Some want the best of cosmopolitan Manhattan to settle in with the streamlined casual formality of Atlanta. Philip Rafshoon and Robert Gaul have created a loft style condo in the historic 1951 Social Security Administration building that represents their lifestyle. They know what they have, what it means, and from where it comes. There is process and craftsmanship that combines six white, circular light fixtures from an Ohio church with coffered cast concrete ceilings. In three months, they moved walls and made a sanctuary that is attuned to their “walk about” Midtown lifestyle.
Jaffe: Describe your role in Midtown and your former role in the retail bookstore.
Rafshoon: My work in Midtown began in 1993 when I opened Outwrite Bookstore and Coffeehouse. It became one of Atlanta’s most visible cultural centers and a landmark for the LGBT community, changing hearts and minds for a generation. After we closed in 2012, I went to work as programming director for the AJC Decatur Book Festival.
Since 2016, I have been the director of member engagement for Midtown Alliance, a nonprofit business and residential coalition that has been a driving force behind the revitalization of Midtown. I foster community by keeping our businesses and residents connected through events and programs.
Jaffe: What are you reading now?
Rafshoon: While out of the book business, I still love to read. I just finished Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less,” a hysterical novel that won a Pulitzer, and am starting on my friend Jessica Handler’s “The Magnetic Girl.” I am also in the middle of the fascinating final interview of legendary urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs.
Jaffe: You have a particularly illustrious family history in Atlanta. Tell us about your father and uncle.
Rafshoon: My family moved to Atlanta in the 60s and joined The Temple on Peachtree. My father, Charles Rafshoon, was a photographer, and my uncle Jerry Rafshoon had an ad agency. Jerry began working with and creating ads for Jimmy Carter. For Carter’s successful 1970 gubernatorial and 1976 presidential campaigns, my father was his campaign photographer. Jerry served as communications director in the White House. In the 80s, my Dad was the photographer for the Atlanta Jewish Times and covered virtually every Jewish event in the city. Mom, Charlotte, worked for many years as the secretary/ administrator for Congregation Or VeShalom. Between the two of them, if they didn’t know everyone in the community, they knew who they were.
Jaffe: When you designed the loft in 2014, what was it like decorating with Robert? Was he the creative engine?
Rafshoon: Robert was reared in Ohio and, coincidentally, his father is a retired photographer. Robert moved to New York City in 1980 and graduated from Parsons School of Design, department of architecture and environmental design. When we met in 1994, our life together in Atlanta began. We inherently both have an eye for photography.
Robert designed the loft and is always the creative engine. He has a natural eye for color and style and knows instantly what will work and what won’t. I put my two cents in every now and then, but we rarely disagree on what should happen in our space.
Jaffe: What types of other venues/projects has Robert designed?
Rafshoon: Robert is the principal of his company, Robert Gaul Architectural Design, with offices in Atlanta and New York.
His projects mainly include high-end residential homes in Atlanta, New York, across the country and internationally. In addition to residential projects, his work includes boutique retail, galleries, restaurants and contract spaces.
Recent projects include a 45-acre family compound resort with multiple homes in the British Virgin Islands and a 6,900-square-foot mountain home near Lake Tahoe. With most projects, Robert is involved at conception/pre-groundbreaking through final implementation of furnishings.
Many of Robert’s projects are for long-term clients for whom he has done multiple homes over the course of many years. His marketing is all word of mouth.
Jaffe: Everyone uses the term “eclectic.” Give more detail on this label?
Gaul: “Eclectic” can sometimes be used as the go-to word to describe a room with a mishmash of furnishings. The beauty of a successful eclectic interior is deriving ideas and collecting objects from a diverse range of sources yet having an underlying theme or thread that ties it all together with a juxtaposition of styles complementing one another.
Jaffe: What do you collect?
Gaul: Be it a beautiful antique object or a funky piece of kitsch, we collect art to provide enjoyment. Much of our art is by contemporary, upcoming artists. Gertrude Stein said, “One should collect art by good artists your own age.” Some we have are Robert Sherer, Jim Oliveira, Michael Gibson, William Acosta, and John Dowd.
Rafshoon: Many times while traveling (Cuba, Paris, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, Provincetown), we will purchase art for future hearkening of fond memories.
We also collect vintage Italian glass and, naturally, have a good collection of first edition and author signed books by, for example, David Sedaris, Joyce Carol Oates, John Waters, Erica Jong, Stephen Colbert, Edmund White, RuPaul, and Bette Midler.
Jaffe: Are you done adding to or changing things around? If you could wake up tomorrow and have one more “thing,” what would it be?
Rafshoon: We are never finished changing things. One new object provides change that leads to another.
If we could wake up tomorrow and have more “things,” it would be a steady bounty of flowers. We always have fresh flowers in the house.