“I didn’t know of a single job that could fulfill both my creative and entrepreneurial pursuits,” says Christina Antonio, founder of her namesake, New York-based leather artisan firm specializing in arcahitectural applications for interior design projects. “So, the next obvious step was to create my own company,” she continues. Founded in 2005, Christina Z. Antonio Design, located in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, represents the perfect culmination of her artistic heritage (her grandfather was a bespoke shoemaker from Cyprus, and her father was also a leather artisan, specializing in handbag manufacturing) and medium (leather).
With a professional background in fashion and accessories design following her graduation from the University of the Arts London, Antonio found herself in New York working in the Costume Design department of acclaimed television series Sex and the City, assisting award-winning stylists Patricia Field and Rebecca Weinberg. Afterwards, Antonio went on to curate interior arrangements, and subsequently began her own business, which now serves a whole host of commercial and residential design properties and clients, including Rosewood London, The Standard Hotel, Tom Ford, Gramercy Park Hotel, and Tzelan.
“My ideas would often hit me like a lightening bolt so I would get to work making samples and prototypes,” Antonio tells us. “I discovered that my skills in leather were innate… it just flowed through my hands. My business is always evolving and learning to be an entrepreneur is something that happened along the way.” Here, we catch up with Antonio to discuss her first experience with leather, working with Tzelan to create a unique leather-worked wrap for our polished bronze shaker coat pegs, and just what makes leather so special.
I’m an artist first, and also a master craftsman, so there’s always the spirit of art and craftsmanship balancing each other out. I put my heart into the details. Every curve, stitch, and seam is a meaningful decision. I’m truly committed to impeccable craftsmanship. Each piece I create is with that principle in mind. Then comes the joy of its function, whether it’s a cabinet handle or a credenza or a wall installation.
There has been so much thought and practice behind the scenes. Most of the work we do is by hand, not machinery, which is unusual these days, but I like to create in an organic environment, and I encourage my team to tap into the gift of their hands.
The beginning of a project is so exciting, whether it’s sitting down at the table with my clients, or reviewing their drawings and concepts or color palettes. Often, I am given an area of a room that calls for “something special,” and then the magic happens. Their work is what inspires me to create pieces that will live in their spaces. It’s quite an honor. Then, I present my sketches and material boards, and we make final choices together.
Alison and I were first introduced through tonychi. I have a long and wonderful relationship with the firm, and I really admire their work. I also love that Tzelan has shown a genuine interest in the artisan process and I wanted to share that with them.
It was with my father. He was a true Renaissance man. He was passionate about so many crafts, and I watched him excel in everything he did: winemaking, model making, even flying small aircraft! I remember going to the workshop during weekends when I was a little girl, there was always the scent of leather. I would soak in all the projects that were in the works, mostly handbags. I wanted to know how things were engineered. I would tinker around with scraps of leather. I distinctly remember making leather circles with the punch tools and arranging them as little pieces of art. I always wanted to make things as far back as I can remember.
I briefly worked for a company in the UK that was selected to outfit the Mulberry retail stores in Knightsbridge, London. The concept of the store was to create the experience of walking into a luxury leather handbag. I was so romanticized by that idea. The fixtures, tables, and handrails were all leather-crafted. That first project is what sparked the idea for my business. I wanted to expose the American market to these European sensibilities. I had little to no contacts in the interior design world, so I began reaching out to the top high-end firms in New York.
Leather is a material that entices the senses, the warm, buttery, tactile nature of it. It’s sleek, seductive, and sophisticated. The scent can conjure all manner of nostalgia, and it takes me back to my childhood, being in my father’s workshop. Besides the fact that leather is in my DNA, I have my own contemporary approach to leather work, outside of traditional uses, like the application of leather to furniture, for example, and the geometry. I’m fascinated by the all the possibilities of manipulating the surface of the leather. I paint on it, carve it, and weave with it too.
I love working with exotic skins such as shagreen, which comes from the stingray fish sourced from Indonesia, or vachetta leather from Italy, which has great structure for architectural use, and is often used for shoes and saddlery. I also love goat-skin parchment from France. It’s in a league of its own; it requires much patience and experience to work with parchment.
Balanced, consistent temperature and humidity in an environment is key. This is absolutely crucial for maintaining the life of leather furniture. Similar to wood and other natural materials, leather can expand or contract. Also, leather needs its oils restored with a good conditioner every three to six months.
The French masters, Paul Dupré-Lafon, Jean-Michel Frank, and Jacques Adnet.
I’m also inspired by the late David Bowie, for his tenacity and ambiguity. Some of my work is kind of rock and roll inspired. Hermès is a company that I’m also very inspired by. I was invited to their workshops in Paris, and learned so much about their heritage. I like to draw infinite inspiration from nature too, so it’s important I take time outside of the city.
My Jacques Adnet leather lamp, my suede and shagreen boots by Helmut Lang, and my very own CZA shagreen-wrap bracelet.