By James Reed
Photos by Darlene Halaby
Costa Mesa-based Ulloo 42 brings a mad mix of high art and wild whimsy to custom furniture and interior design.
Visiting Ulloo 42’s art and design studio and showroom in Costa Mesa is something of a psychedelic experience, especially for those of us who spent 2020 staring at beige walls in rooms designed in a minimalist monochromatic style. What once was elegant, modern, and lovely now just seems boring. Do we really want to stare at that sofa for the next year as well?
Ulloo 42 offers a solution to boring furniture, and an antidote to the somnolent interior design style common in some coastal Orange County homes.
Co-founded by artist-maker Suzanne Currie and lifelong design enthusiast Lise Abraham, both of whom are British-born, the Ulloo 42 aesthetic is vibrant and playful—a celebration of collage, color, and an irreverent avoidance of the rules of refined design.
Ulloo 42 is a multi-disciplinary design studio that offers full interior design services to the trade and directly to clients. They also create cool and colorful functional objets d’art from found and vintage furniture and lighting that is transformed into one-of-a-kind collectible pieces.
The studio also offers custom fabrics and wall coverings using patterns from Suzanne Currie’s original collage artworks created from fragments of magazine pages and paint.
In fact, everything starts from her art. “Suzanne’s an extreme creative,” says Lise Abraham. “She makes everything, and I’m the financial partner. I do a lot of traveling and research,” she says. The dynamic between the two is unique. Suzanne is the maker, Lise has insight and ideas about how to merge the art and business. Their process is collaborative, with ideas and insights flying when the duo are together. What’s in the Ulloo 42 showrooms is the result of that process.
A chance meeting between the two 20 years ago in Newport Beach led to a conversation about their mutual fascination with art and design, and a shared love of travel and storytelling. Lise asked Suzanne to design furniture and interiors for her homes in Orange County, in London, and in Holland. When they become business partners and founded Ulloo 42 in 2018, they decided, “Let’s not do classical good taste.”
And what’s with that name, Ulloo 42? Suzanne grew up in Africa, and in brainstorming a name discovered that Ulo is a word for “home” in an African dialect. They added an extra “l” and “o” because it’s cooler-looking, and put 42 on the end. As fans of the book series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know, 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. “It resonates with us,” Lise says.
When it comes to the furniture, everything is found. A vintage (to put it kindly) sofa, chair, table, or lamp is discovered at a consignment shop, flea market, estate sale, or in a grandmother’s attic by a client. Suzanne has the eye to see the potential in what many would consider ugly, old furniture. Often the proportions of each piece are a bit off, a bit unusual. “We may say, ‘That’s so ugly,’” Lise says. “But she sees the lines and the form that she can recreate.”
That’s because provenance is there in, for example, a kitschy low-slung sofa covered in a fake Baroque brocade. Found pieces are stripped down to the bare bones and rebuilt from the inside, then given the artistic treatment. Then, original collage art created by Suzanne is put on fabric and upholstered onto the piece.
The process involves discovering a pattern or intriguing element in a work of her original art, capturing it digitally, and converting it to an image with a repeat. That image can be printed on most any material, from paper, cloth, and wood to glass, concrete, or aluminum. Once a piece of furniture is rebuilt and reupholstered, it is often embellished by hand with crochet or other finishes.
The work is all by hand, as Suzanne works with local artisans, helping “perpetuate the craft of upholsterers, carpenters, fabric printers, and others,” Lise explains. “This is a true collaboration of artists.”
Sometimes, the collaboration is also with a client bringing in an old piece they want up-cycled. Or part of a piece, like with a client saying, “I really love these table legs; what can I do with them?”
He ended up with a large dining table, a magnificent piece with a glowing, ruby-red lacquer top. It was given the name Total Ellipse of the Heart.
Yes, a name. Each piece, because it’s a one-off, gets one: Pink Goddess, Born to be Wild, or Lost in Place. Because that’s at the heart of the Ulloo 42 ethos: Why shouldn’t your furniture have personality? Why just sit in a corner and look drab, or white, or beige?
“The potential is limitless,” Lise says. “We are creating a piece of furniture with love and skill, as one creates a work of art.”
“That’s where we’re different,” she says. “We’re starting from the art, something we love. We are true to our vision, and true to what we love. If somebody else loves it, that’s great.”
Ulloo 42 | 1835 Whittier Avenue, D8 | Costa Mesa | 949.244.6410 | ulloo42.com