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New York’s Hottest Design Studio Creates Wood-Paneled Dreamworlds

Walk into your kitchen and open a cupboard. You might notice how it swings as fluidly as a Tesla door. Fling it closed and it doesn’t slam shut—it glides back into place. This pillowy action is thanks to the ubiquitous soft-close hinge, which creates a user experience around cupboard-opening that’s as smooth and effortless as swiping open an iPhone.

Which is why Aaron Aujla and Benjamin Bloomstein of the New York design studio Green River Project despise the soft-close hinge. It lacks the tactility they seek to achieve through their furniture and interior-design projects. Aujla and Bloomstein are artistic Renaissance men: They both have backgrounds in sculpture and painting, are adept at the Old World skills of woodworking and metalsmithing, and share an appreciation for earthy materials and darkly patinated wood. In 2017 they launched GRP with a deceptively simple armchair made out of a single pine board, finding a balance between form and utility that would go on to define their practice. After being featured in presentations for Bode and The Row, GRP’s African-mahogany stools and daybeds, both upholstered in Bode fabrics, have become status symbols in New York City’s fashion and art circles. (Aujla and Bode designer Emily Bode are partners in life and frequent collaborators in work.)

The office was designed to accommodate a collection of vintage Walter Gropius chairs. “Our space has become a testing ground,” says Bloomstein.

Soon after, Aujla and Bloomstein started designing apartments for their friends. Instead of using off-the-shelf fixtures and finishings, they doubled down on their radically artisanal world-building project, which they execute by hand. Thus, on cabinets in the GRP realm, you’ll encounter the humble piano hinge. With this mechanism, Bloomstein says, “there’s this tactile thing—the door drags on the way out. It’s actually not that good by a cabinetmaker’s standards, but it makes you automatically recall your experiences in older houses, rather than the present, where everything works really well.”

Over the past few years, Green River Project has designed some of the most alluring spots in NYC, including the restaurant Dr. Clark and the Bode retail store, both of which have become ports of call for downtowners seeking refuge from the scourge of chic minimalism. “I’ve never seen a vision like theirs,” says 26-year-old fashion and fine-art photographer Tyler Mitchell, who hired GRP to renovate his new photo studio. “I feel like young people today have been sold the concept of the white box. But Green River is a total rejection of this Sex and the City apartment aesthetic, and it’s encouraging people to fill their home with rich material and rich history.”

New York has plenty of beautiful Japanese restaurants, but few are as unusual and captivating as Dr. Clark, which opened at the height of the city’s pandemic spring and fast became the scene-iest hang below Delancey Street. “It’s about not seeing materials that bring you back to today,” says Aujla. There isn’t a shred of white in the place: The walls are paneled with coffee-stained lauan, the furniture custom-built from Douglas fir and upholstered in dusty velvet. The lighting—provided by sculptural sconces made in GRP’s upstate metal studio—is impossibly flattering.

GRP’s fixtures, from ebony cabinet pulls to perforated steel sconces, are rendered as sculptural forms.

A custom raffia-upholstered chair in GRP’s finishing studio, located beneath the office.

Aujla, 35, and Bloomstein, 33, met at a gallery opening in 2010. Aujla, who hails from British Columbia, was painting and working as a studio assistant for the artist Nate Lowman. Bloomstein, who learned woodworking as a kid at a Sufi school in an old Shaker village upstate, was a sculptor and an assistant to the artist Robert Gober. Aujla and Bloomstein agreed to share a studio in Bed-Stuy and then began working together on projects at their employers’ homes. That’s when the light bulb went on. “Artists who make their homes, they don’t know what they’re doing. They treat it like artwork,” says Aujla. Which, he and Bloomstein realized, is actually a good thing, citing Julian Schnabel’s outrageous Venetian-style Palazzo Chupi in the West Village.

Aujla and Bloomstein’s favorite spaces are fully immersive environments, like the Axel Vervoordt-designed penthouse in the Greenwich Hotel, or the painting studios of Cy Twombly and Alex Katz. “You can’t beat an interior that has been worked on for years and years, like the Alex Katz studio,” says Bloomstein. “It’s never really done—it was never really started, and it was never really finished. It has a life, just like a person does.”

The natural surroundings of Bloomstein’s farm in upstate New York (Green River Project is named after a nearby waterway) drew the duo to organic forms and materials. They like to hang dried tobacco and skeletal hydrangea from the ceiling and upholster stools and chairs with frizzy bundles of raffia. In 2018, when they opened a temporary storefront in the East Village, they covered the floor with 5,000 pounds of pebbles from the namesake river.

“In every project there’s a moment of doubt or fear where the client is like, ‘Oh boy, I feel like this is getting a little crazy,’ ” Bloomstein says, which is why his favorite customers are fellow artists. “The more creative the better,” says Aujla. “Writers, photographers, fashion designers, painters, sculptors, whatever—that’s when it’s really easy, because they get what we’re doing.” Along with Mitchell, some of New York’s most prominent creatives have become Green River patrons: GRP has designed Jeremy O. Harris’s home office and renovated parts of Frank Ocean’s Tribeca apartment.

Aujla and Bloomstein also just completed the Bode tailoring and coffee shop, located adjacent to the brand’s retail store on Hester Street, and a soon-to-open Chinatown bar, both of which will integrate GRP’s teak-wainscoted universe into the fabric of daily neighborhood life. A new style of American interior design has arrived: Pull up an African-mahogany stool and stay awhile.

Samuel Hine is GQ’s senior associate editor.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2021 issue with the title “The Wood-Paneled Dreamworld of New York’s Hottest Design Studio.”

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