Welcome to Nicko Elliott and Ksenia Kagner’s home

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Welcome to Nicko Elliott and Ksenia Kagner’s home - 3
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Top left and right, bottom left: Nicko and Ksenia's home © Brian W Ferry, bottom right: a portrait of Nicko and Ksenia © Bruke Marew

Nicko Elliott and Ksenia Kagner are the founders of Civilian, a building and interior design studio based in NYC. Their design projects convey a sense of mood and timeless style, integrating elements of each project's history. Join Artsper as we chat with them about their art and design influences, living and working in NYC, and their new venture in the product sector, Civilian Objects.

1. Hello Nicko and Ksenia! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Can you tell us a bit about your careers in building and interior design so far? What led you to the creation of Civilian?

We both studied architecture because we loved design but perhaps without the burning desire to remake a city skyline. Ksenia pursued a focus on larger scale design while Nicko worked on crafted interiors in NYC. We both left studios to work in-house - Nicko as CD for a real-estate development company, Ksenia at a coworking company. Advocating for design as part of a multidisciplinary team helped us hone in on the importance of user experience, which is central to our practice now. We imagine a kind of design studio that is about the creation of environments for experience that can toggle between ideas of architecture, interior design and styling - we think such a studio will be a valuable thought partner for smart clients.

2. You have said that your designs respond to each project's individual social, historical and material context. What is one project that you feel particularly illustrates this?

Bard College Berlin is a strong example. A progressive institution located in the former Berlin East German embassy district, which is made up of a lot of 1970s neo-Bauhaus buildings, gave us a lot to think about in how to approach social living spaces for young people. We drew a lot of inspiration from Berlin's legacy of modernist housing estates in terms of formal gesture and use of color and materials. For a typology such as student housing, which places durability above all, we tried to provide high quality custom and vintage furniture that supported a sense of place and project client vision.

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Welcome to Nicko Elliott and Ksenia Kagner’s home - 7

Nicko and Ksenia's home © Brian W Ferry

3. You recently launched Civilian Objects, a collection of functional objects for the home, office and commute. Can you tell us a bit about this project? Is this your first venture into the product sector?

Civilian Objects largely grew out of the pandemic. We lived here through all of it. When we found ourselves locked in the house for months on end, we needed to express ourselves creatively in new ways. We have been collecting utilitarian home objects for a while and conceptualized the store around that. We wanted to provide a collection of objects that offered dignity to mundane daily tasks, and that's how Objects got started. It is our first venture into the product sector, which occupies a different part of the brain and we love it!

4. Do you find New York to be an especially inspiring place to live and work?

We are hyper local and committed to the city, specifically because it is such an inspiring place to live, work, and raise a family. There is an inherent friction that works well for us, keeping us attuned and attentive. Because the city changes so much and so quickly, we discover new forms of civic expression, see new ideas form and new movements taking shape. We love how large the city is - the more we live here, the more sides of it we discover. As an immigrant town, there's a freedom and encouragement to engage with a variety of influences that is intrinsic to the ethos of the city.

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Welcome to Nicko Elliott and Ksenia Kagner’s home - 9

Nicko and Ksenia's home © Brian W Ferry

5. Which design movements have had the most influence on your work?

There isn't a single movement that influences our work, but rather the contextual and historical backdrop of any given project. Design from the Vienna Secession through to the late interwar period - think Josef Hoffman to Robert Mallet Stevens - feels strong for us. Our own experiences and aspirations have helped us forge a path where design is a means, not an end. We are storytellers and world builders and we are crafting and chipping away at a narrative that isn't fully formed yet, but is becoming clearer.

6. Finally, do you often take influence from the fine arts in your design? If so, which artists and movements are your favorites?

Art's exact relationship to design can often feel a bit ineffable, as it feels like art should be a conceptual generator for a project but frequently becomes merely an object within a design. We've lately been including photography as part of our visual research for projects early on. Work by Diane Arbus and Susan Ressler speaks strongly to us about ideas of space, styling and presentation - and how those ideas are bound up in representation of self - that feels very contemporary. We're strongly (and happily) influenced by the work of our artist friends.

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Their favorite artworks

Print, Schwurhand: Lumen, Joseph Beuys

Schwurhand: Lumen

Joseph Beuys

Print - 15 x 11 inch


Fine Art Drawings, Sphinx, Jean Cocteau


Jean Cocteau

Fine Art Drawings - 16.5 x 11.4 inch


Sculpture, Horse, Gelitin



Sculpture - 52 x 23.6 x 39.4 inch


Sculpture, S Alphabet, Joël Froment

S Alphabet

Joël Froment

Sculpture - 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inch


Painting, Ooraa IV, Natvar Bhavsar

Ooraa IV

Natvar Bhavsar

Painting - 23 x 21 inch


Photography, A Widow in Her Bedroom, 55th St, NYC, Diane Arbus

A Widow in Her Bedroom, 55th St, NYC

Diane Arbus

Photography - 14 x 11 inch


Painting, Pool and Sun - 1, SupaKitch

Pool and Sun - 1


Painting - 47.2 x 35.4 x 1.6 inch


Design, Round S, Jhon Hansen

Round S

Jhon Hansen

Design - 18.1 x 14.6 x 14.6 inch


Print, Jeremiah from Our Historical Heritage, Salvador Dali

Jeremiah from Our Historical Heritage

Salvador Dali

Print - 26 x 19.88 inch


Painting, 16 Stages of Orange Radiance, Jan Kaláb

16 Stages of Orange Radiance

Jan Kaláb

Painting - 79 x 79 inch


Sculpture, Chrome, Jenna Krypell


Jenna Krypell

Sculpture - 46 x 64 x 3 inch


Painting, Sunshine setwaves, Peter de Boer

Sunshine setwaves

Peter de Boer

Painting - 53.1 x 66.9 x 0.8 inch


Design, Flesh factory, Solène Bonnet

Flesh factory

Solène Bonnet

Design - 31.5 x 23.6 x 5.5 inch


Design, Over, over ripe, Xanthe Somers

Over, over ripe

Xanthe Somers

Design - 51.2 x 23.6 x 9.8 inch


Design, Hammered Tray 03, Gerlach & Heilig

Hammered Tray 03

Gerlach & Heilig

Design - 14.2 x 5.1 x 0.8 inch