|Furniture and interior designer Laura Kirar, who is very poised and soignée, lives with her husband and sweet little blind cat in a rather romantic, eclectic apartment on the Upper East Side. The bold color combinations and a buried history of once being a slob (her own words – but impossible to imagine now) testify to her original training as an artist at the Chicago Institute of Art. The tricky distinctions between art and design came up in our conversation, which covered a lot of ground: from housecleaning, control freakery and on to the dream project of converting her 18th century hacienda in Mexico into a creative space/B&B for artists in any medium.
You’re very composed. I watched an interview with you [online] and thought how composed you were.
You know what, when you start off in this business, you don’t really think about this being part of what your job is … when I was in school nobody said, ‘Oh and by the way, you’ll have to talk about it a lot.’
It seems the successful designers we interview are, on the whole, also very articulate.
I went to an art institute where [one] is very conceptual, very internal and you spend hours alone thinking about things. There’s the critique, the rare opportunity to talk about it but you fast-forward fifteen years and I spend half of my time talking now!
|A view into the living room from the front entryway. Laura added a whimsical paint detail to finish off the doorway and walls.||A rich custom-mixed purple hue saturates the walls of the front entryway.|
|A curtain wall of black-and-white fabric from a vintage store makes a bold statement in the living room.|
|The 1950's Danish silver tea set was a gift from Laura’s aunt.|
|I also heard you mention that you’re a slob!
You did!! [aghast]
I mean you don’t look like a slob to me. I think it was something you said about when you were growing up.
Um … I’m the oldest of six … I’m the creative one, I’m the free spirited one. You don’t like to use those clichés but in my family it’s really true. The next in line, my sister, she was sort of the perfect child, very neat, very studious. Her idea of fun was to sit in our bedroom and write poetry, and I was like: forget it. I was always very high energy, very quick. The slob comment definitely came out of sharing a bedroom.
But you share a bedroom still!
With my husband!
Is he untidy?
No, he’s not. I think we're tidy in different ways. For me, I need visual order and he needs everything to be spotless to the point where you can go to the furthest corner of the floor and eat off of it.
|A painting by artist Sara Davis hangs above a sofa designed for Baker.|
|The eclectic style of in living room combines Laura’s designs with found objects and furniture collected over the years.|
|A set of Thonet chairs found in a Cape Cod antiques shop surrounds a 1940s Italian table.||Looking across the living room from the bedroom doorway.|
|Ah … visual order, I like that concept.
I need it but I don’t too hung up about the surface. Although I do have these sort of mad moments where I’ll go on a cleaning jaunt and I’ll put him to shame.
What triggers one of those cleaning bouts?
I love to purge. There’s something meditative about it. You’re kind of in a zone. I think a lot of people feel it. It just seems like there’s these organizational-type stores like the Container Store it springing up on every corner. Everybody has this need to tidy … to put our lives in order.
There’s something depressing about messy houses—and too much stuff everywhere.
The Buddhists say that attachment leads to discontent. And I really believe that. And that sort of idea is counter to our culture where we are brought up to attain and own. When I moved here to be with my now-husband, and I moved from a 4000-square foot loft in Chicago, so I had books, and I had paintings and I’ve always loved vintage clothing … and I gave it all away. I moved here with two large suitcases. It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.
|A 1960's Italian vase filled with fresh flowers perks up a coffee table for Baker.|
|Laura set up a workspace in the corner of the living room complete with a desktop Mac and bookcases purchased from Crate and Barrel. Laura and Richard discovered the desk in their hotel during a trip to Italy and had it shipped home.|
|A side table in the living room.||A model of a penguin that was used in a store display stands watch atop the living room bookcase,|
|Were there any major regrets?
I don’t remember any of it with the exception of one painting. It was something I painted and it was emotionally significant to me and I ended up giving it to a friend. It’s the only thing I can remember.
You said once that: I’m really not so sure I’d like to be called a designer, I’d like to be called an artist.
Sometimes I think designer is limiting. At the same time everyone sort of needs to have a label. I don’t want to be just one thing. Right now I think people recognize me as a product designer but I’ve done interior design just as long, and I’ve made paintings and conceptual installations.
|An Art Deco cast bronze lemur perches atop an onyx garden stool by Laura.|
|Looking across the living room towards the bedroom.|
|Did you ever imagine yourself being a business person when you were at Chicago Art Institute?
How did you learn the business?
Oh, I think it was the PhD of life.
Is it something you embrace or do you see it as necessary evil?
I’m a control freak. I need to know. I need those reports. I thrive on the strategy of it.
|Clockwise from above: Mr. Snapps, Laura’s rescue cat, who is mostly blind, cooling off on the kitchen floor. The refrigerator is covered with family photos and a favorite art poster; A fire engine red cappuccino machine and coffee maker.|
|How did you meet your husband?
I met him when I worked at Holly Hunt in Chicago. We knew each other for almost two years before we ever started dating. I just wasn’t interested in dating someone from the workplace and I was pretty young at that point and didn’t realize that dating pool was pretty small in our industry! [laughs]
Holly Hunt is ambitious. Are you ambitious?
I’m very ambitious. Holly Hunt was one of my first business role models.
|A wall of doors in master bedroom serve as both storage space and the entrance to the master bath.|
|A cabinet by Christian Liagre stands against an angled wall in the master bedroom. The painting is by Laura Davis.|
|A collection of carved carnival noses purchased in Savannah stand atop the Christian Liagre cabinet.||A side view of a 1960s ceramic vessel from a Brussels flea market.|
|Can you tell us about the hacienda you have bought in Mexico?
I started going there twenty years ago to do yoga and I kind of fell in love with the Mayan culture. We returned again and again and we returned for a wedding four years ago and found this place. There are two existing buildings. The first one was built in the 1760s and it’s a Moorish style building that has eleven Moorish arches. The second building was built about a hundred years later and that was Palladian style. It’s quite something. It’s been unused for seventy years. It’s in ruins.
What do you plan to do with it?
Well, live in it and the second building I would like to restore and turn into creative space. I really want it to be a place where people from all different mediums can come and work. And then the main house would be a place for them to stay. We’re planning eight to ten bedrooms. We’re also designing a contemporary building that can be used for sleeping or painting studios.
|A photograph by Cindy Sherman hangs above a sheepskin topped mid-century chair.||A landscape found at the Marché aux Puces hangs behind a table lamp for Baker.|
|Custom linens and a custom upholstered headboard make for a stylish bed.|
|Three drawings by a Japanese artist titled ‘A Meditation on Nothingness,’ complete of feeling of serenity in the master bedroom.||Drawings from Richard’s expanding collection include a 1920's dry-point etching and a lithograph of an exploding egg, both French.|
|A lamp by Fornasetti stands atop a bedside table designed by Laura for Baker. The portrait is of Laura’s husband, Richard Frazier’s, father. It was drawn by a prisoner of war during WWII.|
|A tall brass lamp from India stands next to a chair designed by Laura for Dennis Miller.||Views of the lush backyard garden from the bedroom window.|
|So going back to being a control freak … what’s your best guess as to what lies behind it?
Oh gosh … I don’t know. I guess I just believe in the vision I have. I guess it’s being a typical artist, that as an artist you have something you need to communicate, that’s your need, something you need to share with the world or whoever will listen.
What do you do when you’re not working, to switch off?
What’s your favorite karaoke song to sing then?
I do Dolly Parton’s Jolene.
• Sian Ballen • Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch