Life on MaRS – Inside Texas’ most rebellious interior design firm and the magnificent buildings they hide
Kelie Mayfield and Erick Ragni like to have a bit of fun with the name of their interior design firm, Mayfield and Ragni Studio – MaRS. âMy favorite is to call a courier and ask them to send the package to MaRS,â says Mayfield. And Ragni takes pleasure in introducing himself as “Erick de MaRS”.
Such play is encouraged in the business, where the music on hold is âKung Fu Fightingâ and hip-hop, Sinatra, and podcasts flow through offices through Sonos wireless speakers.
Mayfield and Ragni, who worked together at Rottet Studio before founding MaRS in 2010, love to shake up the status quo.
âArchitecture has earned a reputation for being a serious and sober business,â says Ragni. âWe like to challenge this point of view in how we incorporate the unexpected into our projects – and MaRS reflects that. “
Rebellion was the order of the day from the start. For the Texas Contemporary Art Fair 2012, MaRS created an extremely innovative VIP lounge with shipping pallets, red balls for the seats, red umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, and coils of cable for the tables. The VIP lounge generated as much buzz at the fair as the art, and the design world took note.
Since then, the creative reach of MaRS has expanded to include corporate offices, hotels, restaurants, retail spaces, and residential and visionary blueprints in 11 countries. In Houston, MaRS recently completed chic new offices for Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations; an elegant renovation of a mid-century building to cobblestones on the Gulf Coast; and elegant mid- to high-rise residential buildings in the Museum District and Upper Kirby, including The Southmore and Avenue Grove.
River Oaks District
Currently, MaRS is working on several large-scale projects for Hines, including The Preston in Houston, The Victor in Dallas, and The Adeline in Phoenix. In collaboration with Gensler, MaRS is designing the new East Downtown Houston campus for the Center for Pursuit, which treats adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
We go behind the scenes with Kelie Mayfield and Erick Ragni, who talk about making visual memories, the importance of doodling, and how a hangover changed the course of ice cream history:
Field of May: We often start a project by spending several days exploring and researching the city and site for the unexpected that no one else will notice and that can only be found in that particular location. Then we reinterpret the mundane local context and turn it into something special.
As we researched the Brazos Valley for The George hotel in College Station, we noticed that the Texas flag was painted on many barn roofs – a sign of Texan pride in the area. We collaborated with artist Thedra Culler-Ledford on a reinterpreted Texas flag consisting of nearly 10,000 red, white, and blue books stacked side by side, which turned the flag into a rippling wall of information about the great state. .
Ragni: The office is the home, the home is the hospitality, the hospitality is the office. . . It’s all about convergence. HofficepalitÃ©?
Field of May: Our studio mentality is fueled by talented individuals and shared creative ideas. We often have reviews and pin-ups of projects where the studio gives advice and sometimes even debate what is relevant and timeless.
Ragni: I started out in a tidy college in New England, studying the many joys of business administration. But when I told my parents about the Broadway theater (his father, Gerome Ragni, co-wrote the musical Hair) what was my specialty, they said, âBusiness? Do you mean show business?
From this shattering disapproval, I found myself in an art history investigative class, and the fog of practicality lifted to reveal the magic that makes art and culture. Finally, I began my architectural training in the graduate program at SCI-Arc, a somewhat avant-garde architecture school in Los Angeles.
I did a short stint in LA with Frank Gehry. His office has managed to capture the joy, essence and energy found in a thriving architectural classroom. Although he is rightly known for crafting with scissors and paper, he was at the forefront of many things we now take for granted in the industry.
Mayfield and Miralles
Field of May: I worked on a large-scale master plan project during my early years at Enric Miralles office in Barcelona. I was only with Enric for a year but luckily I worked on a small house project with him, so I was able to collaborate on a very personal level with one of the geniuses of architecture.
After catching me fooling around once while I was working, he told me to “always keep architecture fun”. I think this has resonated in my work over the years in a variety of ways.
Field of May: We try to make a memorable item for every project. We have designed rugs, furniture, wallpapers, fabrics and art installations. Every aspect is carefully crafted and detailed, from a large piece of Instagram art to the sewing on a pillow.
Field of May: Erick creates the most beautiful doodles in meetings and phone calls. We turned them into stickers, so several of his most coveted doodles were placed around town. According to Harvard Medical School (and my neuropsychologist husband), there is scientific evidence that doodlers have better memory recall than non-doodlers.
Field of May: Every space needs natural light and good lighting. One of my favorite spaces is the Cy Twombly building in Menil. It’s inspiring because it’s so simple, yet very complex to achieve such perfection of filtered light.
Ragni: I’m a fan of maniacs. Those for whom there is no compromise and perhaps less investment in “normality”. The Scarpas, Schindler and GaudÃ of the world.
We never knew
Ragni: People think I’m kidding about it. It started on a hangover morning when I was in second year at the University of Vermont at Burlington (home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream). I had that boring, half-hungry, half-nauseous feeling, and all we had in the fridge was a log of half-eaten raw cookie dough.
Later that day I went with a group of friends to the main B&J outpost for a snack. My first year roommate worked there and was responsible for making some weird one-off creations. Fresh out of my hangover I recommended the cookie dough flavor, and within a week it was an example of flavor.
B&J sent me a letter saying they couldn’t confirm I was the author, but I know I made it up. It is my great singular contribution to modern society.