Anna Polonsky is a woman who has been on our radar for a while. She has her hand in a bunch of different creative projects and communities across New York. It’s impossible not to take note.
As the founder of Polonsky & Friends, she runs a consultancy that works with chefs and visionary professionals in the food space to curate branding, aesthetics, and voice for culinary experiences.
Since the weather still seems to be giving us late-summer vibes here in NYC, we decided to take a trip out to Rockaway Beach and catch up with Anna at her home. As you’ll see below, she radiates a special warmth and a clear eye for design. So, enjoy our last beach outing of the season and meet Anna!
Describe your style in three words.
Unfussy. Eclectic. Tailored.
What is your design philosophy?
Everything I do is driven by stories. When I design a space or a visual identity, I go through a thorough process of understanding my clients’ story; it’s never about me cranking out something “cool,” it’s really about translating their background and vision into words and visuals.
I approach the way I dress or decorate my home the same way; most of my clothes are vintage, coming from family, mentors or second-hand stores. And when it’s not vintage, chances are it has been designed by close friends. I like the idea of being purposeful in the way I consume and of carrying stories from people I love, it charges my everyday with positivity and inspiration.
What do you love about living in Rockaway? And what does this home mean to you?
Rockaway has been life changing for my husband Fernando and I. It’s given us the respite we needed after 10 years of living in New York. It’s a safe space for us to unplug, connect with nature, check in with ourselves, and create. We’ve been cooking a lot more (lucky are we to be 5 minutes away from the great Edgemere Farm!), he draws, and I read a ton. It was also the first home we designed together, so it’ll always hold a special spot for us.
Beyond our personal bond to it, I think Rockaway is a treasure. Where else can you go to the ocean by subway in less than an hour? And where else do you get such diversity? The peninsula attracts people from all walks of life. On our block only, we have neighbors from the Caribbean, Sweden, South Africa, the Philippines… Some are surfers, some are mailmen, some are musicians, some are cooks. I see it as New York’s last frontier, a place that is still affordable enough for creative people to get inspired and take risks.
What is your connection to food? And, why do you believe it’s such an exciting space to be in right now?
Food has always been a major part of my life; my dad is an extraordinary cook and has a supper club in Paris, my aunt and uncle were iconic uniform designers for hospitality, my first real job was at a gastronomic guide, my husband is a chef and designs ceramics for restaurants around the world…
I got lucky to start working in food at a moment where the industry was radically changing. A couple of decades ago, working with chefs was not coveted and if you liked food but didn’t want to be in a restaurant or magazine, options were limited. In the 15 years I’ve worked in this sector, everything has changed; the demand for new restaurant concepts, quality food and content of all sorts has been insatiable, opening new doors for profiles like mine to contribute, not on the operational side but more on the creative side of things. This is what gave me the idea to create The MP Shift, the former venture I co-founded and one of the first 360 agencies in hospitality; I saw restaurants becoming brands of their own and realized that a lot of talented chefs needed help in translating their vision into words, graphics and spaces.
It’s been exciting to partake in this international creative whirlwind around food; I got to collaborate with true visionaries; entrepreneurs, chefs, food designers or artists who love food, all of them pushing the boundaries of culture and rituals. But as our country’s political context got more and more somber, I felt the urge to contribute further and to work on more impact-driven initiatives. The result is my new venture, Polonsky & Friends, with which I seek to apply my strategy and creative direction skills to clients who are working daily towards more inclusiveness, sustainability, craftsmanship and wellness. This is what excites me the most at the moment, giving the right tools to people in food who are trying to make the world a better place.
Most recent thing that has influenced/ inspired you?
My first clients at Polonsky & Friends, chefs James Henry & Shaun Kelly, who left successful restaurants in fashionable Paris to create a vegetable farm and a hotel-restaurant from scratch, 45 minutes out of the city, around the principle of regenerative agriculture.
There’s also Nigerian-born, New Orleans-based chef, writer and artist Tunde Wey, who’s been organizing much-talked about dinner-performances to interrogate systems of power, using food to create debate around immigration, racial wealth disparity in America and more.
OStudio, the collaborative work space my husband just opened in Brooklyn and where my office is based. Think WeWork for makers, with much more thoughtful interiors and a community of artists and creatives making stuff in one communal space. It’s been inspiring to be surrounded by people who aren’t from my industry, and who model clay, paint, draw, knit, shoot, and create all day long.
What is one thing you can’t live without?
Other than good food and good stories…!
Communication and debate – it’s not surprising that what I do for a living is help people to convey their message. I’m an over-communicator and struggle with the unsaid. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it yields very real relationships if you ask me.