Zak Profera is an interior and textile designer based in New York City where he runs ZAK+FOX, a design company he opened up a couple of years ago; his co-pilot and four-legged friend, Shinji, brings the “fox” to the partnership. His designs, which you’ll find on gorgeous patterned fabrics, wallpaper, and sofas, pay homage to his curious nature and his perpetual interest in the story behind an object, which comes from his early conceptual art studies at San Francisco Art Institute and his various treks around the world. His collaboration with APPARATUS is one that once you see it, you’ll never forget it – it’s that incredible. And that, is only the tip of the eclectic iceberg that makes up the work of ZAK+FOX. This month, Where I Work visits the studio where it all takes place.
What is your typical work style?
Since I opened up my own showroom this year, my routine has changed significantly. When I launched the company I was working off my dining room table and would usually start the day when I woke up around 6. Now, I’m settling into my desk at around 9:30 unless I have meetings, and here until I’m done—which lately has been quite late. I do very little work at home now, which is great for my mental health, but all of my creative brainstorming and processing still happens late at night; unfortunately there isn’t much time to push pause on running the business day to stop and be “creative”. A heavy dose of ‘alone time’ makes the mind wander in the best ways.
What’s your studio environment like?
We have a very small space so it can get messy very quickly, especially when we receive a shipment of strike offs or we’re doing a big mailer of samples to our clients and showrooms. Total pandemonium. The studio is by-appointment so I have a lot of meetings here, meaning that it has to stay pretty presentable and orderly for the most part. Music is always playing—I am from LA originally and I still listen to KCRW all day long, despite being gone for over a decade.
How is your office organized/arranged?
I share a loft with Caroline Grant and Guini Suarez of Dekar Design—friends of mine who are interior designers here in Manhattan. We have defined spaces but a communal conference table that we all use collectively.
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
I started building out my studio space in March of 2014, and formally opened in May. Before that I was running the business out of my apartment, but this was a necessary move that came naturally as the business has evolved and grown.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
Something that every New Yorker wants: more storage. More wallspace would be great for a roomier display, but that’s the least of my worries. Samples, strike offs and inventory pile up very quickly. I always underestimate how much space they actually take.
Is there an office pet?
Of course: what would ZAK+FOX be without our very own ‘fox’, Shinji?
How do you record ideas?
This is something I desperately need to work on—I have three or four notebooks floating around at a time, all with thoughts/notes/ideas and I never remember which one I wrote in last. So it’s all a bit disjointed. I think I write things down as a way to solidify the idea in my mind, rather than to look back and reference it. In fact, I rarely do.
Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?
I have one leaning on top of my desk and keep of-the-moment things on it as well as ideas I’ve been pondering. A client’s custom color request will live there until we go through the approval process for a strike off, or I’ll pin up images and inspiration that strike me at the time. Recently Jack Lenor Larsen reached out and wrote me a letter saying that he’d like to meet, which will live on this board until the end of time.
What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?
The most covetable design object has to be my bizarre vintage three-legged table. All of my clients want to buy it, but it’s off the market. It is one of my very favorite pieces that I own and it weighs a ton—you need three people to assemble it. Two have to lift the top, and a third person has to wedge the legs into place. Definitely not child friendly.
Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?
Though it’s not in my studio space directly, my guys at the warehouse are using a mechanized fabric table all day long to inspect, cut, and ship out orders. We just got a second table, which is super exciting as it helps speed things along tremendously.
What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?
I have a Bamboo tablet that is crucial to everything I do—from retouching photos to working on the prints themselves. It is a no-frills version and works like a charm.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell me about your tech arsenal/devices.
I have a MacBook Pro, which is probably on the last of its legs—I’ll get a MacBook Air next. And when I’m not in the studio, I’m working on my iPhone constantly.
I’m devoted to Evernote for almost everything—using it to store everything from legal documents to my best inspirational finds.
What design software do you use, and for what?
I use Adobe Photoshop CS6 and AI CS6 for almost everything, and Lightroom 4 for all of our photoshoots. Lightroom is new(ish) to me, but it’s so intuitive that I picked it up in no time.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection that you’ve designed?
My favorite new print is called “Khaden”, which is inspired by antique Tibetan tiger rugs. It is one of the most technically complex designs we’ve worked on since it has so many colors in it and required a lot of testing to get just right. I thought it would be one of these niche designs that only I would love, but the response has been so positive that we’re already working on new color ways.
When did you feel like you “made it”? With what design? At what moment/circumstances?
My print, “Khotan” has become a signature—it reads as traditional, yet it’s become a classic that even modernists like it. On the flip side, “Uroko”, which is an old triangular kimono pattern in the collection, is flying at the moment. Both patterns are so different but they fit so well within the the aesthetic we’re trying to define here.
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
We’ve teamed up with our office mates, Dekar Design to help assemble a cohesive offering of our prints for a new restaurant they just designed called ‘Claudette’, which is here in NYC. Every cushion, pillow, even trim, are all taken from our collection. Khaden (above) was used for all the banquette cushions in the space.
What’s on your desk right now?
My desk is surrounded by all of my fabric wings, so I try to keep it as tidy as I can. On the left is a color chart, which is how I select the palette for strike offs when I’m testing a new design concept out.
Do any of your designs live in your home or personal life?
Last fall I did a photo shoot for a new ombre fabric I have called ‘Selam’ and upholstered a chair bizarrely with it. Needless to say, it’s sitting in my living room right now.