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Shelly Handman: The Natural

Chicago-based designer Shelly Handman has an innate sense of balance and beauty. Over many years, his eye has been trained to perceive details that others miss. “I have always had a reverence for age—a respect,” he says. “We are such a transient society, and everything is always being replaced or torn down.” As an antidote to disposability, Handman collects objects infused with history: 3,500-year-old Egyptian glass vessels, Japanese basketry, Chinese scholar’s rocks. Items like these often appear in his interiors, which combine clean-lined minimalism with devotion to nature and culture.

Shelly Handman. Photo: Courtesy of Handman Associates.

Known for using organic materials, Handman is always editing. “I like a clean, minimal look to a room,” he says. “Maybe I counterbalance all that is going on in my head with visual clarity.” It takes an expert curator to harmonize positive and negative space in such a way that a home feels both well-edited and warm. “I enjoy the juxtaposition of old and new things,” says Handman. “I’m often introducing clients to the other side of the world. It’s wonderful to temper modern design with organic things.”

Shelly Handman’s Palm Springs Home. Photo: Courtesy of Handman Associates.

For a recent high-rise apartment design in River North, Handman used a custom Reclaimed Wood Waterfall Table from PAGODA RED to frame views of the surrounding city. “The fenestrations and windows are very contemporary and almost Mondrian-like,” says Handman. “This console that we did with PAGODA RED was made to go in a very specific space.”

A PAGODA RED table within a project-in-progress by Shelly Handman.

Custom-made to fit between mullions, the table combines simple form with precise tongue-and-groove construction. A single plank of elm wood contains visible furrows that invite one to run their fingers over the surface. “The clients like very contemporary furnishings,” says Handman, “but they understood that I was trying to bring in something that was of the earth, and of the natural world.” The table is a counterpoint to the sleek, polished surfaces of the home’s contemporary architecture.

Reclaimed Elm Wood Waterfall Table from PAGODA RED

Inspired by an antique Chinese desk, PAGODA RED used ancient wood to replicate age-old joinery techniques. For thousands of years, Chinese craftsman have forgone nails in favor of mortise-and-tenon joints, which don’t rust or erode over time. “The quality of PAGODA RED’s workmanship is really what sets them apart in the city,” says Handman. “They are able to continue in the vein of the ways these pieces were made so long ago.”

Reclaimed Elm Wood Waterfall Table from PAGODA RED

In an age of over-reliance on style and trends, Handman’s interiors are a welcome respite. They reveal the value of close attention to detail and proportion, as well as Handman’s knack for unearthing the underlying order of the natural world. For more ideas and inspiration, visit Handman Associates.


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