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How Drake’s Architectural Designer Turns the World’s Most Expensive Homes Into Otherworldly Playlands

The creative is known for his opulent use of rich textiles and rare materials.

Ferris Rafauli Photo by Brandon Barré

Ferris Rafauli predicts that in the ultra-premium, post-pandemic world, no design demands will ever be considered “too crazy.” Among his black-card clientele, requests for features such as in-home sports arenas and full-service spas have already ratcheted up. But the Canadian designer and founder of an eponymous, and increasingly illustrious, boutique design-build firm specializes in turning the dreamed-up into reality. “The demands have gotten a lot more exciting lately, because we’re bringing absolutely anything and everything home,” he says. “It used to be home theaters and indoor pools. Now we’re designing houses with nightclubs built into them, and custom soccer stadiums or basketball courts.” Among his current projects, he’s trying to fit a Turkish spa, with a salt cave and series of hot and cold pools, beneath a Los Angeles house, as well as tucking a full-service restaurant, complete with chef’s kitchen and separate dining area for guests, into another private residence.

That big-picture, big-project thinking still comes down to the details, like mudrooms now needing shoe-washing stations or where the towel should hang in the bathroom according to the client’s height. It’s part math equation, part style instinct—having the dexterity to design and dress an entire estate, from its façade and landscape down to the drawer pulls. And by this time in his career, more than 20 years in, Rafauli has clout and influence. And, well, balls.

As evidence, he recently unveiled a mega-mansion for superstar rapper Drake, a palatial manor containing, among other wonders, an NBA regulation-size indoor basketball court, as well as a great-room chandelier by Lobmeyr dripping with more than 20,000 pieces of hand-cut Swarovski crystal, the second-largest installation of its kind in the world. Also included was a Rafauli-designed Bösendorfer grand piano splashed with the distinctive skull motifs of artist Takashi Murakami.

Ferris Rafauli

The rich textiles used in Rafauli’s cozy den are among the 5,400 he used throughout his home.  Photos by Brandon Barré

The kind of richly layered maximalism he practices isn’t for everyone—Drake’s interiors, for instance, were called “Jay Gatsby-meets-Vegas” in one snarky review—but for those who appreciate it, Rafauli is the best at what he does. It’s not unusual for him to use more than 5,000 textiles in a project. To him, each home isn’t just a living space—it’s an end-to-end art installation. Such unquestionably bespoke interiors have become his calling card, paired with a modernist approach to timeless, often Art Deco–inspired architecture.

A scroll through his Instagram reveals hashtags that spell out his philosophy: #staydisciplined, #timeless, #artandscience. One of his favorite quotes is attributed to an architect he has felt connected to since childhood, Frank Lloyd Wright: “Talent is good. Practice is better. Passion is best.” It’s the kind of mantra one of his athlete clients might use, but for him, it translates to a holistic style of building, where design flows seamlessly between spaces, and proportion and scale are never out of sync with the architecture. “I’ve always been a believer in art and science, where the two marry perfectly in the design—the artistic component with the excellence in execution,” he says.

Like his clients, he obsesses over quality and authenticity. “When you see stone in my homes, it’s real stone. When you see gold, it’s real gold—it’s not a made-up product. We don’t use stucco or gold leaf or artificial elements,” Rafauli says. If he can’t find the lighting, furnishings or hardware a room demands, his firm cannily crafts those things custom, often in collaboration with prestigious brands. He’s also been known to use Hermès scarves as upholstery and window treatments or incorporate an Alexander McQueen rug into a chair, resulting in some striking fashion-meets-design mash-ups.

Ferris Rafauli

An exclusive look inside Rafauli’s own closet.  Photos by Brandon Barré

The designer was focused and intense from the start, an artistically minded kid who started his own firm and built his first home (a more traditional design) at age 18. Since then, he has put his imprint on residences, private jets, yachts, restaurants, retail spaces and lounges, most notably the Sher Club at Scotiabank Arena, an exclusive hot spot inside the sports venue. And he was recently tapped by kitchen-appliance brand La Cornue and bed-maker Hästens to design their top-of-line products, the sort of gig you get only once you’ve properly arrived. All that’s missing is that TV design show.

As you’d imagine, he walks the walk himself. His own home features a 4,000-square-foot lounge and bar with suede walls, marble flooring and high-end audio equipment. “I live what I design. I buy things because I love their quality, execution and fearlessness,” he says, such as one of the cars in his collection, the new Ferrari F8 Tributo, a model he considers an art piece and likens to a nimble ballerina.

His closet has been carefully considered, both in terms of construction and contents. The room itself is an ode to the good life, decked out with macassar ebony, bronze insets with suede hides and hardware from his own FR line. Hidden doors reveal espresso machines and fridges, and the islands contain TVs, allowing Rafauli to catch sports highlights or the news while dressing. On the rails, vintage Yves Saint Laurent leathers hang beside Hermès and splashier pieces from Roberto Cavalli. Shoes are his weakness, and his closet can house up to 200 pairs. “At one point I had 50 Louboutins alone,” he confesses. “They’re like candy. You buy them just because you love them, but a shoe has layers of artistry that people don’t always recognize.”

Ferris Rafauli

A view of the home’s pool and lounge area.  Photo by Brandon Barré

The secret sauce of his success, he believes, is his bravery. “I like to think I’m fearless when it comes to design,” he says. “I have a vision for a project, and I’m usually stepping outside the boundaries to execute it. I’m never comfortable. I want to accelerate what I’ve already accomplished.”

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