Mise en Scène
American designer Adam Charlap Hyman creates a cinema-inspired interior for VitraHaus
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of VitraHaus, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed, multilevel showroom on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, the venerable Swiss design brand invited Los Angeles and New York-based architecture and design firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero to reimagine the VitraHaus's loft space. The result is a striking, moodily romantic environment inspired by the highly composed classic films of postwar auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean Cocteau, and Jean Luc Godard. We reached out to principal Adam Charlap Hyman to learn more about how this project came to life.
How would you characterize your design approach in general?
Our approach is based on the idea that every project is unique; that each client is different; and that we must learn from them, the site, and its context. The process draws heavily from historical reference materials and is extensively narrative and personal.
How did your collaboration with Vitra begin?
Our relationship with Vitra started when we met Till Weber, the creative director of the VitraHaus, at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2017. He was interested in the models we were exhibiting there, and we struck up a friendship. We’ve since designed a vitrine for them at Salone del Mobile and made models for the Vitra Design Museum’s show Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors.
How would you characterize the mood that you set in the VitraHaus, and what was the thinking behind your design choices?
The spirit of the decor throughout—the nonchalant placement of furniture and art—is very much inspired by the interiors of Antonioni’s film trilogy L'Eclisse, L’Avventura, and La Notte. There is a newspaper on a table from a scene in Breathless by Goddard. The shell lamps over the dining table are an oblique reference to the grotto scene in Visconti’s Ludwig. The urns in the study are an homage to Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête, and the canopy-bed to Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7. The mood is lighthearted with touches of melancholy and serenity.
You design for residential, commercial, and cultural spaces. Do you approach these kinds of space differently, and if so how did you approach VitraHaus, since it’s such a hybrid space?
Of course we have to approach a commercial space differently than a residential one, and differently than an opera set, but ultimately they all require the same sincerity, thoroughness, and editing process. We always try to execute very complete visions—an entire world that feels succinct and resolved so that all inhabitants, visitors, or viewers can respond to it with a sense of clarity.
Vitra is a Swiss company with a deep connection to the heritage of American design. How do you think about regional differences in design today?
As an American firm, everything we do has been imagined through an American lens. However, the CH team is quite international, comprising people from many different backgrounds and cultures. The furniture designers we have worked with and included in the loft are from all over the world. The mixing of—and tension between—different cultural traditions is very important to our work, and I believe you can see this reflected in the space we have created at Vitra.
In these trying times, where do you go or what do you do to find inspiration and hope?
We are deeply inspired by and are constantly learning from the writers, designers, and artists from marginalized communities who are making their creative voices and messages heard in the midst of so much pain and suffering. This is, of course, a broad answer, but we feel very alert at the moment and sensitive to the conversations taking place in our field—it has been a very dark time but a very hopeful one too.