The Imperfection of Nature with Aker Interiors
Trained in fine art and fashion, Gabrielle Aker now creates interiors that move and inspire. Through her practice Aker Interiors she embraces the raw beauty and perfect imperfections found in nature, seeking out ethical makers and quality artisans to give her clients the one-of-a-kind spaces so sought after in today’s mass-produced world.
Photography by Michael Clifford & Amy Bartlam
Tell us a bit about your career journey – who are some of the people who have inspired and mentored you along the way?
I wish I had a good answer for this but I’m still kind of a lone ranger! I only know one other designer in LA who’s been amazing to me and takes time out of her busy day to answer all my questions when I have them, but I don’t have a community of designers I talk to. I didn’t go to design school or intern with a firm, so I research and try to figure things out as I go along. But I have my sister Hannah (our Director of Operations) to bounce thoughts and frustrations off of, so we’re just paving our own way!
In regards to inspiration, I’m more inspired by what I see and experience (like art and travel) than other designers. Obviously there are SO many amazing designers that have loads of inspiration and wells of knowledge for me to learn from, but I’m very cognizant of looking too much at other designers and trying to emulate what they’ve done when I’m a completely different designer and person. However, two of the designers I’m in awe of are Kelly Wearstler and Axel Vervoordt. The way Kelly Wearstler uses individual pieces that I’m not in love with to create an overall aesthetic that I am in love with boggles my mind! With each Proper Hotel she designs, I think more and more that she is an utter genius. And Axel Vervoordt is obviously a genius and designs in my truest personal aesthetic. One day I hope to live in a crumbling chateau in Europe!
Do you think your background in fine art and fashion has shaped your approach to designing interiors?
Absolutely! In so many ways, art, fashion and interior design are intertwined and share common principles – colour, texture, movement and form all working together to create a larger visual that invokes a feeling from the person experiencing it. I tend to take an artful approach to designing interiors, with the intention of adding a little bit of magic and surprise to spaces in order to keep them unique and fresh.
Describe the Aker Interiors aesthetic. Is there a common thread between all the spaces you design?
The million dollar question! I’d describe the true aesthetic of Aker Interiors as natural, organic, contemporary, eclectic, artful and sometimes historical. Is that too many descriptive words?! I have a deep love of old spaces with history, which is why I’m so drawn to the historic lofts in Downtown LA (where I live and where our showroom is located). I love the contrast that’s achieved by bringing contemporary furniture into an old, raw, often crumbling space.
I live in a 1912 building and our (almost completed) showroom is in a 1925 building that still has the original concrete, brick, and 1” thick maple hardwood floors – which speaks to what I think is the common thread in all of the spaces I design, namely a reverence for what’s real and natural and an appreciation for the imperfect. I find no joy in the lifeless white boxes that keep popping up around every corner. I think the other common thread in my work is an eclectic mix. Clients always want my help defining exactly what their style is and narrowing it down to one particular thing, but often, they’re drawn to multiple styles so I say let’s mix them all! An eclectic mix is what I think translates each client’s unique personality into their space.
How do you balance your keen eye and vision with a client’s taste and preferences?
This can be a tricky dance! I’ve learned over the years (and am still learning) that it’s important to vet clients during our initial call and meeting to make sure we’re aligned both personally and aesthetically. I’m passionate about giving clients a space they love that reflects who they are, not who I am, so in order to do that in an inspired way, it’s important that we’re on the same page about what we find beautiful. I think so many different interior styles can be beautiful when done well, and I like the challenge of designing a space that isn’t my personal design aesthetic as long as it exudes beauty and style.
We’d love to hear more about Doheny, your most recent project. What were the client’s “must-haves”?
Beauty, art and casual sophistication! Our aesthetic vision was Parisian meets California casual – elevated but not stuffy, lived-in but styled. We wanted the space to have an organic feel with a focus on materiality combined with a touch of whimsy, gravitating toward texture over colour and pattern to add depth to the fairly neutral palette. Our client had an extensive (and continuously growing) art collection, so we designed every room with that in mind. She also had some beautiful vintage pieces from her grandparents that she wanted to incorporate, so we recovered and restored pieces as needed to give them new life.
What were some favourite standout pieces that you sourced?
I think #1 on my list is the Calacatta Macchia Vecchia slab we used in the kitchen! I gasped when I saw it at the slab yard. I also love the custom sofa and bookshelf we designed for the living room (a bookshelf made by my husband!) The sofa colour is so rich and yummy, and the 16’ bookshelf grounds the entire room while also being practical for our client’s extensive collection of art and design books.
Does the California lifestyle often play into your design decisions?
To be honest, I had to ponder this because I don’t even think I know how people define the California lifestyle! I grew up in LA, so to me I guess it’s just life.
We’re honoured to have our rugs featured in many of your projects. What considerations are front of mind when you are choosing a rug for a space? For example colour, size, texture, material and placement.
Yes, all of the above! My starting point is colour first – what works with the aesthetic vision for the space? Then texture, based on location – does the client want something soft in the bedroom and heartier in the kitchen? I think the most important factor on a rug’s impact in a space is size. I don’t start my sourcing process with size, because I can usually find the right size after narrowing down colour & texture. However, if a rug is too small it can throw off an entire room, so size is paramount before choosing final options. Last but not least, I consider quality and sustainability. Understanding how things are made and who they’re made by has become increasingly important. The integrity that Armadillo shows in its business practices through the support it gives to its artisans, shows in the product and is just another reason Aker Interiors is a customer for life!
Whether it is a handmade piece or incorporating a vintage find, you really advocate for the beauty of imperfection. What is it about objects with a patina that you’re drawn to?
I don’t know if I really know why, but I just find perfect things to be so boring! I think it’s something deeply rooted in who I am. I’ve always bucked the “shoulds” in life and perfect homes with polished fixtures and perfectly painted walls feels like another “should” to me. I’m drawn to things with more depth than that, but that also speaks to the bones of a space. If you have a perfect brand-new space, every imperfection is highly noticeable but if you’re working with a space with history, every imperfection is just another part of the story. And I also think I’m highly aware, not just because of this industry but in general, that humans are imperfect so I embrace imperfections instead of fighting against them.
Any tips on mixing and matching furniture and soft furnishings to create an interior that will defy trends?
This is something I think about a lot, because one of my greatest design fears is looking back in 5 or 10 years and thinking my designs look dated because they were too “of that time”. I think the materiality of a space is key to keeping it “timeless”, though I’m not a huge fan of that word, so I’ll say continuously inspiring. Nature will never go out of style, so I think using natural materials like stone, wood, concrete or clay keep a space from being too trendy.
What’s keeping you creatively stimulated right now?
To be completely transparent, at this stage in my business, it’s really hard. I, along with my sister Hannah who handles all of the operations, work like dogs right now, so it’s a constant struggle to take time to allow myself the space and time to be creatively stimulated. I’ve become continuously more aware in the last year how important it is for me to create space for the creativity to happen, otherwise I’m designing on empty. Travel has always been my greatest creative stimulant to absorb and recharge, but obviously that has been constrained in the last year and a half. I love magazines and books, so sitting down with a glass of wine and looking through a design book or travel magazine is one of my creatively stimulating moments. Prior to starting Aker Interiors, I would leave my phone at home for days and forget to respond to texts because technology makes me feel constrained so honestly, on Sundays when I tend to disconnect, I feel like my brain has the space to start creating again!
Finally, we can’t help but ask – what is your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?
It’s a tie between the Agra and Malawi! I’m so in love with both and they work in any space! And we’ve already utilized the custom colour program because the colours are SO good. This sounds like an ad but it’s not because we’re that obsessed.
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