June 4, 2018

Q&A with NYC Design Studio Masson & Tank

New York City design firms have a tough challenge: Stand out from acclaimed competition, set the bar for much of the world, please your high-end clients and do it all in a space under 1000 square feet. The good designers adapt and evolve to work with the new crop of compact condos and petite pied-à-terres scattered across New York’s boroughs; only in NYC will you find a small downtown studio packed with high-end furniture, world class art, and luxury light fixtures.

No one understands this better than Masson & Tank. Created by New Orleans-native Gabriel Masson & Beirut-born Jadd Tank, the NYC design studio brings heritage, culture and a rich history of collaboration to the forefront, transforming even the most cookie-cutter condo into a mélange of inspirations ranging from Byzantine luxe to 20th century abstraction. We caught up with the design duo to chat inspiration, city living and the new generation of luxe lighting.

What is your overall philosophy and approach to design?

We bring a non-traditional approach to a traditional form. Being artists, we respect the rules not by following them, but by tweaking them. We are always looking for ways to subvert the status quo, even if it’s as simple as asking “do you really need a sectional?” (Profound… we know).

You both have backgrounds in dance - How does this play into your work?

Dance is essentially choreographed space - it’s the relationship between objects and bodies. What we’ve found to be similar between dance and design is how one can both influence and be influenced by the spaces one inhabits. This is what keeps design fresh and interesting for us.

The design world in NYC is extremely competitive - How do you stand out?

By being fabulous of course! Seriously though, it’s only as competitive as we want it to be. The best we can do is be our authentic creative selves, which this amazing city allows us to be. We feel that our presence as designers in NYC emerges from the work we do itself. We have a practice of checking-in with each other to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons. #love.

What are the challenges to designing in a city like NYC

The incredible variety of spaces - from a new West Village loft to a pre-war walk-up, there are so many things to have to consider. There is no format, every project is like starting from scratch - which is so fun! And of course, traffic, trains and a life-long pursuit of schlepping.

What are some tips for designing in smaller spaces?

To paraphrase an old saying - it’s not the size that counts, it’s how you...design it. That said, there is no 5-step plan for small spaces, but a great place we like to start is scale and versatility. This may sound obvious, but everything has to fit and, where possible, be multi-functional. If you want a large sofa, think about going with smaller accent chairs. If you want that comfy club chair, think about pairing it with a settee - it’s all relational!

Tell us about your latest project - the upper west side condo.

This project is all about the clients and their extensive art collection. They are an erudite, sophisticated couple who brought an enormous amount of personality and energy to our collaboration. They are travelers at heart, and their sense of adventure mixed with our expertise pushed the design to unexpected places - a bespoke 24-karat mural in the powder room, a gallery wall of oversized framed Portuguese watercolors in the office and gorgeous Viennese crystal pendants in the master bath.

How does light shopping differ from - say -furniture shopping?

We are going to answer this by focusing on the online experience. Lighting has proven to be easier to find online, than say a sofa or console. Though we are firm believers in seeing the object with our own eyes (touch it, test it etc), there can be fewer hiccups with a online lighting order. We’ve purchased everything from vintage lighting fixtures from abroad to off-the-rack pieces here in the US and the experience has been for the most part great. No matter what, always do your research!

What lead you to the IL Pezzo Mancante Floor Lamp

The rabbit hole also known as Google. The clients wanted a very specific look: “a modern twist to a traditional standing chandelier”. They showed us an image of one in a hotel in Peru which they fell in love with. Finding a chic and contemporary example took a lot of research!!! The Il Pezzo Mancante was the one: a traditional candelabra silhouette, a mix of brass and hand-blown crystal, and, above all, a modern twist of minimalism. Our clients are in love!

Do you have a favorite lighting brand or fixture?

Nacho Carbonell and his masterful light sculptures, all the lighting from Arteriors Home. We are all about oversized table lamps for the bedside - our favorite: The Laurel Lamp by Stone & Sawyer. And of course, Il Pezzo Mancante are definitely on to something.

What is one piece of lighting advice you'd give to aspiring designers?

Dimmers Dimmers Dimmers! Go bright, and put a dimmer on it.

All images shot by the incredibly talented Nikola Strbac. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask him a few questions as well.

How do you approach photographing a space? What are the key element to consider?

I start by walking through a space with clients, and identifying the key elements we want featured most prominently in an image. The key elements for me are composition, balance and a message. It is easy to get caught up in technical details while composing a shot, so it's always good to keep in mind what you and the client want the final image to say. I prefer a portrait format for interiors, as it sets a composition more naturally, and is easier to balance.

When shooting interiors, lighting is crucial - what lighting techniques do you use to capture the actual lighting in a space?

My biggest concern in capturing ambient lighting is balancing the color temperatures to allow for the most natural look. I like to shoot with and without flash, then layer the images in Photoshop. I use the middle range image as a template, and bring in details from the brighter ambient images for ones with flash. This is a good way to keep the colors natural and create more depth in the image.

Designer Favorites

Il Pezzo 12 Round Chandelier
by Il Pezzo Mancante
$2,832 - $3,261
Meurice Rectangular Chandelier
by Jonathan Adler
Caracas Sixteen Light Chandelier
by Jonathan Adler
Il Pezzo 3 Wall Light
by Il Pezzo Mancante
$1,573 - $2,503
Karrington Chandelier
by Arteriors Home
James Chandelier
by Arteriors Home
Leeland Floor Lamp
by Arteriors Home