You can argue that, in the world of design, the discipline that requires the most creativity is the making of textile patterns. After all, there is a template of sorts for devising a new chair—you’re creating something to sit on—or a desk—writing platform, drawers, space for a computer monitor and keyboard: all required. But new fabric designs, even if they are informed by historical motifs or sights and objects that enthralled their makers, begin with a blank canvas. “It’s like a painting,” says Kazumi Yoshida, an artist and designer who has worked for the venerable textile firm Clarence House for some 30 years. “Except you have to imagine a fabric pattern in terms of how it will look on a piece of furniture, or as a rug, or curtains.”
Some of his designs are classics—even if you don’t know who he is you will have seen his Papier Japonais or La Palmas textiles in someone’s house somewhere. He also spends a good portion of his time making art, both sculpture and works on paper and he is currently shopping a delightful picture book manuscript as well as designing collections for Clarence House and Hermès. His new book, Clarence House: The Art of the Textile, is both a visual presentation of this textile house’s fabric collections and an illumination of Yoshida’s creative design process.
The same sense of imagination applies to decor, and there too Yoshida knows his business. The interior he designed for his loft in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood demonstrates a talent for both engaging aesthetics and practical needs. The furnishings reflect Yoshida’s numerous interests, as well as his delight in what he calls “making conversations.” Figuratively, this means the visual crosstalk between the gridded geometries of a rare set of 1905 Josef Hoffmann nesting tables and the sensuously curved lamps on a three-arm Serge Mouille chandelier. Literally, it means that Yoshida excels at creating spaces where people can comfortably sit and chat.
The last is key, to Yoshida’s way of thinking. After leaving his native Japan, he took a grab bag of art and design courses in London and New York City. But, he says, the best education he received came from “simply hanging around with and talking to smart, creative people.” One of these was Robin Roberts, the founder of Clarence House, whom Yoshida met in 1980. “We just clicked,” the designer says. “He taught me everything I know about textiles. Back then, I had a taste for only clean, Zenlike designs. But Robin introduced me to a new world—pattern and color combinations stretching from the 18th century to those by 20th-century designers such as Dorothy Draper and Madeleine Castaing.” Yoshida absorbed all these influences in his designs for Clarence House. His wallpapers tend toward lyrical Japanese botanicals, and his woven works echo Cubist art (he pays homage to Fernand Léger, among others) and antique kimono motifs.
That sweeping sensibility is at play in Yoshida’s loft. Impressed by Alan Tanksley’s sleek and serene design for the condo, including a trim kitchen with French limestone counters and stainless steel appliances, Yoshida sought a cool backdrop for his diverse furnishings and objects, painting the wood-paneled walls in battleship gray and bright white.
Not surprisingly, his collection is wildly eclectic. Pieces are by turns antique, exotic, vintage, cutting edge, minimalist, and maximalist. They come from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. The living area is anchored by a zebra-stripe upholstered Art Deco bergère and a 1950s Milo Baughman sofa and matching club chairs. In Yoshida’s work space, a zebra-skin rug sets off a classic leather-and-rosewood Eames lounge chair and ottoman and Marc Newson’s fiberglass Felt chair. The master bedroom contains a 1950s red-lacquer Japanese table. A pair of unrolled and framed antique Asian calligraphy scrolls—one covered in Chinese characters, the other in Japanese—hangs above the bed, which is flanked by a small table by Koloman Moser (a founder of the Wiener Werkstätte) and a pair of vintage wall lamps by René Mathieu.
The artwork deserves a special note. While Yoshida owns works by the Belgian artist Jan De Cock and by Sonia Delaunay, most of the pieces are of his own making. His favorite format is to layer painted segments of wood in a box, giving the artwork a 3-D effect. He does both abstract pieces and figurative work. A whimsical composition called Birdie—an arrangement of six boxed elements that recalls the famed glass birds made on the Venetian island of Murano—is the centerpiece of the guest room.
Placement is also a kind of art, and Yoshida has done a sterling job of creating seating arrangements tailored to encourage banter. The dining area, outfitted with a Vladimir Kagan table and chair set, is adjacent to the kitchen, so guests can hold forth with the cook. “I love to entertain, but usually don’t invite more than six or eight people,” Yoshida says. “In large groups, people rarely get beyond polite chit-chat. At a smaller party, you can have a truly meaningful discussion.” And, as Yoshida knows, a good conversation can be the starting point for just about anything.
In the guest room, artworks by Yoshida hang above a daybed upholstered in a Clarence House fabric; the étagère is Japanese, the 1950s wall lamp is by René Mathieu, and the side table is by Eileen Gray.
A Serge Mouille chandelier hangs above a dining table and chairs by Vladimir Kagan; the photo work is by Jan De Cock.
In the master bedroom, Asian calligraphy scrolls hang above a Charles H. Beckley bed upholstered in a Clarence House fabric; the Japanese lacquer table is from the 1950s, a pair of vintage French armchairs are upholstered in a Clarence House fabric, and the Tibetan rug is from Aero.
The artworks and rug in the apartment’s entrance hall are by Yoshida, and the table is by Roger Tallon; the chair is by Satyendra Pakhalé, the mobile is vintage, and the curtains are of a Clarence House fabric.
In the living area, a Milo Baughman sofa and armchairs are upholstered in a Clarence House mohair; other furnishings include a Vladimir Kagan cocktail table, a French Art Deco bergère, and a wall lamp by Jean Prouvé. Yoshida created the sculptural piece above the fireplace and designed the rug.
Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch and Erik Piasecki