Every now and then we interview someone whose personality is inexplicably completely different from the taste his or her apartment exhibits. Carlos Aparicio, architect and fine furniture dealer, took that perception to another level. His apartment is an exercise in restraint, both in its palette and the precision of the rigorous design sensibility that has informed it—one of those ‘Through the Keyhole’ shows would have him down as an introvert, maybe even a little obsessive and anti-social. Perhaps that’s the side he just didn’t show us because he simply burst with voluble energy, thrillingly strong opinions, passion and humor. So despite being surrounded by some of the most exquisite furniture in the world, much of it by the famed French designer Jean Michel Frank, our conversation whirled around all kinds of things: the way cities have changed, how ugly people are in New York, the particular miseries of London when you are a poor, materialism and to start off, we launched almost immediately into politics and the subject of Barack Obama …
What’s interesting is that a lot people find him very passionate but I don’t actually find him passionate.
I don’t either … I mean I am American but I wasn’t necessarily born here and Americans have a weakness for preaching. They like to be preached to and he is the preacher’s son. He has that Jesse Jackson [thing]… he’s from that school … an intellectual version of the preacher. He has that charisma of Martin Luther King Jr. He really has that sort of ‘wiseness’ about him, some kind of revelation … he saw a light somewhere and he’s going to lead us out of the darkness, and it’s really paying off … and all her [Hillary Clinton’s] experience, it’s really tainted her … she put up with things that other Americans would like to think they would not have put up with and now she’s seen as slightly amoral. It’s all about religion and morals [in this country]. I mean when Mitterrand was in power, he had a mistress and a daughter with her and no one even cared.
But that’s not happening now with Sarkozy.
But that’s a different story. Someone who gets divorced and is three months in power and immediately takes on some rich floozy … it’s a scandal! France and Europe … it’s in a shambles! I was in Paris two weeks ago and it was insane! People tell me that the average salary of an educated worker is 1200 euros a month! 1200 euros a month!! I would have a panini and a Coke and it would be something like $20! How do they survive? We complain but the Europeans have it worse.
I’m interested to know that you are not a fan of London—everyone we interview always loves London.
I studied for six months there. I went to RISD and Harvard for grad school and in between I lived in London. I was really poor, really, really poor and it was so rough. I find life in London so harsh. It’s so hard to be anything but filthy rich, and it’s always been that way. It was so grey, so grim. You were really young and you wanted to be out and you couldn’t because you couldn’t get back home. The Tube didn’t work and it still doesn’t. All my friends from RISDwho were staying there, they had no heat, it was just sheer misery!! Sooo depressing … it has to do with the carpeting, the wallpaper …
How does it differ from being poor in New York though?
Like here you can go to a funky Polish restaurant, you can have Indian. In London, back then you couldn’t. You had to have really greasy fish and chips or bad Indian. [Now] London is this strange financial hub, an army of people in suits and all that area that has been developed for them, and then you get the incredibly wealthy areas full of Russians and Arabs, God bless them, there’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t really live there.
There’s no real pulse.
There isn’t one. But you know my best friend lives in Madrid and he hasn’t been to New York for 12 years and he was so taken aback because he felt that New York has become a city of stores. Every neighborhood had become a fashion neighborhood. The Meatpacking District—it’s fashion, the Village—it’s fashion, Nolita—it’s fashion. Who the hell buys these fucking clothes?!! Who? Retail! Retail! Retail! Twelve years ago in the Meatpacking District you went into a dungeon to be whipped!
But this is a paradox because you deal in selling stuff too …
Well, it’s very different in the sense that these are commodities. First of all they’re very hard and rare to find. I mean I just had these two chairs by [Jean Michel] Frank yesterday and at the end of the day I see it as not any different from art. I’ve invested money and I’ve invested very wisely. Not only do these things keep their value but they tend to go up.
It’s still stuff though.
It is stuff but it is stuff that is charged with history and they are the contents of our society, of the wars that we have lived through, of the fact that a lot of this stuff—I like stuff from the time between the wars—it’s so fascinating because you have an incredible amount of beauty being sandwiched into a very short period of time. The fact that I’m so lucky to own it is mesmerizing to me.
Sometimes I envy people from other centuries their experience of seeing something that so broke with the norms of the time, that shock value say of Impressionism. Is there anything you would say is truly new to our eye now?
I think that perhaps the way in which we describe ‘new’ is what’s changed. Things that will be new will be new ways of repackaging the way we process information. The world has shifted from perception to information. It’s no longer about the way we see but the way we digest information. It’s about the ways you package the same shit all over again.
How do you feel about popular design, Ikea and that kind of thing?
I have been to Ikea and I’m actually incredibly shocked at how I don’t want any of it. I’d rather have nothing.
So tell us about living in Cuba.
I was born in Cuba but I left when I was a year old. We moved to Puerto Rico.
How was that?
I find it harder and harder to live in a cold climate.
I find winter so long. My life changed because I’ve been living with someone in Argentina and I spend a lot of time there. I have one beautiful home and now I’ve bought an incredibly beautiful home, an apartment in Buenos Aires, from the 1940s, which I’m renovating.
We both would love to go to Buenos Aires.
Well you have to. You have to go when I’m there—which is not that hard by the way!
What’s cool about it?
You know what’s really cool about it? The women and the men are really friggin’ beautiful! Your eyes will pop out of your head and roll on the street! [laughs loudly]
My friend when he comes here, he says ‘I understand why you go to Buenos Aires, I get it, I mean people in New York are so freakin ugly.’ He rides the subway and he’s like ‘I’ve never seen so many ugly people!’ We don’t register!
Well it’s so funny you’re talking about this because I was thinking this on the subway–there were all these like blobs sitting around me …
Blobs in black coats! They’re like Teletubbies! My friend calls them the Teletubbies! He goes go like ‘peee peee weee weee’ and I say what are you doing and he says ‘I’m speaking Teletubby.’ Little short heads, overstuffed, no neck … [we’re all laughing]
But we all live here—we must love it in some way.
Listen, we’re all laughing—but I’m not moving.
— Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge; photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch
Jean Michel Frank: The Strange and Subtle Luxury of the Parisian Haut Monde in the Art Deco Period by Pierre-Emmanuel Martin-Vivier ( Rizzoli; April 2008)
If you like the furniture in Carlos Aparicio’s apartment, then this is a book that adds both context and a further visual feast of the work by one of the 20th century’s most influential designers.
Drawn to the minimalism of the French 18th century furniture, Frank’s use of rich materials such as vellum, shagreen, parchment and bleached leather together with his openness to influences from the New World informed his search for an original style for the 1930s.
As Carlos remarks in the interview, that period in our history is intensely loaded, sandwiched as it was between the two worst wars of all time, wars from which Frank himself suffered horribly, losing his two brothers in the First World War, deaths which led to the grief-stricken suicide of his father, and eventually his own suicide in New York in 1941.
But he has left us with work that many, Carlos included, simply revere.