If you spend any time on New York’s Lower East Side, it is likely you’ve bumped into designer Camilla Deterre or her work. Soft-spoken with a cunning eye, the born-and-bred New Yorker designed her first restaurant, Mimi, in 2016, and has quickly become the go-to consultant for the small eateries and boutiques that now speckle the continually changing neighborhood.
I caught up with Deterre at the French bistro on Sullivan Street. “The ambition was to create a functioning environment that heightens one’s senses but was also sparse enough to allow the individual to take part in defining it,” she says. “My aesthetic is based on my mood—both my own and the one I want to evoke in the viewer.”
In the case of Mimi, this translates to a kind of lush domesticity anchored by the coziness of blue velvet and a marble wall inspired by Adolf Loos, but it’s details like the red and blue barstools custom-made by Deterre’s friend upstate that catch my eye.
“I think we all have become quite shy of colors and textures,” Deterre says of her cheeky palette. “Whether it’s the Internet or technology dictating this minimal, flat presence or a fear of standing out. I usually start with one color or object. Primaries are especially important. By using color, I want to remind people that we are still alive in the physical world and that we don’t need to conform to certain rules or combinations.”
Her intuitive approach to mixing and matching plays out in her latest commission, a new bar and club that she designed for a space within The Frederick Hotel in Tribeca. A restaurant defined by a sunny entrance and a cozy backroom, Primo’s offered Deterre the chance to showcase her fluid vocabulary: pillowy lamps by Achille Castiglioni, a chandelier by Stilnovo and small boxy side tables by André Lurçat for Thonet.
“There are moments of Mediterranean summer, ‘50s French, European Deco and some 1970s Italians,” Deterre says of the fixtures and seating. “It sounds so compulsive, but it’s really just a conversation between objects and space. A new relationship forming.”
Outside of her interiors consulting, Deterre is at work on her own line of objects, which she plans to debut at Larrie gallery in New York this fall. “When working on interiors, at the end of the day, there is a client and everyone has their own opinions,” says Deterre. “With Larrie I have more freedom. This is what the gap between art and design provides for; I have the chance to extend myself beyond the limits of a chair or lamp to create something that is more about environment than straightforward functionality.”
While the pieces for Larrie are still in process, the exhibition will be informed by Deterre’s love for playgrounds, which the artist sees as a unique site for design and imagination to coalesce in physical and tactile ways.
“I feel like so much of what is coming out now is so pared-down and remote,” she says. “I really wanted to try to be in touch a little more with the handmade natural feeling. Those little moments of truth are where I see the magic.”