One of Darrin’s most rewarding projects in 2016 was designing the DIFFA Dining by Design table for Lladro and The New York Times. The table design has been subsequently published in Interior Design, The New York Times, Manhattan magazine and countless design blogs.

amb_5728-hdrAt the invitation of the paper of record and world renowned porcelain brand Lladró, Darrin Varden fashioned an elegant dining pavilion with a luxury residential feel for DIFFA’s Dining by Design 2016. Starring Lladró’s porcelain lighting and sculpture pieces and elegantly furnished by luxury residential design showrooms Stark and Artistic Frame, Varden’s sophisticated tableau was that of an actual dining room centered with the painting Diagonal Tree by artist Claire Sherman, on loan from DC Moore Gallery. The scene was inspired by the black-and-white-and-read all over aura of legendary newspaper The New York Times.

amb_5661He made full use of Lladró’s Belle de Nuit lighting collection in this vignette, with a graceful repetition of a dozen sconces and a pair of striking chandeliers, all of them including porcelain lithophanes as shades. Light filtered through porcelain is warm and evocative, further accentuated by the transparency of this rich material, which allows the light to filter through the patterns etched by hand on the surface, shining with subtle nuances.

The table centerpiece featured another lavish repetition. Five dynamic, limited edition sculptures of horses in gleaming black porcelain galloped across a rich, fresh, floral field in deep garnet tones studded with Lladró’s Bacchus horse head bottle stoppers. Interspersed were white porcelain bowls from Lladró’s Equus collection by Bodo Sperlain, filled with cherries to echo the deep red floral. The contemporary porcelain dinnerware echoes elements from the sculptures. Says Varden, “These bowls are tactile and inviting, with sculpted horse heads and legs. It’s a delightfully unexpected play on a timeless Lladró theme.”

amb_5696Darrin’s residential work is often inspired by and anchored with large-scaled fine art, and he used a painting as the jumping off point for this scene. “Claire Sherman’s painting put me in the mindset of the charitable component of the occasion, Design Industries’ Foundation Fighting AIDS. I saw these gorgeous, broken, fallen trees, once so strong, ravaged yet still beautiful, still imposing in their beauty, paralleling the destruction of AIDS on the landscape of humanity. The beauty of the memory of those we lost is juxtaposed against trees that are still standing, those for whom HIV is no longer a death sentence.”


The dining room itself was furnished with table bases and chairs from Artistic Frame, which specializes in custom and made-to-order furniture. They partnered with Varden to create an elegant ebonized and silver strié styled finish and custom upholstery for the chairs in a deep red velvet by Stark. A wool sateen by Stark adorns custom benches of Varden’s own design, fabricated by Peruvian Touch custom workroom. The entire tableau was finished in a glistening frame, painted in Benjamin Moore’s aptly named Dinner Party red.


“We often talk about ‘table-scapes’ in doing these events,” said Darrin, but I wanted to have an actual table-scape, with multiple levels and dimensions and a horizon line and a focal point that draws the guest out beyond the space and into their own imagination.” That focal point, the large painting that centers the room, was given additional notice through the use of the backless custom benches, and by flanking it with two chandeliers rather than using one large chandelier in the center. This up-and-down table-scape keeps the eye moving through the design. He also worked closely with floral designer Shula Weiner of Flowers by Special Arrangement to achieve his vision for a rich, tonal mix of deep wine and berry hues in various textures, a sumptuous field for the graceful black porcelain horses.


Darrin Varden’s ‘horizon line’ is achieved by the use of an extremely modern play on a chair rail. He used a swath of sleek black nickel Chemetal metal laminate high up on the walls as a foil for the porcelain sconces, and to divide the two decorative wallpapers he selected from Stark. This effect could easily be achieved at home as a DIY project in any room. “Be sure to choose wallpapers you love,” advises Darrin. He did. On the lower wall, guests of Dining by Design were very the first to see the debut of Paria Canyon. Its organic and sinuous abstract diagonal strata in canyon shades anchored by rich graphite tones extend across the entire floor of the ‘room’ as well. On the top wall and across the ceiling, Stark’s subtly gleaming gunmetal Melanie’s Mica is used, and repeated on the custom tabletop. This take-home idea would work for a real dining room with the simple addition of a glass top to protect the wallpapered tabletop.