Friday, March 10, 2017

Amir Khamneipur

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Much attention is paid these days to living in small spaces and how we can all make rooms “multi-functional”—somehow the dreariest possible way of describing a room ever. Perhaps we should have talked about this more with designer Amir Khamneipur but we didn’t fully realize, until the end of our interview that his elegant and luxurious Flatiron apartment was only 700 square feet. The design is so seamlessly achieved—perhaps in part due to his training as an industrial rather than an interior designer. He admits the apartment looks like a hotel room but his description of how a good hotel room works provides a keen interpretation of multi-functionality—it’s all down to balance and proportion: “Symmetry,” he says, “gives me peace.”

Your style is quite international, even if you’ve been here forever—I saw one interview where you described yourself as “Persian”—was that a deliberate choice of word?

No—I’d say it’s not, no. I just say I was born in Iran. I don’t push the Iranian thing—I don’t want this to be a major part of it. Not all Iranians are Persian. In Iran there are Armenian Iranians, Persian Iranians, Kurdish Iranians …

So you’re not identifying with a particular era.

No—and also it was the Shah’s father was the one who changed the name from Persia to Iran. It was Persia all along. For me, I left in 1979. I’ve never been back. My parents were very international. My father went to boarding school in Switzerland; we had a house in France and in London. I was always very proud and always surrounded by very smart, successful and intellectual, wonderful Persians.
Oversized windows fill Amir's Flatiron apartment with light throughout the day. The hanging 1840s Empire chandelier was a gift from Amir's father, purchased in the 1970s in Paris.
To create more depth and visual space, Amir layered clear glass Murano sconces and a bronze framed mirror atop the fully paneled mirrored wall. The antique marble Louis XVI fireplace mantel was brought in from London through Chesney's.
The open kitchen is perfect for throwing cocktail parties. The custom minimalist cabinetry complements the color of the walls and hides appliances. Sleek yet comfortable leather stained walnut-and-bronze bar stools surround a kitchen island that Amir designed to look like a free floating dining table by adding mahogany legs and mirroring the base.
Yes, I think many people have little idea how sophisticated Iran actually is. It’s lost in the general dialogue about Iran. Do you feel you need to educate people about that aspect of Iran?

You know I have this discussion with a lot of my Persian—or Iranian—friends, which is, um, do I need to educate [other people]? Well, usually the people I gravitate to [already] know Iranians and there is a general story … and I don’t need to tell [them] the story.

So how was it when you left Iran [after the revolution]?

We didn’t take even a photograph with us. We took nothing. Just a birth certificate and a passport. Everyone who had a big house, it was taken over by the government—like my grandfather’s house, and our house, one was turned into a high school and one was turned into a courthouse.

Where do your parents live now?

They live in Vancouver, Canada.
By custom designing every inch of his apartment attention is paid to all the details.
Looking across the kitchen island toward the living room seating area. Antique un-lacquered brass and ormolu metal finishes are layered throughout the apartment to give it a slightly formal feel.
Amir enlarged and moved the original bedroom doorway so that the opening perfectly framed his bed and was totally positioned on the central axis. He placed a large gilt-framed mirror above the bed to reflect the mantel at the opposite end of the apartment.
The rolling swivel chairs arranged around a custom brass table are covered in both leather and pure wool fabric by Holly Hunt. The six-foot-long banquettes are designed to convert into two individual twin beds for occasional guests.
Handsome built-in mahogany shelves hold favorite objects and antique books.
Looking out towards Park Ave Avenue South.
So where did you go to school?

I went to boarding school in California, and for high school I went to Robert Louis Stevenson in Pebble Beach. I went to B.U. for one year and then I went to RISD, and one year in Paris, Ecole Nationale, and I studied porcelain casting in Barcelona.

And languages?
 
So I speak French, Farsi, English, Spanish …

How did you learn to speak French?

Oh, because we always had an apartment in Paris and a house in the south of France and every summer we’d go there. So for forty years we went to France every summer.

This is a very glitzy life!

Not really. The truth of the condensed part is that a lot of Iranians have very close relationships with France. They went to French schools and they speak French.
More views across the main seating and dining area. Amir chose a soothing palate of tonal grays and beiges and laid the bleached oak floor planks vertically to visually lengthen the room.
Well it’s interesting because Islamic culture also prizes that very precise and mathematical idea of visual beauty.

Totally—you’re absolutely right. And there’s a lot of mirrored work—and the proportions [are important] and everything’s tall and skinny—with these little niches. Looking back at those elements, I see how they are reflected. And then there is balance of raw and richness together. Like the landscape and then something rich incorporated [against] it.

What was your first job after graduating?

I worked for Thomas O’Brien. He taught me a lot—he taught me the idea of not looking at color as a single idea. I remember we were sitting in a conference room and I said something like, “Oh the grey walls …” and he said, “Amir if you really believe the walls are grey, then we have a problem.”  So [in] here, if you look, the walls are a blue-ish-color, the ceiling is taupe and even around each bend, I can walk you through from space to space, the colors dramatically change but they all just look like shadows but those shadows give you depth and dimension.
Amir converted a pass-through hallway into a small study. A mahogany-and-brass chair covered in horsehair is surrounded by lacquered storage closets and brass- trimmed Lucite shelves holding linen-wrapped boxes.
A 1960s Arne Jacobsen lamp, oil paintings purchased at a Dixie Highway antiques store and the computer are arranged on a custom desk that masks the P-Tac unit encased within it.
Looking across the living room towards the bedroom.
How did you take to boarding school?

