Japanese and London styles at the brisk pace of a New Yorker
Over a cup of tea, I met up with Rachel Laxer virtually to learn more about her career in interior design.
Typically, we wouldn’t imagine that skills learned as a commodities trader would be beneficial in the hunt of home furnishings. She jokes that she has applied the Graham and Dodd Value investing philosophy to design. As a honed interior designer she knows and respects her clients budget’s and maximizes value. She purchases beautiful pieces with resale value. She may advise to invest a “star” investment piece that will bring a lot of impact into an interior and while still without sacrificing the budget. Sometimes she recommends and creates a “design road map” and for design over time. She advises her clients to go slow; investing in good pieces over time and that less is more.
Listening to Rachel, I’m reminded that a woman’s life is lived in episodes and stages as described in Mirelle Gilliani’s book Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire. One can have it all yet not all at once. Rachel’s husband’s career took them to Tokyo and her intention was to continue with the hedge fund she was with at that time. However, despite her passion for finance life she had other plans for her. This is where her real journey began. In many countries one doesn’t have to sacrifice a career for a child. Yet, it is this sacrifice that brought her the joy of motherhood. And it was living in Japan where she fell in love with architecture and Japanese attention to detail and simplicity. As she tells me about her experiences, I can see her taking in all of her surroundings and noting the contrast of living in the States.
The beauty is in the Japanese way of life – from her partaking in a tea ceremony or watching a package wrapped in washi paper. She decided to study with an Art Historian who grew up in Tokyo and was the son of a British Diplomat. This was the best alternative to taking classes since none were to be found in English. Through him she gained access to private homes, gardens and Art and antique collectors. She began mixing her local Japanese finds with the furniture she brought from New York. This was her beginning of East-meets-West aesthetic. While entertaining expats, they started to ask her for help in integrating Japanese finds into their homes. The Japanese aesthetic is well-rooted in her work. She prefers a clutter free environment. So, one can appreciate the beautiful objects in one’s home and that it is more relaxing for the mind. Perfection isn’t her aim, as she respects the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. Imperfection is not only accepted as a fact of life, but embraced. A flawed hairline crack on a cup is embellished with gilding rather than tossed away. She draws from Wabi-Sabi in the sense that nothing is perfect; an interior evolves and changes in over time. She may even find may move objects around at an installation or later as the clients have had a chance to live with them. This is a very natural and organic approach to design.
Twelve years ago, her family journey continued on to London when her husband’s job brought them this thrilling move. Now, blessed with an easy commute to New York of “only” eight-and-half hours, she can conveniently split her time between London and New York. It is also a boon for this traveling interior designer to hop to Continental Europe and beyond. At a swift pace of every six weeks to New York. She founded her own firm in RLI Interiors 2007 after working with the celebrated London designer Kelly Hoppen.
London Influences and Charms… “ If Japan taught me to embrace simplicity, London had brought out the “ mad hatter” element to my work.” In London she adopted the English sensibility of mixing different periods together; the quirky and unexpected all coming together with nonchalance. Like Japan, she has taken in all her surroundings a kin to a sponge soaking up water. She says it’s very much like a salad bowl of Art and culture.
Buckle your seat belt as you join me on virtual tour of Rachel’s favorite places in London with her as our guide. We start with breakfast at Woolsey’s. Then we head to the Royal Academy of Art (which she reminds me is both a school and museum.) We pop into Fortnum & Mason for tea and delectable English biscuits before, dashing to see the latest Functional Art at David Gill Gallery on King Street, followed by a visit to Sims Reed. Here we find most amazing lithographs. Then we indulge for a bite to eat at the Claridges Bar before heading over to Grey’s Antique Market for some of the best vintage jewelry. After we visit the Tower of London, she brings us to Chancery Lane Silver Vaults. Here she has found for herself some vintage silver pieces that will be perfect for entertaining. Back in the quintessential London black taxi as we drive through Regents Park she points out to us the beautiful Georgian architecture and notes its perfection of symmetry and balance. She’s an inspiration to listen to as she shares her interior design savoir-faire.
Her exquisite taste once again meets Graham and Dodd Value philosophy with her appreciation of the American great mid-century artist furniture maker and designer, Wendell Castle. Her love of collaborating with artists brought the fortunate opportunity to work with Arik Levy. Together they created a light fixture that incorporated one of his glass sculptures inside one of his light structures to hang in a curved stair way. The effect is both stunning and a unique. Good taste and decor are available for many budgets. Rachel’s approach of mixing high with low is to buy one or two pieces that are of high value. She believes this will elevate the whole visual experience. She loves rich saturated colors that she says evoke a sexy vibe such as deep purples and burgundies. It might be brought in with her favorite flower white or burgundy calla lilies. She is consistent with her use of flowers with a less is more approach which beckons hints of Japan.
Her acute eye and style with substance lead me to ask her who are some of her other favorites; for fashion her response was Azzedine Alaia. Once again, she applies her interior design sensibility and goes for value and longevity. She might wear one of his elegant dresses with biker boots for daytime and then change shoes and add jewelry for the evening. In New York she loves Bergdorf’s since she can catch up with friends over a Gotham salad and see all the latest designers. Darting across the globe she knows what to pack in her carry on. Some of her favorites are: solid perfume by Carthusia di Capri, Chanel lip gloss and a super fine wool large scarf from Balenciaga. Her favorite painter is Modigliani. She aptly notes that his portraits are windows into the soul. Her favorite photographer is Diane Arbus. She is drawn to her work because Diane explores through her lens people who would otherwise go unseen and or be rejected by society.
Gratitude and giving back… Holiday House
She eagerly anticipates bringing Holiday House Designer Show House to London. This show house supports the fight against breast cancer. It was originally founded in 2008 by Iris Dankner. Rachel has participated in this New York Designer Show House in 2013 and 2014. She feels it is critical to find a cure for this disease. Her mother and two very close friends are breast cancer survivors. New York has a long term history with charity Designer show houses. The idea of such a show house is new to London. I have learned from her that turnout is very high for design fairs and home events. I think they can anticipate it will be well received. For now, her biggest challenge is finding the right house.
When she is not living in a New York minute, her favorite simple pleasure is to spend a leisurely Sunday with her family. Maybe, if time permits before catching her next plane, she may indulge in a little reading of her favorite authors – Amos Elon or Lillian Hellman – to name two out of many.
“The eye has to travel” Diana Vreeland said and Rachel Laxer’s has an experienced and open eye that she brings to her professional, personal enrichment and joy of life.