The journey of Vicente Wolf is a testament to the human will to achieve their dreams when a Cuban-born 15-year-old emigré who did not complete high school becomes one of the most celebrated interior designers in the country. At the age of 18, he moved to New York City and became a model and actor, then secured a job in advertising. As a designer, Wolf is self-taught with influences that include Philippe Starck and Karl Lagerfeld.
Designing glorious homes in addition to luxury hotels and restaurants with inspiration that comes from his intense travel itinerary awarded him the 2009 recipient of the Design Icon Award. He now owns an interior design store, VW Home, in Manhattan, as well, and has taught at Parsons School of Design. As one of our most loved interior designers, we finally caught up with Wolf while he was traveling in Ethiopia to find out what drives his work and his inspirations for the homes he’s designed on the East End and beyond.
Your interior design experience spans many decades. Is this what you studied? Is this what you wanted to do since the beginning?
I am dyslexic, so I never did well in school, therefore, I am mostly self-taught. My education was visual, which came through my travels and museums and absorbing from things around me.
How is your design philosophy interpreted in your interiors? Or how would you describe your interior design style?
My belief is that my interiors should be in keeping with my principles, never compromised. They should have a sense of architecture with clean lines and minimal embellishment. And always be timeless.
You are at the helm of both Vicente Wolf Associates and VW Home by Vicente Wolf. Can you explain the difference between the two companies?
My first business was Vicente Wolf Associates, and is the interior design arm of my company. There, my team works on the full scope of tasks involved with our residential and commercial clients.
With my passion for international travel, I recognized the opportunity to bring back these inspiring pieces. In 1999, I launched VW Home showroom with accessories and furnishings I personally sourced from such places as Africa, Bali, Thailand, Ghana, and India. Having been recognized for using them in my work for decades, I’m proud to make these pieces available to designers and design enthusiasts adjacent to my VWA offices.
You are such a passionate lover of travel, which we can imagine is transported into your work. Can you give us an example of how an adventure made it into one of your projects?
During my annual five to six-week travels, I constantly observe color combinations and textures that inspire me and certainly my work. When I go to the marketplace, which I adore, I am not disappointed if I don’t score a big find. Sometimes you have better luck with small, decorative objects, the kind of pieces that could be a nice accent piece.
In most markets, there’s a young kid who’s very happy to take you around. When I arrived at this marketplace in Ethiopia, I already had a list of items I wanted to see, one of which were vintage horn cups made of ox or ibex. Sure enough, the kid led me around the back and knocked on a private door with a large selection as opposed to the one or two in the public shops.
Where are some of the destinations that you loved most in terms of architecture and interior design?
I am currently in Ethopia. To me, Bhutan in South Asia, which I first visited in 1997, is one of my favorite places, even though it’s changed much since then.
There is a project you designed in Montauk that can be a villa in Italy! The stone floors, the outdoor living with flower-vines over them on custom pergolas, the ocean vistas — and yet it’s modern and airy. What was your actual inspiration?
You are referring to my own home. It came together as a result of my passion for traveling and free thinking.
Your Sag Harbor project could be a loft, but that exotic tapestry looks to be inspired from the Far East. Your sense of international within the context of modern decor really distinguishes your style. Do you work with the client on their inspiration or do you present your ideas to see if they resonate with them?
Since these were previous clients, they knew my style and trusted me. They had asked for a hint of what I had in mind for their home and I told them it was going to be difficult because I wanted it to feel like it was thrown together, yet with a very cohesive sense of colors that flowed from one room to the next, but with different textures.
You incorporated a lot of mid-century modern pieces in your Water Mill and Westhampton minimalistic projects with Panton and Saarinen chairs. Is this a style that speaks to you? Who are your favorites?
I love the lines of these pieces. They help to give the room a clean, fresh feeling.
You’ve also been commissioned to design Manhattan lobbies, golf clubs, restaurants, and other commercial endeavors. What is the difference in the process?
Not that much different since I always want my spaces to have a comfortable, residential feel.
You have authored several incredibly beautiful books as well. How do you find the time?
I love writing books. To me, it’s like teaching. In fact, I am working on another one now.
Do you have a favorite project?
They are all special. It’s the client who makes it special.
Are there any trends that our readers need to know about? What are you excited about?
I try not to think of trends. It’s more about what suits the clients and the space.
If money were no object, for whom would you like to design?
What are some of your favorite go-to magazines, websites, and/or books for design inspiration?
My favorites are National Geographic, Travel and Leisure, Milieu, Elle Décor, and interior design magazines.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Cooking, gardening, designing, taking in the arts and, of course, traveling.
To reach Vicente Wolf Associates or inquire about Wolf’s work, visit www.vicentewolf.com or call 212-465-0590.