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Anna Karlin’s Sculptural Creations Have Achieved Cult Status Among Celebs and Designers

Words by Olivia Lidbury
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Photo courtesy of Anna Karlin

What’s remarkable about multidisciplinary designer Anna Karlin—aside her wild imagination—is that she is self-taught.

Her success has been runaway and trend-setting. An adoptive New Yorker who grew up in London, Anna studied visual communication and worked in art direction and set design, but the ephemeral nature of her trade propelled her to channel her creativity into fine objects and furniture: “I really wanted to make something permanent,” she explains. “So I created a small collection of lighting, furniture and objects, and it worked.”

She established her studio late in 2012, and opened a store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2018. Her lyrical lighting and graphic chess stools quickly garnered cult status among interior designers and celebrities (even landing in John Legend and Chrissy Teigen’s Manhattan kitchen). “I view furniture as pieces of usable sculptures—that’s how I approach everything I design,” she explains. Dreaming, she adds, is 90% of her job. “I never stop designing. To me it’s a rolling production—there’s always something in the works.”

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Photo courtesy of Anna Karlin

My design philosophy:

If I have to sum-up my style, it’s wabi-sabi meets American Shaker—which makes perfect sense to me! I like the clarity of thought with the Shaker style; in my work there is often a singular thread, rather than a jumble of ideas. A lot of my pieces are incredibly complex, in terms of the final execution or the way they’re engineered—but they look deceptively simple.

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What inspires me: I know it probably sounds a little cheesy, but it's not what you're looking at—it's how you look. If my eyes are up, my mind is alert, I’m open and switched on, it can be any shape: something in the street, in the supermarket… I don’t need to be at the Met on a regular basis, I just need to make sure that I've tuned my brain to be in a place where I'll take anything in.

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Photo courtesy of Anna Karlin

The materials I’m loving right now: In the new collection, there is so much range—from handwoven textiles, to carved marble with hand-blown glass. Actually there’s pretty much every material you could ever imagine, and that excites me.

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Anna KarlinDimple LampSHOP NOW
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Anna KarlinMilk DaybedSHOP NOW

What differentiates my products from the rest: Each piece is handmade to order, with all the materials carefully sourced. The production part of the studio is really huge because having an idea is one thing, but executing it properly is another. It’s all about craftsmanship. A lot of my work has a tension between machine-made and handmade. That dialogue is something I always come back to—it's how the two sit together that’s interesting.

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Anna KarlinSeed Pod LampSHOP NOW
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Photo courtesy of Anna Karlin

My biggest “pinch-me” moment: Opening my showroom in Chinatown in 2018 was a major moment. It's a really beautiful space, with no signage or product in the windows. We’re appointment-only but there is a constant stream of curious people poking their head in. We restored the front, so it's this lovely old wooden frontage in a deep plum gloss that’s almost black. There’s always weird stuff on display —sculptures, experiments or prototypes, because to me it’s not about selling—it's about creating an atmosphere, a sense of intrigue and creativity.

The anchor piece that works in every room: The chess stools—they’ve forever been a bestseller. They work everywhere as tiny little interventions.

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Anna KarlinOriginal Wooden Chess Piece StoolSHOP NOW
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Photo courtesy of Anna Karlin

My idea of ultimate luxury: Sitting alone, uninterrupted with my sketchbook. But I have two kids, so I’m never able to do that! 

What I love about Showroom:

There's a real eye on curation and quality, which is really important to us as a studio. I believe in the group of people and the intention behind it, and the sense of quality is so high.

What’s next: Launching a new collection this spring is exciting because each piece experiences a life of its own. Things happen I could never dream of, and I follow the journey.

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Anna KarlinCeramic PendantSHOP NOW
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Shop Anna Karlin now on Showroom.