I really loved it. I think for me I really excelled in the arts and it allowed me to go somewhere where I had access to my own ceramics studio twenty-four hours a day or my own arts studio.

What kind of things do you like to make?

What kind of things did I like to make? Well, it’s interesting. In ceramics, you know, to weave like, a story together, sometimes people look at my interiors and they’re like, “Oh, I see your Persian influence …” and I’m like, “[That’s] annoying. What are they trying to say?” because I don’t think my style is flashy—it’s very precise, very linear.

It is very controlled. I was actually going to ask you if you were good at math.

No, but I’m very good at custom-making things and I’m good at alignment. Symmetry gives me peace.
In the master bedroom custom mahogany cabinets with vintage reading lamps from Arteluce frame a leather and nail head-adorned storage bed covered in linens from Frette and Ralph Lauren. The silk-and-wool rug is from Aronson's Floor Covering.
A small oil portrait of Amir by Canadian artist Kris Knight is tucked in a corner of the bedroom.
How did you find running your own business? How many employees do you have?

I’ve got four—and three consulting architects. It’s very hard to be a leader. It’s very hard to run your own business. I talk about it every day with my friends. To run your company, to manage your employees, their moods, their personalities; to manage your clients and then like, your partner, your family, your housekeeper … it’s exhausting!

It is exhausting.

My mom says, “You’re always delivering something.” Another thing that I’ve fallen madly in love with …  you have to watch it and I don’t even like cooking—it is like a therapy session, is Chef’s Table. It’s on Netflix. Chef’s Table will change your life because as creative people—and I imagine you’re creative—we all feel like we’re all on our own individual journey of like: when have I achieved it? Or when is the level of achievement that I’ll feel completely satisfied? Or I have achieved but why don’t I feel satisfied? I realized the anguish this chef goes through. When you have a restaurant, you have all these people that are carrying out your vision but you can’t control them. At any moment they can make a mistake that can change your life. And going in to work every day knowing that there’s a group of people who have your life in their control … it is so interesting. Each and every chef talks about a level of failure where, in five or six cases that I saw, they were almost suicidal.

So how do you relate to this show?

Well one thing that they feel, and one thing that I feel is that no matter how much you fill up the glass it just won’t get to the top. We all went everything to be one step better. When we will we ever stop that? [To Sian] … actually I was going to comment, your skin is absolutely gorgeous—but I’m sure you want it to be just one step … that skin hasn’t seen the sunshine in, like ten years! Your hat must be like …this big!
Amir's dressing area. Custom cabinetry provides necessary storage throughout the apartment. A rolling Putnam ladder on matching polished brass tracks allows for easy access to upper cabinets throughout the apartment.
A view from the master bath into the study and main living/dining space.
Still life paintings in the style of Giorgio Morandi hang above a 1940s Belgian bust purchased from the now defunct Coconut Company.
[Sian] I’m lucky—that’s the bottom line! But you’re right. I live in a cave. Anyway you started at entry level jobs and then you moved on to bigger jobs and now you have your own business … I mean do you now want a bigger business? Or have you achieved what you wanted to do?

I think at this age—you know I’m forty-two now—I’ve definitely realized there’s something else: limitations. That’s another word I love. To be happy, I’ve realized I have limitations.

So I’m still fascinated by this idea of symmetry bringing peace because there is so much of it in modern design—is this a reaction to the tumultuous nature of modern life?

For me, I like the control aspect of it. But modern lines don’t have to be symmetrical—mid-century modern [lines] can be asymmetrical, like cantilevered, this goes that way and that goes this way. I don’t think symmetry has become popular; I think clean lines have become popular.
The master bath walls and floors are clad with an Olympic Gray marble. The custom bath vanity hides two hampers for laundry and the 24" deep, mirrored medicine cabinets double as storage for linens as well as for toiletries.
Amir designed a guest bath with a clever Jack-and- Jill eleven-foot shower that can be accessed without going through the master bedroom. Frosted glass walls and curtains act as privacy screens to block views from one side or the other.
Peeking into the powder room.
Okay I have one last question and it was actually a quote from one of your clients and he said, “I travel a lot and I’m used to hotels. Living in a grand hotel seems like home and I wanted to recreate that feeling.” I think that’s just weird.

Okay—I’ll explain to you because obviously this looks like a hotel so you can see how weird this is. Looking at a space as a furniture designer, the symmetry and balance and proportions all come from designing things that are really small. When you go into a small space in a hotel, it’s able to make you happy in such a small space. You’re thinking, “I want my light.” Boom—there’s a light there. Or, “I’m hungry.” There’s this gorgeous lacquer cabinet; the light turns on. It’s got your snack. You go to the window and there’s a little desk. To me that has everything wrapped up in a small space.

But what has that got to do with hotel living? People want all that in a big house.

Luxury is associated with hotels now.  In hotel living, there’s lots of detail that gives you joy. But now, if I were to do [my apartment] again would I do it exactly the same? No. This was so controlled and … so everything. If I were to do it again … I would want a really deep feather down sofa to fall into. Now that I’ve achieved my level of success that I was comfortable with, I want to be able to come back home and just fall into my sofa and fall asleep.