Mark Zeff: Interior Design Hall of Fame
Today in The Lounge, Nick interviews Mark Zeff, a recently inducted member of the Interior Designers Hall of Fame. Mark tells us how he got started in interior design and how moving to New York was the best business decision he’s ever made. Find out on the episode how he has created a full-service firm, from branding all the way to designing fabrics.
Getting to Know Mark
Mark was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to Cape Town at the age of five. He attended University in London and moved to Australia after finishing school. Soon after, Mark decided that New York is where he really wanted to be. His favorite vacation spot is Bay Beach in the Hamptons and this is where the inspiration for his New York shop came from. When Mark is asked beer, wine or cocktail, he responds “definitely a cocktail.”
How Mark Got His Start
Mark first became interested in interior design when he attended an industrial design school in Johannesburg. He soon found that interior design wasn’t enough, he wanted to be an architect. Mark loved art and machinery so architecture was the perfect career to marry the two together. He landed a job at a firm in Sydney but New York seemed like the place to be in the 80s. So, Mark took off to NY in 1982 to have a little fun. Three weeks later he was out of money, called Ken Walker up on a whim and got a job with him the following week. Ken Walker worked with some of the largest retailers in the industry such as Bloomingdales and Macy’s and the firm had 300 people working for it. Mark’s first big project was with designing a toy store. Later he was invited to work with Ken’s product development team. After 2 and a half years with Ken, Mark went to work for Robert Gerson, whose firm specialized in industrial design. With Robert, Mark worked on the control center at NASA as well as on the machines. While working there he met some people who asked him to design their fashion showrooms. That’s when Mark left to start his own firm in the late 1980s.
The Business Today
Mark runs his business from Dumbo, ‘Down Under theManhattan Bridge Overpass,” in New York. He fell in love with the interior of this 1920s building and converted it into his studio and store. Over the years Mark’s firm has had various employees, but now he staffs only about 25-30 people with backgrounds in branding, interior design, and architecture. They work all over in the industry including on homes, restaurants, condos, spas, rental units, townhomes, and apartments. Mark loves working all over and having a small firm. They do about 20 projects a year and some projects can last between eight months to three years. Branding is one of Mark’s passions. At fourteen he wanted to be a graphic designer so he looks at the world through a graphic eye. Mark runs a business that services everything you need designing furniture to fabrics and wallpaper. He uses branding as a huge tool in his business.
When Mark first started his firm he began by doing residential projects. The jobs he got were from people he met in nightclubs. His first big job was with Ann Baton, who came from a wealthy family and hung out with Andy Warhol. His transition to commercial design was by opening up a furniture store, that was similar to Design Within Reach. He imported furniture from Germany and Italy and also started designing his own furniture collection. A hotel business took notice and wanted to partner up with him. Mark’s first restaurant was the Red Cat on 23rd street. Later he worked on the Night Hotel, which really put him the map as a commercial designer. No else had done this kind of project before and to this day it is still called the sexiest hotel in New York City.
Mark opened a store in the 90s called Zeff Style but closed it after 9/11. He knew he wanted to open up another store again, so he gave a try in Brooklyn. BLACKBARN’s brand is to develop a home brand that has soul. People really love his store in Dumbo. It’s unique with its merchandising and collections. Mark received an offer from the Chelsea Market to bring his store into their business and make it the most exciting store in New York. It’s an experience where you can buy furniture and taste food to go with it. It will be a brand new concept for shopping and is scheduled to open late October of 2017.
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