Dec 11 2023
Design Dispatch
Studio Richter Mahr’s calm alchemy, stylish stone furniture with global roots, and Ikea’s home workout collection.
“I’m hoping that people start to consider what sustainable design can be and look like in a different way.”


The Calm, Composed Alchemy of Studio Richter Mahr

A former alpaca farm tucked deep into the Oxfordshire countryside might not be the first place one looks for exacting, minimal design and sustainable, communal artistic production. Studio Richter Mahr is changing that: musician and composer Max Richter and his wife, visual artist Yulia Mahr, have transformed the farm building into a complex—including a state-of-the-art recording studio, Dolby Atmos mix and programming rooms, fine art studios, and a video edit suite—with a simple palette of timbre and solar panels. The pair sat with Surface over Zoom one rainy afternoon to explain how they did it.

Why build your own space?

Yulia Mahr: It’s easy to find studios in Berlin. In the British countryside, it’s a different thing to find space with large volumes of space. You can’t find old factory buildings. This was an alpaca shed. We were keen to have a minimalist aesthetic that returned to the Bauhaus.

Max Richter: The building is an instrument. Its reduced visual texture allows you to concentrate. This white space feels like a mental rest.

YM: We have a residency program where people can use the space for free. One thing they say is they’ve never gotten so much work done in their lives. Something here allows timelessness to creep into your work. It’s liberating to be here.

How did you organize it?

YM: Community is at the heart of what we do, so we wanted a building where we could make the central space communal. We have a cafe and grow 90 percent of our food here. We all have lunch every day, and visitors join us. We put large windows in each space because we wanted everyone to have a view of nature. Creative spaces often lack light, especially recording studios.

MR: One issue with recording studios is that you’re [usually] in cities. Trying to keep rumble out of the room means windows are a bad idea. Here, there’s no rumble. We worked closely with architects to have a space that was acoustically amazing but also wasn’t hostile to organic life.

YM: The recording rooms are on floated concrete floors. It’s a box within a box. Our living room is next to the recording space, but Max can be playing with a full orchestra and we don’t hear it.

The studio released a sample bank of piano sounds recorded there—is the studio being used as an instrument in those samples as well?

MR: Composers and musicians have ideas about the perfect piano sound. We spend our lives chasing this imaginary, perfect-sounding thing in our heads. I’m lucky to have the pianos I’ve been waiting for and this wonderful room. We have the perfect mics and mixing desk. So I thought, how about we explore this as a sample instrument? It’s handmade, not mass-market. We ended up with something intimate, direct, emotional.

Your part of the world isn’t known for its sunshine, but you’ve managed to make the place very sustainable. How?

MR: A lot of solar panels. I’m just going to show you the weather right now. [He turns the camera to afternoon windows covered in rain.] Basically like being underwater in the dark.

YM: In the summer, it’s easy. It’s harder in the winter. We’re basically off the grid.

MR: In the summer, we’re off the grid the whole time. We have batteries and it feeds back into the grid. Our ambition is to be completely off, so we’re adding more panels. The wood is there for acoustic reasons. I work with a lot of orchestral instruments and wood sounds great for an orchestra. All the wood comes from an organically managed forest in Germany which has been looked after by the same family for 200 years. It’s oak, so it’s going to last basically forever.


What Else Is Happening?

Check-Circle_2x Fentress Architects will design the Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center in D.C.
Check-Circle_2x Reebok partners with content firm Futureverse to step up its AI and metaverse offerings.
Check-Circle_2x Toyo Ito donates his firm’s archive to the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s collection.
Check-Circle_2x Next year’s Whitney Biennial will feature an expanded film and performance series.
Check-Circle_2x Environmentalist groups protest the construction of a lithium mine in northern Nevada.

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The Lodge at Marconi Redefines a Storied Coastal Site

Just off Route 1 in the rolling hills of Northern California, radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi built a receiving station in 1913 and 1914, along with a massive hotel—which built 35 rooms, a library, and dining hall underneath a monumental veranda—for his employees. By the 1960s, a drug and alcohol rehab center called Synanon had made itself at home in the hotel. As the ‘70s wore on, Synanon devolved into one of the country’s most notorious cults, stockpiling weapons and, allegedly, led by an attempted murder.

In 1980, Marconi Conference Center State Historic Park took over the grounds. And some two decades later, after a 17-month renovation by Brooklyn’s Home Studios, the site now beckons design fanatics with a new identity: the Lodge at Marconi. Sited on 62 acres of the Marconi State Historic Park, the lodge has retained its historic interiors, with some careful additions. Cedar paneling brings the surrounding woods inside, brightened by tile from the legendary Heath Ceramics, just half an hour or so down the road.

