Vicente Wolf’s Tips for Finding — and Living With — Eastern Treasures

Spot-on article on the union of my two passions
by Dickson T. Wong for 1st Dibs 

The A-list designer shares his expertise on choosing authentic objects and displaying them with style

For several months each year, New York designer Vicente Wolf makes it a point to leave city life behind and go completely off the grid. “There is an extraordinary richness I feel when I travel to off-the-beaten-path places, such as Madagascar, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam,” says Wolf, who has spent decades exploring these Eastern locales and other far-flung regions around the world. “You have to step out of your daily experience.”

He has also spent many years collecting treasures from these areas — including decorative objects, sculptures and artifacts — and a handful of them have made their way into his showroom, VW Home. Over time, he has developed an expert eye for those rare items that convey a unique sense of place and represent the culture they belong to.

“Traveling to these non-tourist destinations allows me to mix with the people of these cultures and discover the essence of the objects they’ve created,” says Wolf. “There is something pure about their forms, techniques and materials that brings the spirit back to a place of calm.”

Here, Wolf shares a few pearls of wisdom about spotting one-of-a-kind pieces in the Far East and beyond and blending them into your home.

 

Read More of My Tips and Tricks Here

My Experiences and What I Learned Working with Vicente Wolf – Part II

My Experiences and What I Learned Working with Vicente Wolf

Part II

by Laura Cattano

After working for 4 years as an administrative assistant to top interior designer, Vicente Wolf, I was compelled to put my thoughts about the experience on paper.  Though my tenure with Vicente Wolf Associates (VWA) ended in 2003, my work and who I am as a person and professional continues to be impacted by his vision, his design philosophy – and his spirit. 


Have a Presence

Anyone who’s met Vicente can feel his presence and it’s not just from the fact he’s tall, fit and handsome. It’s his energy; calming yet intense, confident. I think it’s part of the reason he can stay in control with his clients as it demands a level of trust and respect. He also has great taste and personal style.

Fake it till you make it was my mantra for the first few years as I was building my business and reputation. Think you’re great and eventually you’ll feel it. Think you’re not so great and everyone will think the same. How you dress helps with your mindset too.

I was at a conference for professional organizers years ago and I dressed as I would if when meeting a client for the first time; silk blouse, nice pants, heels. I overheard a couple attendees comment about how I was overdressed ‘where does she think she’s going’ is what I believe they said. They were in wrinkled khakis and their business logoed t-shirts and sneakers (enough said). During the key note presentation, the speaker asked how many of us had our own business, 90% of the hands went up. She then went on to say how disappointed she was to see how many of the attendees were dressed. ‘We’re not here to organize a garage’ she said. ‘This is a professional conference and you should be dressed as such’. Afterwards several of us started talking and I told them that I’m in NYC I wouldn’t get hired if I didn’t look good. How would anyone trust me to do anything if I looked like a slob with no taste?

The Questionnaire

My main goal when working with clients is to help them live the life they want in the space they have. Vicente does a lengthy written questionnaire. I do a more it more informally but many of the questions I ask are from his questionnaire, making sure my clients think about and write down how they want to live, how they want their spaces to feel and their personal preferences like they don’t rattan baskets, acrylic, etc. It’s not only helpful to me, it forces the client to start thinking differently about their space and is integral to my process and their satisfaction with the results.

Have a Life

I’m just getting to applying this for myself.  The fact Vicente runs his interior design business during actual business hours, 9-5pm and not demanding or expecting his employees to stay late and work weekends is pretty incredible. ‘I have a life and so should you’ I remember him saying.

About a year ago, after running my business for 11 years I had the realization that I basically worked every day for the past 3 years. No surprise, I was totally burned out and had to stop in my tracks. I thought of Vicente and how important it was for him to make time to travel, go to museums, the theater, and have down time to get perspective, inspiration and time to reboot and avoid burnout. I apply this to my life now!  Better late than never.

Present Wholly

Over the years I’ve had several clients who have worked with interior designers with varying degrees of satisfaction. The most recent and noteworthy is a client I’ll call K who moved into an apartment in a beautiful building in Tribeca with the help of a fairly well-known interior designer.

Thankfully K had the good sense to send me what the designer was planning for the six closets as I had to re-map everything (what category of stuff goes where) and design them all from scratch. Nothing she forwarded made sense but that’s not what I wanted to talk about….

I went to see K to help her unpack her things in the new space and was horrified when I walked in. It was still under construction, she had only about 40% of the furniture in, no accessories, limited lighting and no art on the walls. K said the designer was STILL sending her options for furniture. Understandably K was beside herself. K was seeing every mistake, focusing in on what she didn’t like PLUS was getting an earful from all the guys there still working; electrician, AV guys, etc. as to how the designer was so unprofessional, which is why they were still working. K asked if she was overreacting, that maybe this is just how these things go, I couldn’t help but feel so bad for K.

K knew I worked for an interior designer, so I explained Vicente’s process; how he presents wholly, with photos, renderings, fabric sample and all the numbers in a binder. That he wouldn’t let you move in until it was complete, so he can do a reveal. He does it that way as he doesn’t want his clients going thru what K was going thru. I helped her source some of the last pieces (at this point she was over dealing with the designer).  Needless to say, neither K nor anyone she talks to will ever recommend this designer, which is the biggest part of building a business.

