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Comfort Driven

Wall Street Journal October 2010

Comfort Driven Comfort Driven

Jim Zivic's Jaguar Lounge adapts the sleekness and engineering of its namesake sports car to a more sedentary lifestyle-for those who are so reclined

I wanted to make something that looked like it was made by someone who could rebuild an engine,' designer Jim Zivic says of the Jaguar Lounge, whose name is a shout-out to what is arguable the most beautiful sports car ever built-the Jaguar E-type. The steel and leather chaise also inspired by Napoleonic campaign furniture is something of a departure for Zivic, who is known for turning the stuff of the commodities index into built poetry: bales of cotton are transformed into ottomans; slabs of smoked Malaysian rubber serve as rolling benches; aluminum planks morph into dining tables; and chunks of raw anthracite coal, polished to an obsidian sheen, become side tables.

Zivic, 49, grew up near coal country in a small Ohio town south of Canton, and his work inspired as much by the brawny steel sculptures of Mark di Suvero as by high end design is an unapologetic celebration of the Rust Belt. 'I love going into old American factories, and it's sad for me to see them going away,' he says.

For two decades, Zivic, who started the firm Burning Relic in 1993 before going solo in 2000, has been building a client list that includes assorted Hollywood notables and cultural icons such as Lou Reed.

He now works out of a converted chicken coop on a circa-1860 farm near the tiny village of Delhi in upstate New York. There, Zivic painstakingly created the Jaguar Lounge over the course of a solid month with the assistance of master welder Peter Booth. (Only one has been completed so far, though orders have started to roll in to Zivic's dealer, Ralph Pucci.) It marks a new focus on refinement for a designer whose brute eloquence has put him on the design map. 'It's very powerful how Jim uses those raw materials,' says Robin Standefer, one half of the design team Roman and Williams, responsible for such iconic interiors as the Ace and standard hotels in New York. 'And I've always admired that he does so much of the physical work himself.'

The Jaguar's hexagonal steel undergirdings are both rugged and pencil-thin, like the struts on a sports car or biplane; the nifty gizmo that raises and lowers the backrest is a marvel of precision engineering; and the supple Italian leather cushion (available in multiple colors) is studded, like an old chesterfield, with 128 leather buttons, each one hand-fashioned by the designer himself. (Zivic's upholsterer, it turns out, collects vintage Jaguars.) The result is something both antique and futuristic, slightly steampunk; it's heirloom-worthy, rock solid, and yet it looks like it could zoom off at any minute.

By Mark Rozzo