A legend on the New York design scene for more than 35 years, Cuban-born Vicente Wolf is something of a rebel. He counts A-listers such as Clive Davis, Showtime CEO Matthew Blank and Prince and Princess von Furstenberg among his clients, and several celeb-packed hotels and restaurants bear his elegant yet offbeat style. Not bad for a self-taught designer who walked out of design school the day the teacher insisted curtains must be two inches above the floor. Wolf set up shop in a Hell's Kitchen studio long before the zip code was chic and now oversees a 15-member design firm, but prefers to work without a desk.
The well-heeled flock to his midtown Manhattan luxury showroom, Vicente Wolf Home (VW Home), which is like a serene street market showcasing finds he picks up on journeys to far-off places including Indonesia, India, Africa, France and Papua New Guinea. An accomplished photographer, he shoots his own interiors for the world’s glossiest magazines and his travel photos grace his three books: Learning to See: Bringing the World Around You Into Your Home (2002 Artisan), Crossing Boundaries: A Global Vision of Design (2006 Random House), and Lifting the Curtain on Design (2010 Random House). And, he recently launched Latitudes — a line of crystal accessories for Baccarat, inspired by travels to Asia and Africa.
House & Home: Describe what you like most about your home.
Vicente Wolf: How light pours in the window and creates a pattern on the floor, the sense of openness… the lack of formality by having furniture randomly placed around the space and the squareness of the rooms, which gives me a sense of peace and tranquility.
H&H: How would you describe your sense of style?
VW: For the past 35 years I’ve seen myself as a modern designer with a strong reference to the past. I’m a combination of sarcastic and sweet, funny and deadpan, hard-working and escapist, political and unconscious, politically incorrect and concerned, all mixed into a Latino interior and covered in a shell of New York sophistication.
H&H: Do you have a favourite colour scheme?
VW: White — a white background is very architectural and creates a strong setting in which to maximize the objects you want to display.
H&H: You’re a collector of photography but you don’t have anything nailed to the wall. How do you display your works and why?
VW: I have collected photography over the past 35 years. I buy pieces at auctions around the world. When you lean art on a ledge, it gives you the freedom to move it around and appreciate pieces in different areas and lights. You stop seeing art when it’s been in the same place for too long.
H&H: Describe your perfect vacation getaway.
VW: It would be in Borneo, travelling the Mahakam River on a 50-foot boat stopping at different villages, and being in touch with nature and the local cultures.
H&H: What country do you find inspiring at the moment?
VW: Indonesia — I find it to be one of the last wild places in the world where indigenous culture is still undisturbed by the Western world.
H&H: What’s your idea of a perfect night out?
VW: My perfect night out is to stay in and have dinner for two at home. I go to the theatre twice a week and always invite different people along for the experience.
H&H: Whose personal style do you most admire?
VW: Karl Lagerfeld for his great poise and for being able to travel different roads while always staying true to his point of view.
H&H: Do you have a secret indulgence or current obsession?
VW: My not-so-secret indulgence is buying photography and my long-time obsession is running five miles in Central Park five days a week before the sun comes up.
H&H: Name three people you’d love to have at a dinner party.
VW: Madeleine Albright, Barack Obama and Stephen Sondheim.
H&H: What one item couldn’t you live without at home?
VW: My bed. I luxuriate in my wonderful linens that are changed every other day, nuzzling my Maine Coon cat, Nene.
H&H: Finish this sentence: “I feel most comfortable when…”
VW: I’m minus ten pounds (always ten pounds).
H&H: Describe what makes you feel rich, fulfilled and happy.
VW: Walking on the beach near my house in Montauk, New York.
H&H: What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
VW: Just plain compulsiveness.