Courtney Applebaum Looks to the Earth for Inspiration

The Los Angeles-based interior designer combines modernist shapes and natural materials with ease.

Courtesy of Courtney Applebaum Design

For Courtney Applebaum, contrast is crucial. “Diversity of material, diversity of period,” says the Los Angeles-based interior designer, who has lent her eye to ’70s-inspired Caribbean hotels, a Melrose Place boutique, and the lush inner sanctums of celebrity clients. Each project reflects the harmony of differences: rough-hewn tables in sleek glass-paneled kitchens, low-slung mid-century chairs atop aged moroccan rugs. “People are so dynamic, and if they’re not, you at least want them to appear to be,” she says, laughing, speaking on the phone earlier this month. “I do my best to represent that eclecticism by creating tension between pieces.”

As a designer, Applebaum embraces a vintage-first approach that allows her to cultivate a patina of wear and utility in the airy, sun-lit spaces that define her native California. After years spent haunting the flea markets of Paris, Mexico City and beyond, she has amassed a trove of unique pieces and built up her collector’s stamina. A successful treasure hunt requires a certain fascination with the pursuit itself; “I love collecting over long stretches of time; there’s something about that lack of immediate gratification that I’m drawn to,” Applebaum says. Other times, she has found gratification when she least expected it. While wandering through Venice, Italy, she struck up a conversation with a shopkeeper whose mother had worked for legendary Spanish couture designer Mariano Fortuny. She accompanied him to his family home, where the pair spent hours combing through piles of vintage Fortuny fabrics. “That was probably my best discovery yet,” Applebaum recalls. Her advice to would-be vintage hunters? “You can enter a flea market in one of two mindsets. Either be okay not knowing where something will go and buy it because you truly love it, or know exactly where an object is meant to go—the exact dimensions you need, the color tones and everything. It has to be one or the other, or you’ll be disappointed.“

When Applebaum can’t find the exact piece she needs for a project in her own reserves, or in the antique-filled garages of Los Angeles, she custom makes it herself. Recently, the designer released Collection l, a finely-tuned offering of five pieces—sconces, table lamps, and a coffee table—made entirely from clay, raffia and hand-poured glass. The idea for the collection came two years ago, as Applebaum was examining a set of terracotta lamps that she’d found in Greece for a client. “I was thinking about how much beautiful art is created from just earth. I wanted to find a way to synthesize that rustic simplicity with refined, classical designs.” After a careful study of Art Deco, a far cry from the natural textures of the Mediterranean, Applebaum devised a collection that married rudimentary materials with Deco’s lean, modern silhouettes. The result is a constellation of single-material objects that appear stunningly complete, as if they were carved from marble or grown on a tree rather than assembled from an array of individual parts.

The inspiration for Collection l emerged out of Applebaum’s endless hunt for universal, adaptable pieces, while the final result compliments it. “These are objects that look like they belong everywhere, in a midcentury house, a mission style house, or a flat in London,” she says. But it also blossomed from a desire to create art without person or purpose in mind. “So much of my process is translating for someone a feeling that they cannot articulate.” Applebaum says, “This is the first time I’ve gotten to do that translation for myself.”