Harry Nuriev’s Practical Magic

Design | Dec 2017 | BY Heather Corcoran

Picture a tanning salon in Russia: luxe and minimalist, with gilded walls and slick white furniture, like sculptures, perched on a concrete floor. Then imagine a wall of broken tiles, gaps of negative space punctuating an otherwise perfectly polished picture. This unusual detail, inspired by the crumbling buildings of a post-Soviet childhood, is at the heart of the designs of Harry Nuriev, the founder of Moscow’s Crosby Studios. It inspired him so much that he reproduced the wall in his recently-opened stateside atelier in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

That space, which will serve as a showroom as well as his apartment, reimagines the very notions of home, customized down to a sink and sofa in a crisp cerulean and accented with dashes of bright pink.

“It is a completely artistic place,” Nuriev says during a late-night phone call from Brussels, the most recent stop on his dizzying calendar. “Even if it’s a classic New York apartment in a prewar house, the furniture and the layout and the atmosphere is completely different,” he says. “The secret, I think, is the shapes first of all, and the material I use,” like the rare blue-tinged marble of the dining table. The effect, combined with his obsessive commitment to detail and relentless pursuit of the unexpected, proposes a “completely new view on the functional” where the architect is more visual performer than designer.

In everything he does, Nuriev is after something less tangible: “I try to make places that change you, that make you more real,” he says, citing the power of spaces to shift the tone of conversation or even mend a broken heart.

Fitting for someone with such a singular creative vision, Nuriev finds more to draw from in fashion, film and contemporary art than in conventional architectural influences. (“It’s a copy of a copy, it’s nothing new,” he says of his discipline.) At the moment, he looks to a new crop of creators, like Demna Gvasalia, the young Georgian meta-fashion designer who took the helm of Balenciaga after releasing twisted takes on subculture signifiers (tourist T-shirts and beleaguered business casual) as the head of the Vetements fashion collective. Like Gvasalia’s reclamation of ill-fitting clothing, Nuriev mines the everyday experiences of recent Russian history largely eschewed by many who lived it—such as those broken tiles at the tanning salon—and transforms them into something sublime. “It’s my childhood; I love it,” he says. “Nobody uses it, so why don’t I?”

At Design Miami, he will turn to his personal history again. His curio booth features a series of sculptural pieces inspired by decorative rain gutters seen around his hometown of Stavropol, in the south of Russia. For someone who has found success in interiors, furniture and public spaces, the fair marks his debut as an artist. “You can call it lighting, but I think it’s just a sculpture,” Nuriev says of one work, before quickly qualifying the statement. “It has a light, because for me function is crucial. I can’t complete something just to be stared at.”

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