In high school, Gabriel Hendifar earned a superlative that doesn’t usually make its way to the pages of the yearbook: For a theatrical production of “Guys and Dolls,” he designed the most expensive set his school had ever constructed. His extravagance netted him—at age 19—his first interior design client, the mother of a cast member. “She approached me and said, ‘Hey, would you like to help me design my house?’” Hendifar tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “And of course, this little gay kid was in heaven. I jumped in with open arms.”
As a “Rosebud” moment, it’s hard to beat. Twenty years later, Hendifar, the co-founder and artistic director of lighting and furniture brand Apparatus, is still bringing the spirit of an elaborate theatrical production to his work. Apparatus’s collections are released as “Acts,” occasionally accompanied by artsy short films and always—bar the pandemic years—celebrated with immersive, you-have-to-be-there parties that feel more Sleep No More than chardonnay and charcuterie.
And just as it did for high school Hendifar, a bold approach has led to business opportunities in the design industry. Since its founding in 2012, Apparatus has exploded. The brand has two dedicated showrooms in the U.S., with another forthcoming in London; more than 30 stockists internationally; and more than 100 employees. The company is that rare beast: both a financial and an artistic success story. It’s a result, says Hendifar, of a design vision based around emotional resonance more than any one aesthetic.
“I start by imagining the world that I want this [piece] to exist in. What do I feel like when I’m walking into this room? What memories are moving past me as I move through these doors?” he says. “It’s about that initial wash of emotion coming over you before you start to dissect: ‘This is a beautiful table. It’s got a rounded edge, and it’s made of burl.’ I want you to be intoxicated.”
Apparatus has had its challenges. At the end of 2020, Hendifar announced that he and his co-founder and husband, Jeremy Anderson, were splitting—and that going forward, Hendifar would be leading the brand while Anderson pivoted to a burgeoning ceramics practice. The breakup, combining both business logistics and emotional wreckage, was certainly a trial. But Hendifar says he’s emerging more confident, self-assured and ready to lead Apparatus into its next chapter.
What exactly is on the horizon for the brand? Mostly growth. Hendifar is eager to see Apparatus expand into new categories in home, and potentially move into jewelry and apparel too. He’s also intrigued by the idea that Apparatus could move into more accessible price points (the company’s products are not cheap) without losing what makes the brand special.
“I see all of the things we make as tools to communicate something,” he says. “To me, there’s no limit to what those tools can be. I’ve always led with the litmus test of: Do I want to live with this thing? And coming from that place, I certainly want to leave my own apartment, which is full of things we make, wearing things that I have considered and designed, wearing jewelry, carrying my personal accessories, touching the hardware on the door—there are so many touch points that can communicate our ethos.”
And of course, there will be more parties. “The parties are the most pure moment of communicating our work. It’s really the moment where you see the soul of the space and the work animated by people,” he says. “What good is the set if you don’t actually have the play to watch? Those moments of communal joy and celebration and seduction and excitement and intrigue—that’s the whole point.”
Homepage image: Gabriel Hendifar | Courtesy of Apparatus