How a Fashion Design Duo Became Home Renovation Experts

Like many of us trapped at home during the quarantine, Oliver and Bessie Afnaim Corral, the co-founders behind the fashion brand Arjé, decided to use their extra time to take on a few DIY projects. In their case, it was an ambitious endeavor renovating their 2,000-foot New York City duplex apartment without the help of contractors, save for an electrician for the light fixtures. “We were watching YouTube videos and learning as we worked,” explains Corral. “I knew how to build a plaster wall, but we wanted to approach our home like an artistic project.” The result is a dramatic light-filled space awash in soothing neutrals that now serves as the showroom for the brand’s expansion into home decor and furniture.

Creating living spaces isn’t completely foreign to the duo. Arjé, which is best known for its sustainable shearling jackets, had pop-up stores in New York and LA that were built to be home-like, with coffee and wine served while customers shopped and an open invitation to recline on furniture. It was a natural extension, then, for the couple to dive fully into interior design. “We had three successful years selling clothes, but we felt this longing to be a full lifestyle,” explains Afnaim Corral. The leap from clothing to interiors might have always been a part of a bigger plan for the couple, but it doesn’t mean they were completely anxiety-free over the new direction. “When you get butterflies, you know you’re getting closer to your dream,” continues Afnaim Corral. “During the peak of the pandemic, we looked at each other and said, we’ve just got to do this. Our hearts knew something was missing.” And so they took the plunge.

First up was the wall that divided their kitchen and dining room, which was knocked down and transformed into an arched opening, ideal for creating a flow for guests when they entertained. Another impressive project spearheaded by Corral is the custom wall behind their dining table that required multiple trips to The Home Depot for wooden dowels that were cut to size and attached piece by piece. “Oli was able to make things, and I was the annoying client,” Afnaim Corral laughs.

A man and woman sitting in a stylish living room.
Husband-and-wife design duo Oliver Corral and Bessie Afnaim Corral.

Besides transforming the layout of their living space, the couple also designed five pieces of custom furniture—what they like to call the elemental grounding products of any home—a coffee table, dining table, sofa, armchair, and ottoman that are made-to-order and built in Rochester, New York. The latter two items are their biggest hits. “The chair and ottoman are our magnet products as interior designers and customers ask and request them in custom fabrics,” explains Afnaim Corral. There are plans to expand the line, with pieces that complement the existing design.

To complete their lifestyle concept, the two ensured that everything from the artwork to the rugs to the plates and even the magazines and books in their home-slash-showroom were available for purchase. “Oli curates most of what you see, so we genuinely love and believe in everything. We work with artisans that we know personally,” she explains. “Everything is a closed loop of production made in small batches.” You’ll find textiles co-designed with Nordic Knots, dinnerware from Japanese label Kinto, handmade pitchers from Barcelona-based ceramicist Marta Bonilla, and surreal glassware by New Yorker Grace Whiteside. For customers interested in seeing all these pieces in person, private shopping appointments are available to visit their home, sit on the furniture, touch the decor items, and most of all, interact with the couple.

This level of thoughtfulness and attention to detail informs their plans going forward. The duo don’t want to fall victim to the non-stop, exhausting schedule that forces fashion designers to burn out. “We’re not rushing. We want to do less with the intention of lasting longer,” says Afnaim Corral. “Like the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.”

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