Inside Is Out
For interior designer and landscape architect Ahmad Sardar-Afkhami, a well-designed home knows no bounds.
Go ahead and try to define what exactly it is that Ahamad Sardar-Afkhami does and he’ll take you on a conversational roller coaster. He will cite centuries-old texts by Renaissance thinkers—long before there was a Renaissance—and the pinks and lilacs and yellows worn by courtiers of the Safavid Era. He’ll talk about how he earned a masters degree in landscape architecture but then decided he also needed an architecture degree so he could better establish himself while working at Robert AM Stern. He’ll talk about how process is never linear, nor should it be. In short (well, maybe not that short), Sardar-Afkhami is someone who fuses many interests and skills at his firm, Sardar Design, whether that means working on an ambitious garden project in the Hamptons or an eco resort in Jourdan. He is someone who helps us rethink what a home can be—where it starts and where it ends, and how we get there.
How’d you get into design?
Both my parents are architects; my grandmother was a gardener, and my grandfather founded a botanical garden. When I got my degree in landscape architecture, my granny said, “Who goes to Harvard to become a gardener! We garden for ourselves.”
You also earned a masters in architecture. Explain.
Especially in Iran, where I was a child, there is an extension of the inside to the outside, architecturally. It’s warm and dry and there’s not crazy bug life, so there is a civil boundary between the two, especially when it comes to design. In our culture, we just sit outside. It’s a contemplative space. And I try to bring that notion to gardens and furniture-d outside spaces I work on.
What about, you know, weather?
I’m not going to design you a waterproof pergola. It’s nice, but if it’s raining, let’s go inside.
What influences you when working on a project?
There is a past in everywhere you look. That really speaks to me. I want to really understand what came before.
What’s exciting you these days?
I really like to look at the colors of France in the 1930s, and the miniature paintings of Iran’s Safavid Era [1501-1736] with the king in delicate pink, and his ministers in lilac and yellow—colors that we think are off for men, but I like to have that openness. Color for me is the most affordable luxury. It really scares some people; they don’t have the courage. But for me it’s very important.
As a designer, how do you consider heritage craft products and techniques?
I look for authenticity and then an updated take on it. I love that interface of rethinking for an audience based in the west—and how we might fuse the aesthetics of the moment with the craft and patterns of history.
What concerns you when you think about sustainability?
All of these excessive clothes we buy and throw away, it all lands in Africa. It’s frightening, it gets dumped into a secondary market and kills craft. We export our problem of overconsumption.
How do you challenge this cycle in your own profession?
Well, for instance, instead of going to a house to buy silk velvet, it’s very easy to contact artisans directly. I source silk ikat from artisans in Uzbekistan; it enables them to stay in their homeland and ply their craft. It also flatters them, when you express interest and passion in what they do—it shows it has a value, obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But it’s validating for them.
Okay, speed round: name a product in your own home that makes you
My nut-milk maker :)
A discovery you've made recently:
The book on aesthetics by Sultan Ibrahim of Bijapur called the Kitab Navras. He was an exquisitely refined polymath who composed odes to his favorite elephant and wrote a whole chapter about the use of perfume indoors according to the seasons and time of day.
Umbrella or awning?
Neither, a tree.
Slippers or sandals?
Slippers indoors and sandals outside.
Fresh-cut flowers or potted plants?
Hmmm, difficult. How about plants that you can move outside during the summer and back inside when it gets cold?
Tile or stone?
Stone on the floor, tiles on the wall.
Is there an outdoor-friendly fabric you recommend to clients?
I guess one has to be practical so, yes: Sunbrella
You probably hate to do this, but if you had to describe your style in one
Sourcing his favorite products from PBP
If I weren’t a designer, I’d be…
Or a painter.
Or a photographer.