Whistles women: Anna Karlin

Anna Karlin’s multi hyphenated design practice is as varied as her personal style, “my taste does change,” she says. “Sometimes I am feeling Victorian, or Memphis, today it’s the sixties”. A constant in her design work though is her grasp and play with proportion. A logo, a set, or a chair, once the proportion is right, she is then free to push the design any way she wants.

Raised in London, the designer moved to New York five years ago and opened her own design practice. Her small team designs graphics and branding, sets, and concept interiors. She also has a select range of interior products; the look is a modern mix of styles hitting notes of deco and contemporary Italian design, all realised with spare graphic restraint.

On meeting Karlin, her enthusiasm is infectious, and her devil-my-care attitude is certainly a match for New York’s downtown edge. Home is NoLita and the studio is in the Lower East Side, so she walks to work everyday, popping back home to change when necessary.

When do you design?

Downtime for me is getting to sit down and create. Running the business is my day-to-day, and so design time has to be carved out. Sometimes I start at 6am before the day really starts, or from 7pm until late into the night. I love being in my own head designing, so it is not a chore to sit at my desk till 2am.

Has New York influenced your personal style?

No I don’t think so. Londoners are more experimental and less brand driven, and I stick with that. New Yorkers are little more conservative and preppy. 

How do you spend your down time?

The fun thing about New York is it is so social. I go out every night. That to me is as stimulating as my work, and I need both. I mix with a lot of creative people because of my work, but I love being in a room of strangers, and because of that, people are generous and invite me places, and I end up at random events. I don’t sleep a lot!

What are some of the differences between New York and your hometown of London?

People work a lot more here and I am a natural hard worker so that suits me. Creativity is a little different. Also people are so open and are immediately friendly, introducing you to their friends; they engineer friendships. In the UK I think people dance around that.

Your work is so varied. Is there a medium you want to try working in?

It does not matter to me if something is a textile, a piece of jewellery or a chair; I see it all the same. Ideas come and if I have the money to prototype I go for it and if I don’t, I wait till I do. My next project is capsule collection of fine jewellery, three rings, with sapphires and emeralds.

What brought you to New York?

For an adventure. I always knew I would live here, and then I found out how and I just moved. I thought I would go and it would be whatever it would be. I am not a planner.

Tell us about a typical day at the studio

An annoying answer, but there is never a typical day for me. It is dependant on what I am doing. I could be on set, or at a workshop looking over samples, or I am dressed to the nines with a client and taking meetings. My work is never repetitive, which is why I enjoy it so much. People ask why I do so many different things, but I really cannot imagine doing not working like this. 

Do you collect anything in the studio?

Not really. I am not a hoarder of stuff, but I like to keep all the mistakes we’ve made here. I love them. Sometimes the mistake can be perfect and then you try and recreate it and you just can’t. 

Do you have a go-to place for inspiration?

The Met. There is no one gallery I head to, I just take a wander, but I do like a Roman pot. Dover Street Market is great, not to shop, just to look, I like the environment and I look at clothing as sculpture. It might sound cheesy but if you are the type of person to have your eyes wide open, you can get inspiration from anywhere. 

You started working as an art director, how did the furniture and objects come about?

I always have done two and three-dimensional design but in terms of sets and events, nothing permanent. I just decided I wanted to move into objects. Not having studying product design means training does not inhibit me and I found it liberating working out processes as you go. 

Have you got a dream project?

I would love to art direct a huge stadium tour for a pop star. Everything from the merch to the set design to the website, the whole experience. I saw the Elton John tour that David La Chapelle designed and it was so much fun. 

Do you dress differently depending what you are doing?

100%. Which client I see or what meeting I take has an effect. What I wear has to be fitting for the occasion, or at least what I think is fitting. I live close to my studio so I can dash home, change and be out in five minutes. I can wear three outfits in a day easily.

Do you treat your interior space with the same attitude?

I switch my interiors as much as I can, but the space limitations in New York are challenging. In London when I had flatmates they could tell when I had had a day off, as I would reorganise a space, and create new tableaux. They would be like “Oh Anna has had a day off, everything has moved!”

What neighbourhoods do you hang out in?

I hang out in different neighbourhoods for different things. I am out in the city during the week and the weekends are spent with friends in Brooklyn. Or in the summer I get out of the city every weekend.