For Designer Adam Charlap Hyman, Surrealism Is in the Air

From fantastic beasts to circus acrobats, he finds inspiration in the weird and whimsical.

August 11, 2022

From fantastic Renaissance beasts to 1970s circus acrobats, designer Adam Charlap Hyman finds inspiration in the weird and whimsical. “I am always looking for something uncanny, slightly off, and almost magically compelling,” says designer, architect and artist Adam Charlap Hyman. His fascination with surrealism is evident in his work, from wildly modernist opera sets to fungi-embellished lanterns. “The things that inspire me all touch on the links between joy and generosity, beauty and humility, humor and craft,” he explains. “It seems you can’t have one without the other.”


1. Mind your Mannerists

Paul Williams/ Alamy Stock Photo

“The ‘Sacred Wood’ or ‘Park of Monsters’ in Bomarzo, Italy, is an extraordinary garden with a maze of paths and fantastical 16th-century structures, ranging from architectural to sculptural. It opened my mind to the ways figurative elements could be used in surrealistic ways in architecture and design.”

2. Wonderland

Lauren Condominas

“Entirely constructed by hand over many, many years, Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden outside of Rome is full of esoteric symbols, hidden mean- ings and secret spots. When I first visited it was closed for the winter and, as if out of a dream, a friend of a friend had left me a key under a flowerpot. I wandered around the empty paths for the entire day completely in awe.”

3. Animal Instinct

Courtesy of Patterson Flynn

“Our new abaca tortoise rug is an homage to the character Des Esseintes in the novel Au Rebours, who encrusts a tortoise with precious stones as decoration only to have the animal die from the added weight. It is a story about someone consumed by their quest for beauty, losing sight along the way of the things that allow us to appreciate beauty in the first place.”

Tortuga Rug by Adam Charlap Hyman for Patterson Flynn, $5,450, pattersonflynn.com.

4. Shell Games

Adrien Dirand

“The snail is a very important creature and symbol to me. I love that they carry their homes on their back, and that each shell is completely unique. They are the architects of nature. We photographed my latest collection of abaca rugs at Quinta da Comporta in Portugal; the pieces felt right at home in this place where joy, serenity and quality meet.”

Caracol Rug by Adam Charlap Hyman for Patterson Flynn, $4,690, pattersonflynn.com.

5. Weaving Lessons

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Alexander Calder’s Circus was a favorite destination of mine growing up when it was installed for many years at the Whitney Museum in New York. This amazing straw tapestry, produced in an edition in France, is part of the series. I love the quality of the line.”

Circus, 1975, after Alexander Calder.

6. Artful Stay

Céline Clanet

La Colombe d’Or in the South of France is a beautiful hotel from the 1920s where many artists, actors, musicians and thinkers stayed and dined. The walls are covered with works by modern masters like Matisse, a tree-like Calder teeters over the pool and a Léger ceramic relief is the backdrop of one of the patios. It’s very bohemian and relaxed.”

7. Dance, Dance

Courtesy of Opera Gallery

“In addition to building parks and follies, Niki de Saint Phalle worked in virtually every medium across decades, making videos, sculptures, paintings and commercial collaborations like a perfume, children’s coloring books and playing cards. Her radically explosive joy, empathy and sense of humor is very moving to me!”

Nana Dansant, circa 1968, by Niki de Saint Phalle.