The lodge’s 45 rooms include a king suite with high-thread count linens, a super plush sofa with views of the park, and elegant workspace with MCM-inspired desk. Expecting more guests? Try the Deluxe King Loft, which installs a twin loft above the king-sized bed. And while cult meetings are off the menu, the Lodge offers farm-to-table spreads for benign occasions held in its 40-seat outdoor amphitheater or any of the four meeting rooms: L-shaped McCargo Hall; the Cypress or Pine Lodges, which offer a private patio with views of Tomales Bey; and the indoor-outdoor Redwood Hall, which accommodates 80 diners in the main area and another 20 in the lounge.



A Stylish Stone Furniture Collection With Global Roots

Offering some counterweight to the froth of Miami Art Week, Vincent Van Duysen debuted a new collaboration with natural stone specialist Arca, accessible only by first traversing a lava stone floor with distant sounds of rivers piped in. In the dark soon arrived Gravitas, comprising some 18 pieces of substantial furnishings that iterate the calm distillation of form Van Duysen has exemplified in his illustrious career. “I wanted to maintain a sense of craftsmanship,” Van Duysen says. “The shapes are like a drawing by hand and not derived from software.”

Those shapes include chairs, coffee tables, dining tables, library stands, chaise lounge, and stools. Van Duysen sourced the materials—and the artisans who spend between 40 and 80 hours of work on each piece—globally: architectural Porfido from Italy; Italian Cafesina and Carrara Marbles from Italy; Mexican Lava stone. Their subtle colorways emphasize their patina, a juxtaposition of rough and smooth. “I would like this collection to embody timelessness as an echo to the beauty of nature,” he says. “Each object translates the main idea I wanted to express.” A heavy sentiment that comes through loud and clear.



Philippe Starck Named Mortlach’s First Creative Director

Our weekly scoop on industry players moving onwards and upwards.

Mortlach Whisky’s journey into its roots of intentional design and heritage craftsmanship is only getting deeper. The Scotch whisky brand has named Philippe Starck as its first creative director, a move that will culminate in the debut Mortlach x Starck collection being revealed in the spring. The partnership is a boon for the Mortlach by Design program, which counts Luca Nichetto, Joe Doucet, and Sabine Marcelis among its collaborators.

In other people news, the Noguchi Museum has selected Amy Hau as its next director. Currently the managing partner of architecture firm WXY, Hau began her career as an assistant to Isamu Noguchi and helped steward the Queens institution for three decades after his death. She succeeds Brett Littman, who stepped down in June after five years as director.

Jussi Pylkkänen, the global president of Christie’s, announced his departure this past week to become an independent art adviser. His nearly four-decade tenure at the auction house, which saw him sell Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for a record $450.3 million, culminated with a final podium appearance on Thursday for the Christie’s evening sale of old masters in London.



Rococo Art Advisory Takes Miami Beach

Last week, the New York–based art advisory best known for its Rococinco Dinner Party series celebrated Art Basel Miami Beach with a 200-person cocktail party in honor of five artists exhibiting at the fair: Anthony Akinbola, Devin B. Johnson, Gisela McDaniel, Marcus Leslie-Singleton and Veronica Fernandez. New York and Miami’s art worlds collided at the celebratory evening, which was hosted at a lush private residence. Ten to One rum created custom drinks inspired by each artist for the occasion, while Marni dressed each artist.

When was it? Dec. 7

Where was it? Miami

Who was there? Allison Glenn, Alteronce Gumby, Blake Abbie, ​​Kimberly Drew, Marc Ferrell, Maria Vogel, Miles Greenberg, SAINt JHN.



Member Spotlight: Studio SFW

Studio SFW is a New York–based architecture and interior design firm, co-founded by Erin Fearins, Ward Welch, and Rachael Stollar. A design trio with southern roots, SFW brings more than a decade of collaboration together with an approach that imbues lived-in luxury to interiors and lifestyle projects.

Surface Says: Whether in jewel-box apartments or expansive brownstones, Studio SFW brings to life eclectic homes brimming with personality and every client’s unique point of view.



Today’s Attractive Distractions

Ikea launches a home workout collection in time for New Year’s resolutions.

Supercharged caffeine drinks are getting popular, but how much is too much?

Peter Saville envisions the record sleeve for Chanel’s show in Manchester.

This art installation in Germany may insult you using artificial intelligence.


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