IN 1900, about a month before dying, Oscar Wilde is rumored to have looked around his accommodations at the Hôtel d’Alsace, the derelict Parisian pension house where he spent his final days, and said, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” More than 120 years later, another flamboyant expat found himself on rue des Beaux-Arts at an only slightly less dire impasse.
In December 2021, the Russian-born architect and furniture designer Harry Nuriev relocated from New York, where he’d lived since 2017, to Paris in search of inspiration. Although the plan was to find an airy loft on the right bank, he and his partner, Tyler Billinger, 27, a former fashion publicist and the C.E.O. of Nuriev’s design firm, Crosby Studios, opted instead for a 1,200-square-foot rental apartment across the Seine in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Each room in the 18th-century home had been painted the same emotionless hue. “I want to say it was pistachio beige?” says Nuriev, 38, disdainfully, while seated on a Barbie-pink camping stool in his so-called capsule kitchen. The steel-framed, glass-walled structure is about one-third the size of the former dining room it occupies and conjures the set of a sci-fi movie, or perhaps an RV on Mars.
But instead of covering every wall with glossy gray tiles, as the couple had done in their ultramodern one-bedroom NoLIta duplex, Nuriev chose to embrace the storied romance of his adoptive city, creating ashen, trompe l’oeil wallpaper with a crumbling, fungal motif and pasting it up in multiple rooms. “I want to keep the whole heritage and embrace it, but I also have my own ideas and I didn’t want them to kill each other,” says the designer, whose first Paris solo show, “Denim,” which opened at Carpenters Workshop gallery earlier this month, includes objects — a weight-training bench, a turntable — wrapped entirely in the rugged fabric.
Nuriev grew up in the agricultural city of Stavropol, in southwestern Russia, the eldest of three children raised by a handyman father and a homemaker mother. As a child, he enjoyed rearranging his grandmother’s furniture but, he says, interior design always sounded to him like a preoccupation for “housewives from the Upper East Side.” Though he was interested in experimental fashion — “as a professional passenger,” he clarifies, meaning that he preferred buying clothes to making them — he ultimately enrolled at the Moscow Architectural Institute. It wasn’t until he founded Crosby Studios in 2014, just after graduating, that he began actively questioning why a credenza should be any less expressive than a cardigan — or, as he puts it, “How people could put on a conceptual gown and sit on a brown couch. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
As part of his mission to translate the language of clothing into interior design, Nuriev has created immersive and Instagrammable interiors — a digital environment for Valentino, a physical retail space for Paris’s Dover Street Little Market — often with just one bold color (neon blue, say, or electric green). In 2019, his Balenciaga sofa, an L-shaped couch stuffed with an array of the luxury house’s deadstock garments and wrapped in clear biodegradable film, became the talk of the Design Miami fair. At last year’s iteration, he debuted the Trash Bag sofa, a cluster of 15 glossy, foam-filled leather cushions, piled together as if awaiting a garbage truck on collection day, and a challenge to the sometimes-stodgy world of luxury design.
SINCE RELEASING HIS debut collection of geometric chairs and totemic shelves — some in powder-coated stainless steel, others in brass — during New York design week in 2016, Nuriev has been described variously as a retrofuturist, a minimalist and a surrealist. Dissatisfied with these incomplete articulations of his artistic approach (or as he refers to it, his ongoing disagreement with reality), he made up a label of his own: transformism. “It comes from the idea of one thing transforming into something else,” he says. “But I don’t want to call it upcycling or recycling. Upcycling is just a technique — not a style. [My practice] comes from finding beauty somewhere no one wants to look.” For every piece of his inspired by fashion or art, there’s another that owes its existence to the everyday allure of a motor home, an Amazon delivery box, a headlight, a running shoe or a fax machine.
More than once during our conversation, Nuriev compares his new neighborhood in Paris’s Sixth Arrondissement to an Hermès Birkin bag: sophisticated yet traditional. “There are a lot of old ladies with little dogs,” says Billinger, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area. “And we’re wild,” adds Nuriev, who on this October afternoon is wearing a floor-length skirt, a midriff-baring wool sweater and a bandanna — all black — with gloopy acrylic pearls covering his nails. “Only yesterday I was walking in my heels and my crocodile dress, and they were like, ‘Ugh, fashion people.’”
To mitigate the shock of their arrival, Billinger and Nuriev decided to leave the apartment’s frame and parquet flooring alone. In fact, their engagement with the space is closer to an intervention than a renovation. Even the most disruptive elements — the glass-walled kitchen; a corridor to the bathroom wrapped entirely in denim — are temporary, capable of being easily broken down or torn off.
To the right of the entrance, in what was once the foyer, the couple’s bed can be found in another aseptic stainless-steel box. (The structure was manufactured in pieces and assembled in place.) The bed’s duvet cover and pillowcases, all made from a patchwork of worn underwear — “Mine,” Nuriev clarifies — offer a cheeky reminder that beds are for more than just sleeping. Nearby, a reclaimed refrigerator has been painted with blue flowers and reborn as a cabinet. Antiquated iPhones line a wall, their screens replaced with functional, albeit tiny, mirrors.
If the apartment is a laboratory for experimentation (it’s where the designer dreams up most of his creations), it’s also the experiment itself: Nuriev and Billinger both live here full time, among the former’s prototypes, constantly tweaking things like height and polish to make sure each object achieves Nuriev’s idea of perfection. A doorway connects the bedroom to the heart of the residence: a spacious dining atrium with a monumental square table and stools upholstered in distressed denim, a material that, according to Nuriev, “isn’t supposed to be in interior design.” That, of course, is its appeal. Stitched-together socks in a rainbow of colors form a rug that runs the length of the room.
In the office, also off the dining room, Nuriev’s silvery wallpaper with a bitmap print matches pink stools, pixelated at the edges and evoking the lo-fi quality of classic arcade cabinets, from his recent Video Game collection. Images relating to his various projects, many of them created for realities other than our own, are tacked above a shiny pink lacquered desk: One shows a brick-and-mortar clothing store in downtown Manhattan, conceived with the augmented reality fashion platform ZERO10, which sold NFTs by Nuriev depicting disappearing pants and shirts made of light; another includes a virtual circular sofa created from Nike puffer jackets. Next month, Rizzoli will publish Nuriev’s first monograph, “How to Land in the Metaverse: From Interior Design to the Future of Design,” which documents, among other things, his ongoing investigation into the digital realm.
Off the dining room, a living area is taken up almost entirely by a transparent-vinyl-wrapped sectional packed with the couple’s discarded clothes. (“I can’t remember sitting in a normal chair,” says Billinger.) Above a fireplace, computer keyboards Nuriev rescued from Paris sidewalks border an antique mirror that came with the apartment. “Think about how many disappointed emails were typed on those,” he says. “Thanks to them, I don’t have to look at an ugly wooden frame.”
In a corner of the room, tucked into a recess in the wall, is a roughly 35-by-24 inch maquette of the apartment that Nuriev built as he was reimagining the space. Almost everything is represented — there are pocket-size versions of the denim dining table, pink camping stools and sofa — except the home’s residents. “I have one goal,” says Nuriev. “Even if I’m not here, I want you to walk in and say, ‘This is very Harry.’”