A Closet of Curiosities

Intense, eclectic designs purvey the most exquisite approaches of Sasha Bikoff, with rooms that pique the senses and manifest inspiration in every nook, lingering a dramatic narrative long after the paint dries.

interview / ciara bird — photographs / nicole cohen

Tell us about the client− when you first began this project did she
have a clear vision of what she wanted? This was a very unique client – she hated decorating and found it to be stressful; however, she had a clear concept that she wanted her apartment to reflect the Ballets Russes, her life in Tehran, and the great concert halls and opera houses of Europe. She wanted her home to reflect her passions in life, which are ballet and piano in a very feministic way. I call her my “dream client” because she respected and trusted my vision so much so that I just did whatever I wanted to do. I work best this way.

What aspects of her personality and lifestyle did you draw upon as inspiration? She uses her living room, which we call the “grand salon”, to do ballet and play on her Steinway concert grand piano, so I drew upon the costumes of the Ballets Russes, the hermitage, and the Paris opera house to achieve this. The library was inspired by Yves Klein – I wanted this to be the only room that was a bit more masculine because it is a library. Apart from the French feministic qualities, the décor has many pieces that reflect a more Studio 54 disco vibe, which was a great moment in her life.

You’ve used a fascinating mix of eclectic furniture and art that give the apartment a very worldly, well-traveled appearance – did any of these belong to the client or did you source everything? Most of the pieces I sourced from France, Italy, and parts of the U.S. There are a lot of Italian and French mid-century pieces, a lot of Rococo Louis XV pieces as well. The only things that belonged to my client were her Persian Tabriz silk carpet collection, which came from her childhood, and all the Persian manuscript artwork.

Were there specific pieces you built each room around, or was it a fully organic process? The living room was painted around the silk carpets that have these blush and peachy tones. The dining room was painted around the minty sea foam green silk carpet that she had. I do not go to a showroom and conceptualize an entire room. Pieces appear at auctions, in stores, at flea markets. My concept, just like painting, is about layering the color and the texture. An abstract artist never knows how a painting will evolve, and that’s how I work.

As an artist yourself, do you find that you treat designing differently than you do when painting, or do they share the same approach?

For me, they share the same approach. Designing is supposed to be exciting, fresh, and unique. No two paintings are alike and no two rooms should be alike. The creativity and ideas just come out from every angle. Let’s just say that people who like expensive grey, beige, or perfect symmetry don’t call me.

Tell us about your time at the Gagosian Gallery and in Paris and Miami−how influential has it been on your design style? The Gagosian gallery taught me discipline and a very stringent work ethic. It also taught me how to work with clients. Clients put their trust in you especially when it comes to the importance of their home, their oasis. The gallery was all about the sale; it was all about the business side of art. In many ways it inhibited my creativity, but the business experience I got was priceless.

My time living in Paris was the happiest time of my life. I was living in a city that described everything I love in life. This period gave me that sophistication you cannot get in America. It’s where I developed my eye for all things beautiful. You need to go to museums, galleries, and visit classic architecture in Europe to elevate your mind’s eye.

I partially live in Miami, and for me it’s all about this Tony Montana, Scarface, Art Deco revival and Miami Vice period. I am so attracted to the energy and colors of the city, the pastels mixed with the deco motifs and Latin party nightlife vibe.

How did you make the transition from working in an art gallery to starting your own design firm? I always did interior design on the side. Many collectors start collecting after they have furnished their homes and realize they need to fill their walls. I would help people pick out art based on their décor, and I finally took the plunge and left once I got that big job which was the Dakota. It was scary, but I was ready to be my own boss and follow my passion.

Aesthetically, have you always trusted your instincts? Always. In the beginning, there were many times when my clients would want to do something that I didn’t agree with, or wanted to buy something I didn’t like. I would struggle with how to react towards this because I would never want to do something I didn’t agree with. In the end I let honesty prevail. I know what looks good and I know what doesn’t. Trust the professionals.

Who are some of the people you’re inspired by? Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, and my grandmother, the most fabulous woman there ever was, are my greatest influences.

Were there any unplanned discoveries that ended up working out perfectly? The original moldings worked out perfectly because we gilded them gold all around the fireplaces and ceilings.

Each room feels like a jewel box; what’s your relationship with color and pattern like? So funny! I describe rooms as little jewel boxes. I studied color my whole life because of my background in fine art. I know what colors work together, what shades of colors work well together. I refer to nature and paintings to achieve a color palette. For instance, I am working on another project on 65th Street and the living room has every color found in Fragonard’s “The Swing”.

What qualities do you most admire in a room? I most admire bedrooms. They tend to be the most like a jewel box. I love making bedrooms a little more feminine because I think it creates a warmness and sexiness that women want and that men desire.

You’ve certainly created an exotic escape from the city; would you say this is this your signature? Yes! No one wants to live inside a concrete jungle.

This interview was conducted fall 2014.

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