Hubert Burda Media

Yucatàn Dreaming with Laura Kirar

Laura Kirar – who designs everything from mirrors to beds to entire restaurants – tells us how a mad moment of illegal trespassing led her to her dream project.

Laura Kirar lives out of a suitcase. But unlike some globetrotters, she doesn’t mind all the months she spends on the move. “I spent only 180 days at home or at my studio in New York last year,” the furniture and interior designer explains. “I have some clients who are screenwriters, and they always sit down on the same chair in the same room and have the same lunch and it’s their method for getting that inspiration, but it’s not really that way for me. I can be inspired by a client, an environment or when I travel. I’m definitely inspired everywhere, and sometimes I don’t know when it’s going to come out. That’s why I carry my camera and sketchbook with me. I have a drive with 40,000 photos in it – I’m not even exaggerating.” 

Laura Kirar

These photos and drawings often end up pinned to the wall at Kirar’s studio, where she dreams up interiors for homes, hotels and restaurants, and designs a wide range of furniture for brands including Ann Sacks, McGuire and Baker, all three of which are under the Kohler Interiors umbrella. She also recently designed a range of taps, showers and other fittings for Kallista, Kohler’s high-end bathroom and kitchen brand. 

“The Pinna Paletta project for Kallista started around two years ago,” Kirar remembers. “My vision for this collection really came from my artist background. I started out as a sculptor and then my sculptures became more functional and before I knew it I was designing furniture. And so the vision for this was really to marry architecture and sculpture – the sort of clean minimalism of a functional part of the piece and this sort of decorative element. So there are a number of really amazing finishes with Paletta, and beyond that you have the ability to mix and match the decorative element with the body of the piece. So you can have a two-tone tap, essentially, which is pretty new for the marketplace. It’s something that we see often in jewellery and in fashion, but you don’t often see it in bathroom.” 

Despite having forged a career as a designer, Kirar does still make her own art. “I feel like I’ve never really separated those two things,” Kirar explains. “My interiors and my furniture design have always been very conceptually based. I don’t generally just choose things from an aesthetic standpoint. But in the last three years, I have taken on this sort of personal project, which is to tour around Mexico and work with skilled artisans, and try to learn about their craft and work directly with them in applying their traditional techniques towards modern design. 

Corazon Espejo by Laura Kirar

“And in doing that I discovered that there was an opportunity to make my own artwork again. So, three years ago I was asked to be part of an exhibition at The Museo Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City when 10 women designers were asked to make art pieces in collaboration with a Mexican artisan. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is great. This is exactly what I’m doing right now.’ So there was a family that I had been working with in Michoacán, which is in the middle northern state of Mexico. And I worked with them to create a large locket – a heart locket that’s somewhat anatomical and somewhat abstract. So it opens and it has one side that’s the sort of abstract chambers of the heart, and the other side is this sort of polish-copper plate. So it was my first piece, and it’s essentially a mirror. The whole point is that you see your reflection, or whoever’s opening it sees their reflection. So it’s a mirror but it’s really a conceptual piece. And so we had a show at the Tamayo, and then beyond that I’ve worked on some more copper pieces. So I’m generating a lot more art for art’s sake these days, which is really rewarding.” 

Kirar is hugely passionate about Mexico and Mexican culture, and she’s currently renovating a hacienda she stumbled upon in the jungle of the country’s Yucatán peninsula. “I was sort of somewhat familiar with that area because I started going there in my early 20s to do yoga, but I was less familiar with the opposite side of the peninsula, which is close to the colonial city of Mérida. My husband and I went there for a wedding – an old employee of mine – and just spent the day driving around and we saw this beautiful ruin peeking out of the jungle. 

“And we essentially trespassed, climbed over a wall, walked through the jungle in our flip-flops, which I now know is quite dangerous, and just had this kind of incredible experience in the sunshine. It was a sun shower, there was a rainbow, and we discovered these incredible Moorish arches. It was incredibly romantic and I said to my husband, ‘We’re supposed to have this thing. This rainbow is like an omen; it’s a good sign for us.’ So we left and we saw a little boy in front of the property and my husband handed him his business card. 

Part of Kirar's hacienda at night. Photo: Helena Okvist

Part of Kirar’s hacienda at night. Photo: Helena Okvist

“But I thought that was silly, you know, like why would that ever amount to anything? Then two days later we were driving by, and there was a BMW sitting out in front of the property. And I said we have to pull over because something’s up. And we did and waited about 10 minutes and out of the jungle came this very tall, handsome man and this small Mexican woman, and it turned out to be the owner and his real-estate broker. And we introduced ourselves and she said, ‘Oh well this is you, right?’ and she had the business card in her pocket. So the little boy had already found her, and 48 hours after that we were signing papers.” 

That was seven years ago, and though Kirar has built a pool and a pool house in the grounds, she’s still in the process of restoring and renovating the older buildings. The property comprises a main house, which dates from the 1730s, and a large factory building from the mid-1800s that Kirar has big plans for. “The factory will become my studio and then two other working studios and a gallery space,” Kirar explains. “I really want the factory to be kind of like a collaborative art space. I would really, really like to have people with different mediums come work, create there, maybe be inspired there as I was. That’s the long-term vision.”