Married designers Bessie and Oliver Corral bring laid-back Mediterranean warmth and unstoppable drive to everything they do. In the early months of the pandemic, Oliver, 48, started making sourdough bread for Bessie’s family, who lived with them in London, and it didn’t take long for him to be making baguettes and croissants with such a yield so big that he briefly considered opening a bakery (instead, he gave the rest of the money to friends in town). That spring, away from work and home in New York, the couple also considered updating their apartment, a 2,000-square-foot duplex in Greenwich Village. But by the time they returned to Manhattan that summer, what started as a plan to simply repaint the walls morphed into an all-encompassing renovation—completely done by themselves. “We all have this fascinating world in our brains,” said Bessie, 35. “It’s kind of dangerous.”
When the couple launched their brand Arjé in 2017, they too had an ambitious overall vision. Although they started with offering both womenswear and menswear — capitalizing on their seven years as co-designers of Donna Karan’s health-oriented lifestyle company Urban Zen — they see these collections as larger part of the world. “We could never just make suits or dresses,” Bessie said. “We needed to design the colors of the walls, the smells in the air.” They dreamed of expanding into homewares and eventually interiors for homes, restaurants and hotels, allowing clients to fully immerse themselves in the world of Arjé, a world made of natural Defined by materials, earthy colours and an overall sense of visual and even spiritual harmony. However, as demand for clothing grew (understated yet luxurious staples like shearling jackets, suede pants and fringed wool capes), they found themselves deviating from their original goals. They also feel like their home is an office – their kitchen doubles as a shipping center and the living room as a showroom – and their industrial dark grey interior is the result of a redesign when they moved into the ninth floor. Years ago, it no longer fits their shared aesthetic. Reimagining the space as a calm, bright sanctuary, based on their southern European ancestry (Oliver is Spanish; Bessie is Turk), not only to realign themselves with the environment, but also for the future of their brand — and lay the foundation for their own future.
Fittingly, they started with breadboards, wooden plates with carved handles, with circles, triangles or squares – symbols representing mind, body and spirit, respectively, in the ancient primitive scientific alchemy practice. Together, these three shapes convey Corrals’ philosophy of universal interconnection, becoming a defining element of their apartments – recurring in various configurations and materials – and Arjé Home, a collection of furniture and objects they developed during the renovation. “The idea is that all the lines of the space connect,” says Bessie. “So if you pick up a pen and draw it, each shape starts where the other ends.”
The first major change she and Oliver made to the duplex was to open up their 10th-floor living area by cutting two wide arches into the walls, which echoed the form of the alchemy circle while also reflecting the decor. An Art Nouveau interior design trend, defined by 1920s-inspired curves, soft neutrals and metallic accents. An archway, an eight-foot-wide half-moon, allows light and food to pass between the compact kitchen and dining room located at the back of the apartment, bordered by a large row of windows. The other is an open curved doorway that connects the dining room to the airy 700-square-foot living room. To add continuity to the three rooms, the corrals redecorated their once dark walls with a bright beige and cream palette. For the kitchen, who imagined the kitchen as an inviting Mediterranean-style enclave in which to cook and welcome guests, they developed a pale pink plaster and applied it to the countertops to form a black plaster finish on the central island sharp contrast.
All three rooms are anchored by black oxidized oak floors and imaginative hand-painted details throughout. Instead of refinishing the regular laminate kitchen cabinets in oak as originally planned, the couple sanded them and painted them with fawn chalk paint, using a coarse brush to create the faux wood effect. “Our question has always been, ‘How do we use what we have?'” Bessie said. The back wall of the dining room is clad in narrow vertical oak strips that Oliver painstakingly cut and shaped into a semicircle (for most of last year, he traveled to Home Depot twice a week). Each piece of furniture was designed by the duo himself, developed from prototypes handcrafted from plywood by Oliver – who turned their small patio into a studio and taught himself how to use power tools by watching YouTube tutorials – and later used Made of wood, some of it was repurposed from salvaged barn beams by a Rochester, New York studio with which Arjé is now collaborating on larger projects. “We want to understand how the actual material works and how to communicate with the manufacturer,” Oliver said. “So we went on this journey for months, experimenting, going down the rabbit hole and learning from the craftsmen.”
One of the first pieces he and Bessie created was their coffee table, which sits in front of a dark cream linen upholstered corner sofa in the living room, balanced by a round glass top on three round, square and triangular black walnut legs. A few feet away, the couple struggled to translate the comfort of a bomber jacket into a comfortable seat, so there was an armless shearling-wrapped lounge chair and matching footrest, both with sloping, triangular legs. There is an 8-foot-long Tessa table in the dining room, and they purposely designed a narrow, round, rectangular walnut top that is only 38 inches wide for physical intimacy and easy conversation.
When it came to decorative objects and smaller furniture, Corrals turned to the 30 independent artisans Bessie contacted during the renovation. All of these pieces, whether curated or co-designed by the homeowner—from Brooklyn-based maker Danny Kaplan’s sculptural ceramic side table to Barcelona potter Marta’s anthropomorphic terracotta lamp Bonilla in shades of raffia—are available Purchased through Arjé’s website.
Still, at its core, the home is a personal project trying to make tangible the world they have long created together. Nowhere is this clearer than their upstairs bedroom, accessed via a white metal spiral staircase opposite the kitchen. A light-filled, minimalist bird’s nest with limewashed walls, a low oak platform bed made of shelving and handmade ceramics was designed to evoke the simple, sun-bleached beauty of the couple’s Apulia region in Italy. In Greece in 2016, they honeymooned among the Aegean islands, sailing on a boat – with their own captain, of course.
Assistant of Photography: Natasia Kuronen