Member Spotlight: Carole Aizenstark


Art and design were an intrinsic part of my youth on Paris’ Left Bank, where I was born and raised. My father was an important antique dealer and some of my earliest memories are of afternoons trailing him, observing craftsmen restore gilded bronzes or rare wood inlays on cabinets. We’d go to clients’ sumptuous 18th century townhouses, where I marveled at each harmonious finished ensemble. It was a comprehensive design education. At home too, the furniture was constantly shuffled; I’d come from school and our 17th century Florentine pietra dura dining table was replaced by a glass 1970s Maria Pergay piece. This stylistic fusion instilled a feel for the essence of design: I learned early on that proportion, balance, and rhythm matter but so do originality, personality, and fun.

To better understand what I grasped intuitively, I started by studying the history of art and architecture in Italy. Looking for creativity and independence, I moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, then went on to work for a decade as the design director for large fashion companies. A year working in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia followed; it challenged my Western design references and emphasized resourcefulness. Later, opportunities in interior renovation projects led me to Architecture School in Miami (Florida International University) where I obtained a Masters in Interior Design.

What aspects of interior design interest you in particular?

I’m passionate about adaptive reuse, the re-purposing of old structures into innovative spaces. It’s the ultimate in sustainability. I’ve lectured and authored articles for the RISD Journal of Adaptive Reuse on the topic. I’m fascinated by interventions that rekindle the spirit of a place, by how a building’s previous forms and functions are harnessed to create a whole new space that remains mindful of history. There’s something awe-inspiring — and humbling — about brilliantly executed adaptive reuses like Gae Aulenti’s Musée d’Orsay or Tadao Ando’s Punta della Dogana. Besides sustainability and using authentic materials, besides extending history and creating spatial drama, working within constraints of an existing building forces one to find solutions one would be hard-pressed to invent otherwise. I tried to apply this sort of creativity while designing proposals to re-purpose an old bank into a wellness center, a disaffected moat into a museum cafe, and an unused temple into a galleria.

What are some interesting recent projects you’ve worked on?

I like to create strong focal points when planning a space. For a recent West Hollywood condo renovation, I transformed a dark fragmented apartment into a clean-lined, luminous volume, re-orienting kitchen and living areas to take advantage of hillside views and bringing the wraparound terrace indoors with an oversized porcelain-tiled floor. In Los Angeles this year, after an architectural extension of a Spanish Revival home, I devised a new living room/dining room axis, integrating materials and furnishings across the space rather than singling out each room.

Sometimes the focal point is client-centered. In a New York co-op renovation, I needed to select a design that reflected my client’s cosmopolitan life. This produced an eye-catching hierarchy of contrasting forms, like a sinuous Carlo Mollino floor lamp offset by an angular Roberto Rida bronze table. In a downsizing project I undertook in Miami, the client, a philanthropist and early collector of Danish Modern furniture, was relocating from a villa to a bayside apartment. I first renovated the unit to address aging-in-place issues. Then, sifting through the client’s warehouses filled with furniture of all styles, I curated a modernist home to directly reflect the client’s causes and taste.

Do you have a particular design style?

I have a congruent design approach rather than a preferred “style”. Style is important, but just one aspect of design. As a designer, I seek first and foremost to create functional spaces that meet a client’s wishes and needs. The physical and psychological contexts — or the space and the client, if you wish — matter more than style.

Please learn more about Carole’s work here.