitative analyst for a bank, spending his days creating computer programs and mathematical models, Toulouse, France–born Raphaël Zerbib always had an itch to create in a more artistic way. Once he moved to London and bought his first apartment—which he shares with his husband, Julian, and their dog—he began conceiving his own furniture and collaborating with artisans, fabricators, and designers like Elliott Barnes to bring it to life. Here, he explains a few of his favorite things.
I’ve always been attracted to creation. My job is very cerebral, and while it’s fulfilling, the ability to create something by hand, and the freedom of that, is missing from what I do, so throughout the years I kept feeding this passion. Because I have ideas, I can work with people who can help me to create my own furniture, and that’s been rewarding for me.
My approach to design has evolved a lot from back when I was only worshiping the Memphis style. I like mixing styles from different eras or different designers, and I like mixing antiques and contemporary pieces. They can tell a different story than if they’re placed apart, and for me, it’s the right way to make design history relevant—to make the past, present, and future talk to each other through objects.
The coffee table I designed with Elliott Barnes. The inspiration behind it is a ceramic steak I bought from Astier de Villatte [shown in the previous spread]. The kidney-shaped top—you’ll see that they’re roughly the same form and color. It’s one of my husband’s favorite objects, and he suggested the idea. Elliott likes to name the pieces he makes, and the name of this table is Bavette, the Glacier, and a Silver Room. The painting over the sofa is by Jason Tessier. I have a few paintings of his, but I particularly like this one because when I look at it, I always see an upside-down face. I like that it allows you the opportunity to decide what it represents to you. Anyone looking at it will have a different interpretation.
The mirror is one of my favorite pieces. I found the woodworker who made it, Christophe Daguet, on Instagram, and fell in love with it. It’s imperfect, but at the same time it’s really beautifully made; when you get closer you can see that the grain isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be everywhere, or there are bits of inlaid wood that help hold it together. So you see the handwork behind it, which is something I really value.
My husband and I made the headboard completely with our bare hands. It was a challenge. I’ve designed things, but before this I’d never participated in the manufacturing process, so for me this was the next level, making something from scratch to the very end. The only thing we didn’t do ourselves was get the shape cut out of plywood, but we drew the shape. I liked how the vase looks like it’s cut out of paper. You can’t really put flowers or water in it, and it’s not really symmetrical; I like that it’s imperfect.
The dining room lamp is by Elliott, and the idea was to have this big, fat, squared pyramid sitting on top of the table. The table is also by Elliott. The painting is by my husband. It’s supposed to be my husband, his best friend, and her dog. I wanted something that represented a usual dinner scene, and Julian—who’s a fashion stylist—said, “I can do it, because I used to paint before.” I didn’t trust him in the beginning, but in the end, I loved it so much. It’s a great piece of art. The lamp is by Gary Morga.
I’m really drawn to lamps that have this typical lamp shape, but revisited. Like the dining room pendant lamp that has the same shape but upside down. The only exception is the Memphis lamps; they’re more like objects for me that I collect. And they have a meaning for me, because Memphis is something I discovered very early, when I was at university, and it made me aware that when you’re a designer, you can make amazing, funny, beautiful things, and that’s how you learn to create a living interior that’s specific to you and not dictated by trends.
How to Live With Objects. Copyright © 2022 by Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Charlie Schuck. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.