 

Laura CattanoLaura Cattano is celebrating over 12 years in business as a professional organizer with a focus on design and a ‘living better with less’ philosophy. She has helped countless people in NYC create spaces that feel like home and support how they want to live no matter the size or budget. Laura Cattano’s ORGANIZATIONAL DESIGN work and advice can be seen in the New York Times, NY Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Elle Magazine, Instyle.com, Architecturaldigest.com, Refinery29.com, Lonny.com, RealSimple.com, and Martha Stewart.com

My Experiences and What I Learned Working with Vicente Wolf – Part I

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My Experiences and What I Learned Working with Vicente Wolf

Part I

by Laura Cattano


After working for 4 years as an administrative assistant to top interior designer, Vicente Wolf, I was compelled to put my thoughts about the experience on paper.  Though my tenure with Vicente Wolf Associates (VWA) ended in 2003, my work and who I am as a person and professional continues to be impacted by his vision, his design philosophy – and his spirit. 


Don’t Worry About Education 

I saw Vicente speak at an Architectural Digest Home Design Show on a panel with two other interior designers. They both mentioned their graduate degrees; one from Harvard and the other from Yale and their love of symmetry. When it was Vicente’s turn, he said he didn’t graduate high school and wasn’t a fan of symmetry then clicked the first slide. The crowd gasped. You could hear a pin drop during his presentation, unlike his fellow panelists.

Vicente, an interior designer in NYC, has always been upfront about his dyslexia and how school was hard for him. That he got his education by training his eye through travel, going to museums, and keeping his mind open to the beauty around him.

As someone whose field, Professional Organizer, doesn’t have a degree associated with it and the fact that I never attended design school yet do styling and decorating for my organizing clients, I think of Vicente often and how it never bothered him.  When asked about my background, I channel Vicente’s confidence and am not troubled by my lack of training either.

Trust Your Gut

When I first started at VWA, I was not experienced in home interior design.  Knowing that I recently moved to NYC, Vicente asked how my new apartment was coming along. I bemoaned how my sister was helping me. That she said I must have an accent color that repeated in each room and that brown (my response) was not an accent color. She suggested sage green. Vicente said to think about what I liked and not to listen to my sister or anyone else for that matter. He may actually have said ‘who the hell cares what your sister thinks?!’. That I needed to listen to my gut as to what I liked and what I wanted to live with, was exactly what was needed.

Learning to trust my gut is the most valuable lesson from my time with Vicente Wolf Associates, and not only with styling. When I started my business, I may not have known exactly what I wanted to do in the long run, I did know that I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing at the time, which was basic organizing. For the first several years after starting my business I received so much advice; from not to spend money on my website and business cards (there weren’t great template websites at the time, so I designed a custom website that was relatively expensive), to taking every job that came my way, to advertising on Craigslist and posting flyers on community boards. I thankfully ignored all that advice – and then some. I took my own path even though it didn’t seem anyone else was going that way. I had and still have a custom site and expensive business cards targeting the kinds of people I want to work with. All my clients said when they were looking for an organizer, that once they clicked on my site they knew I was the one. I’ve happily turned down work straight from the beginning. It was hard at first especially when I had no work, but by taking the jobs I wanted, I got the pictures and referrals that propelled my reputation and business forward to what it is today.  I’ve never advertised with either paid or free listings on Craigslist, which is why I’m not dead and buried in some guy’s basement.

My strength as an organizer is not only making a space functional and intuitive but making it look great, which is something I also learned while working at VWA. True story: when I first started, I was told not to touch anything, especially the resource library. After Vicente saw how well I organized what I was permitted to do, he slowly allowed me to organize more and more. By the time I left, everyone in the office was under strict orders to not put anything back in the library once they took it off the shelves. If they took something, they were instructed to “put it back on Laura’s desk” for me to put away. That may have been the highest compliment I have ever received.

Staying in Control

The way Vicente has his interior design clients come to his office rather than meeting them in their homes was a huge lesson for me.  With initial meetings taking place on his turf it’s a subtle means of starting a project ‘in control,’ which makes it easier to stay in control during the project. Once you give up control in any way, there’s really no going back.

Even though all my work is done in my clients’ homes, I maintain control in subtle ways; the strength which with I communicate and explain my process, for one. Because it is critical that my clients understand – and trust – my process within the framework of collaboration, being sure-footed is a huge plus.  They come to recognize that the systems and style that I am presenting are perfect for their life and needs.  After working with a few people who I let take too much control I vow never to let that happen again.  Not only was the process unpleasant, but the results were less than satisfactory. The most important thing I’ve learned is staying strong and choosing who I am going to work with. You can tell from a phone call (which is how I always start a project) how much control a person is willing to give up.

Stay tuned for Part II – Have a Presence, The Questionnaire, Have a Live, Present Wholly

 

Laura Cattano

Laura Cattano is celebrating over 12 years in business as a professional organizer with a focus on design and a ‘living better with less’ philosophy. She has helped countless people in NYC create spaces that feel like home and support how they want to live no matter the size or budget. Laura Cattano’s ORGANIZATIONAL DESIGN work and advice can be seen in the New York Times, NY Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Elle Magazine, Instyle.com, Architecturaldigest.com, Refinery29.com, Lonny.com, RealSimple.com, and MarthaStewart.com.