Stepping into a vacant storefront in Manhattan last fall, Anna Karlin saw pure potential. Forget that the Chinatown space had fire damage, bad plumbing, and no proper electricity; she zeroed in on what it could become. “I’ve learned to trust my instincts,” the English-born designer reflects just six months later as she puts the finishing touches on her tailor-made new studio and showroom.
It was impulse, after all, that drove Karlin to quit her first job, at a big-time London design firm in 2006, just two days in; impulse that, four years later, nudged her across the Atlantic to Manhattan to set up her own art-direction firm; and impulse that prodded her to create a line of furniture in 2012. Each risk produced reward: Her art-direction business has landed clients like Adidas, Lululemon, and Fendi. And her product line – which started with sleek glassware, a hoop-shaped light, and some chess-piece stools – has captivated the design world. Soon her starter studio downtown was bursting at the seams.
“I needed someplace where I could communicate what’s going on inside my head,” says Karlin, whose practice now ranges from big-picture branding and interior-design initiatives to the fine jewelry that she launched last year.
The Chinatown space needed work, but the self-taught designer took the gut reno in stride, refreshing the bones while adding touches of her own like a plaster banister and her dream English country kitchen. “I’m finishing up these lamp shades,” she says, gesturing to a cluster of ceramic flush mounts.
Marked only by a brass A embedded into a concrete step, the deep-plum-lacquered storefront now welcomes visitors into a space that Karlin describes as “wabi-sabi meets Shaker.” A simple maple bench sits below organically shaped lights (sculpted in clay, cast in bronze) that hang on coat pegs. In the studio, dining tables serve as desks for her team, and open shelves are filled with material tests. “It’s like a painter’s palette,” she explains of the geometric wooden totems, slumpy bits of ceramic, and blown-glass orbs.
Back in the showroom, realized furnishings in brass, marble, and glass mingle with a sprinkling of Gustavian antiques from nearby gallery Dienst + Dotter. Karlin is keen to partner with other designers and dealers to showcase works alongside her own. “It’s a way to say to our clients, ‘This is our taste,’ ” she explains. You could say that’s something she’s finally starting to hammer out. After dabbling in a mix of silhouettes and styles, Karlin’s come to a place that is honed and mature. “I feel like I’m truly learning what my voice is,” she says. “It took years to create, but now I have this world of my own.” annakarlin.com