An American Design Couple in Paris

Construction paper and colored pencils have never been David Rager’s thing. In fifth grade, the designer traded up to the computer and launched his career with a custom cassette tape cover commissioned by a neighborhood band. Since then, he has dabbled in a little bit of everything, from album covers to furniture design, and he’s globe-hopped from Southern California to Europe. Now Rager and his wife, jewelry and fashion designer Cheri Messerli, f ind themselves in Paris where they’ve been living for the past two years. As they’ve immersed themselves in the local design scene, new projects have taken them in new directions, including the design for Paris’ hippest Mexican restobar, Candelaria. Rager and Messerli let us inside to talk design, France, and of course, tacos.

Both of you are deeply involved in the design scene in America. Was it tough getting involved in the creative community in Paris?

DR: We had some free time and wanted to “make stuff,” and found that there’s a group of people here who feel the same way we did. Don’t get me wrong—French pessimism can be a very real thing, but I’ve found that the people here who want to forget about that way of thinking tend to be drawn towards each other. It’s funny, we never felt especially “American” before we lived here.


Although you’ve dabbled in many different design areas, it’s safe to say doing the interior design of a restaurant is pretty different from the rest. What got you interested in Candelaria?

CM: Living in Paris makes you see and miss things from where you’re from. I think the fact that tacos were in the equation automatically made us think of California, and it just was a natural progression from there.

DR: The owners originally approached me to do the logo and website, then menus and other printed materials, and then the job just grew and grew. So when interior architecture and design came up, I thought it would be something that Cheri and I could do well and do together. Physically, the front space lent itself nicely to a traditional style taqueria. It’s bright and crowded, and the more broken in it gets, the better it looks. The cocktail bar in the back plays off of that. If tacos are a day at the beach, then cocktails are the bonfire on the sand afterwards.

Is there an aspect of design or a product market that you haven’t touched on yet, but you’ve liked to?

CM: I’ve always been interested in designing a record. Music is a huge inspiration.

DR: Personally, I’d love to have an excuse in the future to work in product design. Bags are something I’ve always got an opinion on—and a closet full of. Even app design is something I’d be interested in pursuing. The great thing about being a designer is that nothing is out of bounds. We’re literally surrounded by problems that need design to solve them.

Around the world with David & Cheri

We asked Rager and Messerli to chart out various key moments that propelled the couple to their current state. Rager did—in the form of a graphic Metro map of his life.

1 Sri Lanka: Cheri and I took a trip to Thailand and Sri Lanka in 2004. The day after Christmas, we decided to travel to the center of the island. We left town at about 9:30 a.m., and had we stayed 10 minutes more, we would have been trapped by the tsunami.

2 New Museum: We were living in LA when I found out the New Museum needed someone to oversee the design for the launch of their new building. Less than a month later, we found ourselves living on the opposite coast. I arrived on my first day, got one file — the new logo created by Wolff Olins — and was basically told, “Ok, you’ve got the logo, now let’s build everything necessary to have the museum open in less than six months.” It was an incredible experience.

3 California: The California Map was created for the Selby exhibition at Colette in Paris a few years ago. We were living in New York at the time and missing the golden State.

4 The Ecology Center: Cheri and I helped brand and launch The Ecology Center, a space for sustainable education in San Juan Capistrano. It's situated in an old farmhouse on an organic farm, and I still work for them today.

5 Our Wedding: There were no professionals involved, just our friends and us doing everything by hand, from silk-screening the napkins, to collecting driftwood, and folding thousands of tiny paper cranes.

6 Fool's Gold: I know a few of the guys in Fool's gold from San Francisco and our college days, when we were playing the same house parties. I was lucky enough to reconnect with them just as they were recording their debut album and was asked to design it.

7 Best Coast: Lewis from Fool's Gold recorded Best Coast's album. When they were looking for someone to do the cover, he suggested me. My only instructions were "just make sure to include this photo of our cat," so I did.

8 Grey Magazine: Cheri helped style a grey photo shoot and, coincidentally, a friend recommended me to help design the magazine. I'd fly out to rome where we'd lay out the book, then we'd drive through the night to Venice to make it to the printer.

9 Candelaria: The first real taqueria to open in Paris, and the first big client project that Cheri and I tackled together. We had five weeks, so there was a lot of creating designs on the fly.

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