The Modern Organic Design of Andrianna Shamaris
by Thomas Sweeney
Photographed by Hanna Tveite
Andrianna Shamaris may have been described in the press as "The Furniture Hunter" and "the real-life Indiana Jones of the design world," but the native Londoner's personally chosen appellation—"The Leader in Modern Organic Design"—best captures her often-copied approach: to tell a story by harmonizing the old (sometimes prehistoric) with the new. As a globetrotting furniture and home-objects designer with 20 years' experience, Shamaris explores the brush of Southeast Asia in search of petrified, teak, rose, and palm woods (among other varieties), then, with her team of artisans at her studio in Sumatra, revives them into modern sculptural silhouettes with sui generis finishes, all while respecting the natural shape of the wood.
For example, reclaimed teak (holes and all, no fillers) is fashioned into a cube-shaped side table before being torched three times for a charcoal effect; a thick-trunked Sumatran palm tree is hollowed out, hand-carved, and repurposed as a room divider, its original width perfectly preserved. For Shamaris, her studio's proprietary techniques—particularly when it comes to shaping, sanding, and cracked-resin infusions (her most recognizable innovation)—are what turn, as she puts it, "the ordinary into the timeless extraordinary." But what makes her the leader among her contemporaries is a commitment to sourcing only the most pristine of raw materials. "My petrified wood is of the highest quality imaginable," she explains. "You won't find anything else like it. For me and my team in Sumatra, the most important factor is quality control. I can source the most impressive teak slab, but how it is finished is the most critical part. I have never understood why, for example, others add a polyurethane to a stunning piece of wood. Blasphemous!"
I have never understood why others add a polyurethane to a stunning piece of wood. Blasphemous!Andrianna Shamaris
Shamaris developed an early taste for the exotic as a teenage sales associate at Ralph Lauren's first London store, where, as it happens, she dressed the late Princess Diana during her visits. "I was so mesmerized by the images and the story Ralph Lauren told with his Santa Fe/Prairie collection that I literally decided to move there without ever visiting," says Shamaris. In Santa Fe, she struck out on her own by opening a store that sold antiques and architectural elements. Then, six years later, she moved to Santa Barbara to start selling furniture procured from her travels. It was there that the legendary L.A. retailer Fred Segal became a loyal client, friend, and mentor, and invited her to open the first-ever furniture boutique at his eponymous store—a breakthrough opportunity that came packaged with valuable career advice from Segal himself. "Fred asked me why my store in Santa Barbara was called Avatar Design and not my name," recalls Shamaris.
"He told me that my name was the most powerful branding I could have and to always use it. Lesson learnt!" By then designing her own furniture, accessories, and clothing, she set up shop in Malibu and in New York as well, and since 2012 has been based exclusively (at least showroomwise) on the East Coast. "Being bicoastal became too difficult," says Shamaris. "I had also outgrown my space on Greene Street, so I decided to move further west to Spring Street, expanding from 2,800 square feet to 8,000. Being in a less tourist-friendly area paid off, and I started working more with architects and designers, eventually securing my first big hotel project, 1 Hotel South Beach. So it was a very exciting time. Change is good!"
On display in Shamaris' expansive Spring Street showroom are her six touchstone furniture collections: Antique, composed of reimagined heirloom pieces, many with added shell inlay; Wabi-Sabi, marked by minimally treated teak tables and benches rooted in the Japanese philosophy of finding beauty in imperfection; Triple Burnt, a range of solid organic-wood furniture torched thrice for a blackened finish; Cracked Resin, a line of teak tables infused with a quartzlike resin, a technique pioneered by Shamaris herself; Petrified Wood, a collection of benches and tables polished with a special device for a diamond sheen; and St. Barts, a new line of reclaimed-teak pieces that are sun-bleached for a year then infused with an aqua resin. Rounding out the affair are coconut-shell mirrors, buffalo-hide bowls, and pillows made from 19th-century Sumatran indigo textiles, to name just a few surprises.
"When it comes to design, I'm inspired by anything with a history, with a patina, with a story to tell," explains Shamaris. "For me, the primitive beauty of Indonesia is overwhelming, much like when one enters my showroom for the first time and sees my collection, which is large but highly curated. I'm not a trained furniture designer, so I tend not to refer to myself as one, but I have ideas and I know how to execute them, with Mother Nature being the ultimate guide. Also, everything is designed and developed in-house, within my studio."
To help put in context The Line's most recent buy of Andrianna Shamaris furniture and home objects, the designer herself invited the retailer into her showroom and New York apartment for an exclusive photo shoot. "I've followed The Line since its inception, and love the way that, like my company, everything is curated with so much care and understanding," says Shamaris. "It's the best of the best, clean and very edited, which works so well with my aesthetic."
Editing, naturally, was a critical component for this shoot; the photos reflect the non-necessity of putting everything on display. "In my apartment, for example, I had a huge collection of beautiful coconut-shell bowls and shell spoons, but decided to sell most and edited the collection, keeping for myself six of each," explains Shamaris. "The space is very edited, and I prefer pieces that have warmth and get better with age. I have a very wabi-sabi aesthetic mixed with a luxe backdrop. Other examples of editing include not having installed bathroom fixtures while I was renovating. Instead, for towels I have a grey-and-white petrified-wood-log stool, and as a soap dish, a small slab of petrified wood. Also, because I couldn't find a coffee table that worked for me, I decided on three small petrified-wood-log side tables in different heights."
Shamaris is particularly keen to discuss the painstaking approach behind her Cracked Resin pieces, such as the espresso-toned side table pictured here in her guest room, between a bed and a wall of pivoted teak doors covered in shells that take on a subtle iridescence in daylight. "I source the teak wood from the jungle. The entire process is immensely long and great attention to detail is taken. The wood must be super dry, and we actually crack the resin first so that it resembles large chunks of ice; it's not added to a mold. We clean the wood, leaving certain layers inside the wood which ultimately turn to natural gold tones, and it is slowly transformed into a beautiful piece of furniture that, though very modern, has a lot of history to the wood and technique."
The designer's approach toward the wabi-sabi pieces, however, like the antique long-bench/shelf, is comparatively light-handed. "I've been sourcing antique primitive pieces for over 20 years and love the story they tell," says Shamaris. "I prefer to leave each piece as it is or use a very old primitive technique of rubbing the top of the wood with the lip of a glass Coca-Cola bottle. As crazy as it sounds, this method gives the wood a super-smooth finish with a glasslike patina." In Shamaris' residence, the minimalism of the bench is part of a balancing act shared with a bleached-teak-and-ice-blue-resin side table from her St. Barts Collection. "We sell a lot of this collection—which includes this side table as well as a resin-free, hand-carved coffee table—for beach residences, and constantly ship to the West Coast and internationally," says Shamaris. "It's the perfect combination of modern and organic, and the color combinations of the resin-infused pieces are subtle but have a lot of depth. Each is bound to start a conversation."
I've been sourcing antique primitive pieces for over 20 years and love the story they tell.Andrianna Shamaris
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