There is one constant in the world of luxury furniture in New York City and beyond. That is Ralph Pucci’s 30,000-square-foot furniture and art showroom on the ninth and 12th floors of 44 W. 18th St. Every time you walk in, whether it’s for a party (where anyone can attend) or a walk-through, you will have your mind blown.
It might be the construction of a bronze chair by Patrick Naggar, the look and feel of a red-laquered console by Hervé van der Straeten, the giant wiry mobile-like chandelier by DUMBO-based David Weeks, the mammoth wool wall hangings of SoHo artist Dana Barnes or the sleek lines of a horsehair settee with thin legs ready to spring by Paul Mathieu, but it is only at Pucci where furniture becomes as alive as the people who make it.
That’s why first impressions are so important to Ralph Pucci, who grew the art and furniture business from his parents’ Manhattan-based mannequin shop. (The mannequin factory is on the 10th floor, fully operational and profitable.) The way Pucci makes his first impression is with a giant wall directly in front of the elevators of his 12th-floor showroom.
The wall serves as an installation space, where the furniture makers he represents work with painters, sculptors and photo¬graphers to make an emphatic statement that accentuates the work of both artists. Pucci chooses the artist who he thinks will best blend with the rollout of a new line of furniture or objects.
Sometimes it’s the furniture makers themselves who do the art. Sometimes it’s someone known, like painter Malcolm Hill or photographer Deborah Turbeville or fashion designer Ruben Toledo. Sometimes it’s someone Pucci just likes. Whether it’s a simple color like deep red or a landscape of an imaginative world, the second you see the wall you have ideas on how things can blend in your own world and why you should take chances in your home.
More than 20 years of those arrival moments are preserved in Pucci’s new book, “Wall,' published by Glitterati. With photos from Antoine Bootz and a foreword by New York magazine’s Wendy Goodman, the book is a ride through the avant-garde, bizarre and beautiful.
“The wall is something that sets the tone for the entire showroom,' says Pucci, who put the book together with creative director Ken Smart. “It’s what we’re all about. The collaboration of art and furniture and music and creativity. It’s our version of the Bergdorf Goodman window.'
After choosing an artist, Pucci works with him or her to find a spirit of the collection or mural. Then he allows creative freedom. The only rule is there must be something painted, drawn or hung on the wall itself.
“People said to me all the time that I should have them done on canvas and sell them,' says Pucci at a party for the book’s release last week. “That would take away from the moment. They aren’t for sale. I want the artist to feel completely uninhibited. These are temporary installations. When they are gone, they are gone. That’s the magic of them.'
The artists respond, and feel pushed to new limits. Some have never done a mural before. Others draw lines to accentuate the shape of their furniture creations. New York-based painter Jeff Quinn created a world of peaks, valleys, circles and skies to merge with industrial-designer Jim Zivic’s tables made from solid coal.
“Ralph gave very little direction,' says Quinn. “He just said make something really big. That’s how he thinks. My work is purely inventive landscapes. I want to make things that stay mysterious.'
For Pucci, the walls inspire him to constantly be better. The same sense of purpose drives the furniture makers whose work is only available in the United States in Pucci’s showrooms.
“I start to hear music when I see some of these walls,' says Pucci. “For Andree Putnam’s red wall with her single sofa, I heard Chopin. For a wall by Rob Bristow, who works in wood, he just put multiple sketches of how he draws. It was a study of an artist at work.'
That defines how Pucci thinks. To him, we’re all artists at heart, here to create. To artist Kenny Scharf, Pucci said: “Give me your spirit on the wall.'
“Art, furniture, people, and creative expression,' says Pucci. “That’s what this company is about. It’s in this wall where it all comes together.'