How a Fashion Design Duo Became Home Renovation Experts

Like many of us locked at home during quarantine, Oliver and Bessie Afnaim Corral, co-founders of fashion brand Arjé, decided to use their extra time to tackle a few DIY projects. In her case, it was an ambitious undertaking to renovate her 2,000-foot duplex in New York City without the help of contractors, save for an electrician for the lighting fixtures. “We watched YouTube videos and learned as we worked,” explains Corral. “I knew how to build a plaster wall, but we wanted to approach our home as an artistic project.” The result is a dramatic, light-filled space bathed in soothing neutral tones, and now as a showroom for the brand’s expansion into home decor and furniture serves.

Creating living spaces is not entirely alien to the duo. Arjé, best known for its sustainable shearling jackets, had pop-up stores in New York and LA that were built to feel like home, serving coffee and wine while customers shopped, and an open invitation to rest on furniture. So it was a natural extension for the couple to become fully immersed in interior design. “We’ve had three successful years selling clothes, but we felt this longing to be a complete lifestyle,” explains Afnaim Corral. The jump from clothing to interiors may always have been part of a larger plan for the couple, but that doesn’t mean they were completely unafraid of the new direction. “When you get butterflies, you know you’re getting closer to your dream,” Afnaim Corral continues. “During the height of the pandemic, we looked at each other and said: we just have to do this. Our hearts knew something was missing.” And so they took the plunge.

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First seen was the partition between the kitchen and dining room, which was demolished and converted into an arched opening ideal for creating a flow for guests as they converse. Another impressive project spearheaded by Corral is the custom wall behind her dining table, which required several trips to The Home Depot for wood dowels that were cut and installed piece by piece. “Oli was able to make things and I was the annoying customer,” laughs Afnaim Corral.

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A man and a woman are sitting in a stylish living room.
The designer husband duo Oliver Corral and Bessie Afnaim Corral.

In addition to transforming their living space, the couple also designed five custom pieces of furniture — what they like to call elementary grounding products for any home — a coffee table, dining table, sofa, armchair, and ottoman that are custom ordered and made in Rochester, New York built. The last two items are her greatest hits. “The chair and ottoman are our magnet products because interior designers and clients are asking for them and requesting them in custom fabrics,” explains Afnaim Corral. There are plans to expand the line with pieces that complement the existing design.

To complete their lifestyle concept, the two made sure everything from the artworks to the rugs to the plates and even the magazines and books were available in their home slash showroom. “Oli curates most of what you see so we really love and believe in everything. We work with artisans that we know personally,” she explains. “Everything is a closed-loop production process, made in small batches.” You’ll find textiles co-designed with Nordic Knots, tableware by Japanese label Kinto, handcrafted jugs by Barcelona-based ceramicist Marta Bonilla, and surreal glassware by New Yorker Grace Whiteside . For clients interested in seeing all of these pieces in person, private shopping appointments are available to visit their home, sit on the furniture, touch the decorative items, and most importantly, interact with the couple.

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This level of thoughtfulness and attention to detail influences their plans for the future. The duo doesn’t want to fall victim to the non-stop, grueling schedule that forces fashion designers to burn out. “We’re in no hurry. We want to do less to last longer,” says Afnaim Corral. “As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.”

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