September 2011

Material Witness

Azadeh Shladovsky marshals wood, metal and fur into profoundly personal designs by MAYER RUS

  • Diva stool
  • Infinity +++ bench
  • Grand Chêne coffee table
  • Petite Chêne side table
  • Torre stools

When decorating “emergencies” arise and tempers flare, designers often soothe their clients with a common refrain: “It’s not life or death!” Azadeh Shladovsky would qualify the statement. For her, design is decidedly about life. “Space and beauty are very powerful,” she avers.

That particular kind of power comes to life in Shladovsky’s premier furniture collection, which debuts this month at Jean de Merry on Melrose Place. Imbued with equal measures of glamour and artistry, the collection represents a coming out of sorts for the native Angeleno, who has quietly built her practice over the past seven years.

Shladovsky took a circuitous route to the world of interiors and furniture. She majored in Spanish literature at UCLA while satisfying the requirements of the school’s pre-med program. After graduation, she spent eight years at UCLA Medical Center, first managing research for the cardiac surgery department and then as a member of the hospital’s heart and lung transplant team. “I was the one who carried the heart around in a cooler,” she says matter-of-factly.

Continuing on that path, she applied to UCLA School of Medicine—then had a change of heart. “It was always important to me to do something meaningful, but I had become disillusioned with medicine,” she says. “I knew there were other ways to make a difference in people’s lives.”

And so, in 2003, after the birth of son Jonas, Shladovsky followed her longtime passion for the arts to UCLA’s architecture and interior design program. It was a felicitous move. “Here, finally, was my opportunity for creative expression. I was terrified of disappointing my Persian parents when I abandoned med school.”

Like many designers, Shladovsky began her career doing projects for friends. Her interiors hew to no particular style, reflecting her belief that basic principles of proportion, scale, balance and color can be applied to whatever design vocabulary suits a particular client.

The evolution of her furniture collection is intimately tied to the life of her daughter, Malena, who died in 2008, just shy of her fourth birthday, from complications of a brain tumor. Shladovsky broaches the subject cautiously, lest the connection trivialize her daughter’s life and the tragedy of her passing.

“I think of Malena when I design. She lost her eyesight when she was two, but she didn’t lose her vision. She learned to experience the richness of life through touch and sound,” Shladovsky says. “The point of departure for the furniture is respect for the materials—their feel, their weight, the way we connect to them. That appreciation is one of the things Malena gave me.”

The arc of Malena’s life and legacy is told on malenasfoundation.org, which her parents established. As for the furniture, one needn’t know the particulars of Shladovsky’s journey to appreciate the work. The story of her collection is written in the refinement of form, the quality of craftsmanship and the sumptuousness of rosewood, polished nickel, sturdy oak and Patagonian longhair sheepskin. Ultimately, both are tales of joy.