A version of the following article originally appeared in 1stdibs’ Introspective Magazine. For more stories on today’s most influential designers and style-setters, visit 1stdibs.com.
By Suzanna Salk
“I can design anything,” says Mark Zeff, who is as deft at creating logos as he is luxury yachts. “I use the connection between the client and myself as a blueprint for where the project will go. It’s all about our interaction.” Whether he’s helping shape a luxury spa with distinct architecture, design and packaging or reinventing a hotel from pool to penthouse, Zeff believes in “letting natural fusion guide the way.”
Growing up in South Africa, Zeff always wanted to be a car designer, but instead of accepting admission to the Pasadena Institute, chose to pursue a B.A. in environmental design at the Chelsea Design School in London. Post-graduation, he set off for Australia to start his career, and after a short time there, packed a suitcase and moved to New York for good. He worked at The Walker Group and several years later, was hired by friends to re-do their fashion showroom. “That’s what got me going,” says Zeff who went on to open his own residential firm 25 years ago.
The NYC-based zeffdesign has grown significantly in recent years, with the talent and technology ready to aptly handle an international mix of projects: hotels, restaurants, residences, environmental design and master planning. The crossover from residential to commercial began in 2004, when Zeff was tapped to outfit the Dream hotel in Manhattan. Two years later, the hotel Night followed. “It was the first time a client gave me carte blanche in terms of style and character,” says Zeff of the black-and-white oasis he fashioned admidst the Technicolor chaos of nearby Times Square.
Zeff went on to oversee a $15 million transformation of Los Angeles’ Art Deco landmark The Hollywood Athletic Club into Social Hollywood—a stunningly glamorous lounge, club and event complex which secured his role as both a force of design and branding. “It was a treat to collaborate with restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow,” says Zeff. “We went on buying trips to Morocco and with our purchases helped turn this former playground-of-the-stars into a modern-day Casablanca.” Social Miami followed, in which zeffdesign mixed creamy white leather seating areas with extensively vibrant contemporary art and video installations. “This is one cohesive indoor and outdoor lounge area,” he says. “It feels like modern-day café society.”
While zeffdesign has graced eateries from San Francisco to New York, perhaps the pinnacle of its current efforts is its massive redesign and expansion of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. With 2.5 million square feet of everything from poker rooms to penthouse suites to rethink, Zeff’s goal is simply “to make it the sexiest hotel in all of Las Vegas.” The firm’s other hotel projects, ranging from renovations to new developments, include the restaurant and bar at the Lowell Hotel in Manhattan.
The Company’s outreach isn’t limited to places to eat, sleep and be merry. Zeff has worked on a broad scope of launches and product branding, from men’s skincare store Molton Brown in London (“the best project perk: staying at Claridge’s!”) to Cape Furniture (“it’s outdoor furniture that works just as well as inside”) to his own line Zeff Garden (“I am a passionate gardener, and this collection has everything from perfect-fitting gardening gloves to beautiful tools.”) Zeff’s vision equally flourishes on water with the completion of several “super yacht” projects; Fathrom is the first of five boutique-to-sea ventures commissioned by Vikram Chatwell Hotels. “The detailing on this bespoke forty-five-meter vessel rivals that of a private residence,” he says.
On his precious time off, you can find Zeff sport-fishing for tuna off of the coast of Montauk (where he has a home) or scuba diving in the Seychelles. No matter the medium or the country, his motto remains: “Adapt. Protect. Flourish.”
MARK ZEFF’S QUICKPICKS FROM 1STDIBS
1. Eileen Gray’s Transat Chair from Deadwyler
2. Polished Oak Coffee Table by Maxime Old from Maison Gerard Ltd
3. Six Holophane Industrial Fixtures from Laurin Copen Antiques
4. Stilnovo Chandelier from Pascal Boyer Gallery
5.Long Console with Drawers from Laurin Copen Antiques