At Rue, we’re pretty big fans of design icon Vicente Wolf. He was featured prominently in our very first issue of our digital magazine, and has continued to inspire us year after year. Wolf’s design process is heavily influenced by travel, and he’s been feeding his wanderlust since he was a young boy in Cuba in the 1950s. He watched his mother board a Super Constellation airplane bound for Europe and was entranced by the liquid lines of the plane, the welcoming stewardess at the top of the stairs, and the promise of visiting far-off destinations.
His annual visits to remote regions of the world such as India, Iran, Thailand, Borneo and Vietnam show prominently in his portfolio. In the slideshow, we share a look at some of his work and the unique pieces from across the globe that show up in each space. Below, Wolf tells us more about his love of the world:
When did you first discover your love of travel? How has it influenced your design sensibility?
As a teenager in Cuba, my parents traveled excessively and naturally, I went with them, starting at around age 10. When we moved to Florida in my early teens, I started to work and remember a cruise we took to Nassau. At age 16, I left home and moved alone to NYC working odd jobs. The first chance I had I took a Greyhound to DC and explored the city and loved it. I adored the opportunity to explore, hence my lifelong yen was born. In 1979 I took my first trip to remote South America and Southeast Asia. Since my mother was doing work with travel agencies, I was able to get tickets at a good price.
When you see different cultures coming from different periods in time, you cannot not be influenced by it and cannot help but absorb it and utilize it in your creative process. Every country and every culture brings a new experience to the table. Whether its color, lending of primitive and colonial motifs or a throwback to different centuries and how they live. Areas of the world with deeper roots have more historic value, more depth and a sense of mystery
Is it difficult to part with pieces you’ve found?
No, not at all. I had the pleasure of the hunt, which was part of the excitement; the discovery and the memory of each piece. The pleasure of placing it in different jobs that I’ve worked on offers a piece of me to each project, and my clients understand that. Sharing this brings me great reward as I delight in other peoples’ appreciation of them. It’s like offering others, who might not have the privilege of the travel and discovery a taste of exotic worlds. I find the same gratification with the artifacts that are sold through my VW Home showroom. Trudi Romeo, the showroom manager, gets it and imparts piece’s provenance to the designers and design enthusiasts who shop there. I get great joy from seeing their home/projects embellished with these items and especially when they come back for more things. Then they get it too.
Once we’re able to travel globally again, what advice would you give design lovers who have never gone treasure hunting abroad before? Any tips when it comes to selecting pieces to bring back?
Don’t be afraid. Enjoy the experience of staying in places that are out of your comfort zone. Engage with local artisans, taste their foods and allow yourself to see the world from their point of view. Only then will you get a true understanding that will have you appreciate their artifacts and crafts. Never (never) buy souvenirs. I define them as being mass produced, made for tourist consumption. Fall in love with the artist, purchase pieces that tug at your soul. Select cultural artifacts through the same filter that speaks to you and fits into your personal style.
I remember up the traveling up the Mahakan in river in Borneo. We would stop and many villages along the way; this one time gave me a memory I hold dearly. At one they brought me to the elders and artisans; many times they are one and the same. I was invited into one of their huts where they created charming carved wooden figurines. I learned that these represented the spirits of the villagers and would be placed on their burial sites to help them move into the next world. There were a couple that had not been assigned and I was delighted when they gifted one to me. I remember the feeling of their warmth in sharing the tales with me, as well as the great pride they took in crafting the figurines.
In the meantime, what are some of your favorite resources for finding beautiful global artifacts in the US?
You can find great sources in so many places. Flea markets, estate sales and even garage sales can be a wonderful source…as well as business that handle one-of-a-kind pieces, such as 1st Dibs and my own VW Home showroom. Truthfully, you will never know what you will find! For example, in one NY flea market, the one that used to be on 6th Avenue in Chelsea, I came upon this amazing architectural cornice that I had to have – and I knew exactly which client would be thrilled to have it. I am including the photo so you can see how one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure. So be brave and keep your eyes (and soul) open. Pieces with a history add a sense of provenance to a home.