LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Charles Zana: In The Frame


Constructing a frame within the home, architect and collector Charles Zana creates astounding architectural backdrops for iconic works.

Paris-based architect Charles Zana combines his career with an ardour for contemporary art and design, creating homes that pay tribute to their enclosed oeuvres. Following his father’s passion for amassing classic furniture designs from the post-war era and paintings from artists of the 1950s, he has built his own formidable personal collection, which includes iconic originals, from George Nelson and Hans Wegner, to Ron Arad and the Campana Brothers.

Charles Zana studied architecture at Paris’s celebrated Ecole des Beaux-Arts before commencing his career at Bernard Fric’s Asymétrie agency in Paris and Sopha-Ahpos in New York before the creation of his own studio in Paris in 1990.

The Tunisian born architect has worked on a variety of both architectural and art inspired projects, from the Apostrophe store in Paris and the Pachtuv Palace luxury boutique hotel in Prague, to private residences around the world. He is currently working on a contemporary home in Geneva, a house in Tel Aviv that will accommodate a collection of photography and a rooftop home project, which will be an artistic collaboration.

Charles Zana’s definition of luxury:

If it were…

An object
A lamp in plaster by Giacometti

A place
Lake Como

A moment
This interview

A person
The designer Jean Michel Frank, he had a special attitude

When you first began your career was it a conscious decision to integrate art with architecture?
Yes. Indeed, when I began in the 90s I was very lucky because I worked with collectors specializing in the 1930’s. During this time artists and collectors all worked together, it was a real trend, like the UAM (Union of Modern Artists), they were complementary in all different fields.

When creating art-inspired domestic spaces what are the main considerations and challenges?
First of all, you have to work around the space, then it is according to the clients’ desires, and finally it’s about the collection. Being an architect, I have to give a meaning to everything, and I love when I can be myself, offering my opinion, but I also have to stand back as well. There’s a kind of “invisible obviousness”, everything has to be fluid. Architecture shouldn’t be in confrontation with art. In a house, the size of the art in relation to the walls, the lighting of the rooms and the background are also very important.

Architecturally, light is a primary factor, yet it can be perilous for art. How do you overcome this problem?
We always begin with the lighting in the house, because it’s the most important. However, sometimes there can be too much light, or the lighting may be designed more as if it were in a museum, which is not often the best lighting to live in, but it’s perfect for the art works. So when we design lighting that is great to live in, it’s often to the detriment of the art. We also have to think about illuminated art, like James Holden’s work. These art pieces illuminate the room. When you are an architect, you need sometimes to put aside architectural light principles to emphasize the light of the piece.

You create interiors in a way that is easy and comfortable to live with art, rather than surrounded by it. Do some artists’ work work better than others in this way?
There is Daniel Buren, with whom it is very easy, simple to integrate in a house. Also, in the Warhol exhibition that is currently showing, when you see the first portraits that he made, you realize that they were taken for private clients. For a lot of private customers, nowadays, the biggest desire is to commission bespoke installation pieces, such as works by Daniel Buren, as it avoids having “catalogue houses” with the same collections and installations.

In terms of design art, do you think architects create more liveable works than artists?
In design, there are numerous trends and tendencies. There are designers that are creating pieces for everyday life, like Antonio Citterio for example, then you have people that are working in more sculptural design, such as Ron Arad and Marc Newson, who are less interested in function. Finally, you have people that see design in a more engaged way, more political, like Andrea Branzi. It is a question of choice.

You also curate art exhibitions; do you ever curate private collections for clients?
Yes, indeed, and I also often work with exterior consultants. However, most of the clients are already collectors, and often they have personal advisors who help them with their choices. We collaborate with these advisors, especially concerning the space where the art pieces are going to be exhibited. Some artists create specially commissioned installations for private homes. Nowadays, people have more art pieces for their home than they have space for, so it needs organization.

You have amassed an impressive personal collection of 20th and 21st century art and design. Could you tell us about it?
I began collecting about 20 years ago. I think when you’re interested in art, it’s natural to be interested in owning pieces, especially, if you often visit art events and exhibitions. You frequently want what you see. I have pieces by Ron Arad, Marc Newson, a lot of Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and Italian designers of the 80s. I also have a special interest in Andrea Branzi.

What was the first piece of art that you bought?
A Brancusi lamp.

What is your most prized acquisition?
Ceramic by Ettore Sottsass.

Over the years you have befriended many of the artists and designers of which you collect. Do you feel that this enriches or makes their work more precious?
Yes, I think that an intimate relationship between artists and collectors is important, as it gives sense and a connection to the art. When I see great collections from the 1930s, I notice that people formed groups at that time. Artists shared great relationships with collectors, sellers and architects. The boundaries weren’t the same back then, everything was more open.

Who are the future masters?
For painting, I would say Adel Abesent, while for design I think Arik Levy and Konstantin Grcic. Jaime Hayon is also interesting, it’s a little crazy. I really like the design collective Front too.

What do you think about limited edition art and design?
I think we should use the term “designs icons” when the market has limited the art pieces, but not when the artists create limited editions. Nowadays, there are some interesting re-editions, for example Vitra is making classic pieces from the archives of great designers. It’s not limited edition but it’s still fabulous.

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