Down the Rabbit Hole with Area Co-Founder and Standard Collaborator, Shawn Hausman
December 22 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole with Area Co-Founder and Standard Collaborator, Shawn Hausman

New York-The Standard Interview

Interior designer and longtime Standard collaborator Shawn Hausman has helped create the look and tone of The Standards since they were but a twinkle in Mr. Balazs' eye. Before Shawn ventured into Standardland, he was one quarter of the club-making collective responsible for New York's most outrageous '80s party, Area. Every eight weeks, from 1983 to 1987, the club located at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel was gutted and reincarnated into a wild new theme. It was a magical, decadent place where nothing was too risqué, outré or taboo. We had a book signing over Art Basel for Eric and Jennifer Goode's recently published photo anthology and asked Shawn to take us back to this long, lost world.

Top: Human guest book Bottom Left: Misc, but fabulous guests Bottom Right: A teenage Shawn in the mid-70s

STANDARD CULTURE: First off, kind of blown away by the book. We knew AREA was a legendary nightclub, but we didn't fully appreciate the full scale of madness that went into it all.

SHAWN HAUSMAN: Thanks. It's a nice photo album. Looking back at the book I just think how exhausting it was.

In his preface, Eric Goode described the era as, "the last great burst of of madness and creativity in the twentieth century." Never to be repeated?

It was a great burst of madness and creativity. I wouldn't say it was the last. In the world of night clubs so much was integral to what was happening in New York at that time. It's definitely not the same now, and in that way, it couldn't be repeated.

Was running that place pretty much 24/7 or did it ebb and flow?

We had a whole system between the four of us. Some of us would be working on the nighttime management while the rest of us would be working on the themes. And we'd switch off – two of us at night, two of us during the day. But when we did the change-overs of the themes, it was definitely 24 hours a day because we had three days to completely tear everything out.

In-house performer David Yarritu as Little Red Riding Hood in 1984. Theme: Red

Left: The caterpillar and an Alice-type during the "Alice in Wonderland" theme. Right Top: Shawn and his fellow Area cohorts on the cover of New York Magazine. Bottom: Alice Cooper and friends

You guys definitely knew how to put on a spectacle. Were there any movies that inspired you?

As a teenager I liked Germanic films, but also Cocteau and Fellini. Maybe there wasn't one definitive film, but film itself was a definitive influence. I grew up in the movie business. My mother was an actress and my father was a producer and when I was in school – the short time that I was in school – I mostly focused on film and ended up leaving school to work on features.

When I moved to New York in '76, the first job I got was as a production assistant on Saturday Night Fever. Studio 54 was in construction and we looked at it for a location, but ended up in Brooklyn. Just a funny, in-direct connection to what I ended up doing.

What about art?

Surrealism in my teen years was an influence. Dali especially, not just his paintings, but his whole character and persona was really intriguing. So narcissistic and arrogant, but of course, brilliant.

Do you think the average 20-year-old is missing out today or does each generation figure out their own fun?

It was definitely a different time, especially in New York. It's not as free as it was in the days of Area. And you know technology today, it's not that it's less social, it's just less visceral than it was in those days.

Speaking of technology, how on Earth did you source everything for those elaborate installations without the internet?

It was so low-tech in those days. There wasn't the internet, obviously. No FedEx. We had phone books.

Top: 5,000 invites en route to the post office Bottom Left: A live monitor lizard Bottom Right: Invite to the Natural History party which involved breaking an egg to see the invite details inside.

And those insanely elaborate invites. What were those logistics like?

Crazy! When we started, we didn't know that many people. I mean we knew people, but not like "in the scene" people. It was the idea that we put out a lot. It wasn't just taking. And so we would send these intriguing things in the mail to entice people to come check this place out. Some of them were really quite elaborate. We'd send about 5,000 and hire a few people to help us out. There would probably be like six of us working on them.

Like a little assembly line?

Exactly. First, we'd do the prototype and all that, and then a very homemade assembly line. One of my favorite pictures in the book is a pickup truck over-following with mail bags on their way to the post office to be dropped off. We pushed the limits at the post office. I mean, we sent set mouse traps in the mail. You could never, ever send stuff like that today.

What was the most dangerous animal you ever had in the club?

Probably the six-foot monitor lizards, part of the Natural History theme. Their tails are so incredibly strong. We had built this special holding pen for them. I remember their tails just broke right through it. Eric of course, wrestled them down. I mean they weren't gonna hurt anybody, but they were some of the more fierce animals we had.

For, "Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water" we had a tarantula above the coat check. After the second or third night we walked in and it was gone ... it probably went into someone's coat, but we never heard anything, so ...

The vitrine at The Standard, Hollywood was an homage to Area. Above is the original box installation from 1998. Below, one of the infamous Area vitrine installs of a taxidermy rhino with Grace Jones strutting by.

When did you first meet André Balazs?

I don't remember the first definitive time. Early nineties, 1990 maybe. It was '92 when I first started working with him on the Chateau.

Are there traces of Area DNA in The Standard?

When we did the first Standard in '98, it was the idea of a night club bridging to become a hotel. For example, the original idea behind those stools at the front desk, was to make it feel like a bar. The vitrine was also an homage to Area.

I like creating environments, places where people interact with the space. What was so great about Area was the cross section of people and I think it's great with The Standards too, having this cross section of people and creating this space and environment that people interact with.


You can purchase a copy of Area: 1983-1987 here.