David Netto: “Designing Interiors (The Part They Forgot to Tell You About)”

David Netto: “Designing Interiors (The Part They Forgot to Tell You About)”

Good evening and welcome to
another of our amazing series in the Rouse Visiting
Artist program. I’m Gary Hilderbrand
for those of you who don’t know me,
Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture
here at the school. And I’m really pleased
to be able to introduce tonight’s speaker David Mellon. Before we ask David
to speak this evening and he’s a good
storyteller, so I don’t need to make much of
an introduction here at all. I wanted to address
[inaudible] of his talk, which is here on my right. Now David knows what
we do in this school because he studied
here in the late ’90s. And from the great success of
his Los Angeles-based practice and also his writings–
he has a double career– you’d have to say it was
likely that he did well here. I didn’t ask his teachers,
a few of whom I know. But it’s clear that he
learned some things, and he took some things
away from the school. And maybe he’ll
tell us about that. But I think we can
agree that aspects of design that David’s
built his practice on are not some of the things that
we stress in design education here. I’m pretty sure, though, that
it wasn’t that teachers forgot. So I have a little
quibble with that. It’s that the things that David
is going to talk about tonight are just hard to teach. They’re not exactly part of the
pedagogy of studio teaching. There are things that
accrue through practice. They are a practice–
that we don’t judge well on paper or on digital displays. They depend on knowledge
built over time. My colleague,
Anita Berrizbeitia, Chair of the Department of
Landscape Architecture here, calls this kind of design
knowledge know-how. It’s what you learn by doing. By trying things, sometimes
not getting them right, not by conceptualizing so
much or by applying theory, but by judgment and
instinct– those are the hard things to teach. By trusting and
honing sensibilities– we try to build that
in students here, but it’s the
hardest thing we do. There’s a lot of things we don’t
talk about, things for kids. We don’t talk much
about things for kids, but they are a part of
almost every home we design. The warmth of
incandescent light– we were joking about this on
leaving a little event over at the Philip Johnson
house this evening. Looking at incandescent
light and next to LED light– how we try to get that
character of light through LED technology, hard stuff. Hooks, pulls, fabrics– we don’t
teach that much of that here. We have a great material
library downstairs, and there are some faculty
who really, really pursue that here. But again these are
hard things to teach. The warmth of wood and
the beauty of stone, or how they meet in a
re-entrant modernist corner or inside a traditional cove. Honing versus polishing,
hanging pictures– we don’t talk about
hanging pictures. Color, taste– we don’t
talk about style much, and that’s really OK with me. But we also don’t talk
that much about character, and I think that is something
we should talk more about. We also don’t talk
much about patronage. I know about patronage because
it’s so essential in a practice like mine and like David’s. And we all have repeat
clients who follow us and help us to pursue our art. It’s meant a great
deal to my practice, but we don’t talk about
that much here either. As a landscape architect, I
get the meaning in this title. As hard as we try, there are
things we can’t teach well. In my field, it’s hard to
convey in any meaningful way the powerful character
of seasonal change as it progresses over the year. We pay attention to it. We talk about it
with the students, but it’s really hard to
teach that sensibility. The irregular ways that
unpredictable growth of plants surprise you. Spacing– we don’t talk
that much about spacing. The fantastic smell of
viburnium prunifolium and why it doesn’t look
good next to a plant that has a similar leaf character. So for me knowledge in all
these things and their repeated application are
honestly the things that bring us joy in the work. And I know this
is what David also seeks in the work,
that kind of joy that you get from embedded
knowledge, from know-how. So we’ve asked him
to come, and we’re really grateful that he’s here,
to show us how he does that. And we look forward
to his presentation. So warm welcome
for David, please. Thank you. Thank you, Gary. What a nice introduction. I almost feel like I don’t need
to talk after you expressed so beautifully some
of the concepts that I was hoping we’d
go over in this talk. I think that in speaking
of incandescent lights and the warmth, I
would love it if we could dim some of the lights
in here for your sake. I mean we’ll get through it. But it feels like an
airplane as it is, anyway but the lighting is– ah,
now this is getting intimate. So my name’s David Netto. I’m an interior designer. I did attend the GSD
for more than two years and elected not to
continue to get my degree, because I knew that I
wanted to design houses and not really to
practice architecture. And I felt very embarrassed
about that decision at the time. Sylvette was my advisor. You know I had great
support within the faculty from people like Scott Cohen,
who’s here tonight, who tutored me in descriptive geometry
in a booth at the Hong Kong restaurant. I mean people
couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave. But I left to start my practice,
and I’ve been in it ever since. And tonight I’m going to
show you some of the ways that I approach design
that I did actually learn to implement from my time here. My education at the
GSD was very valuable, and I still do use it. And some of the ways
that I never found anybody here talking about,
which are atmospheric and have to do with
the character of more ephemeral stuff than the
plastic art of architecture. And in talking about
how to introduce the idea of interior design as
a different kind of discipline than architectural design, I of
course begin with this image. That was a joke. But there’s a message
in this that I’m going to unpack for you. I love this car. Many people agree that this
is one of the great moments of automotive design. It’s a Bugatti from 1936
called the Atlantic Coupe. And why is this car so
venerated and why is its design so sensual and successful? And the reason for
that to me is the story of the conception of the
prototype and the built example that we see here. When Bugatti was building a
light weight alloy material into the prototype,
which was something that was used in
aircraft manufacturing, it contained
magnesium– it could not be welded, because
the metal actually would combust and catch fire. So they had to rivet
the seams together and that’s how we get that
dorsal spine and the smaller version on the tail fin. And then everybody liked
that handmade industrial sort of honest aspect of
it with the rivets so much, that when they
manufactured the three examples of this car that
they did build in aluminum, they kept that construction
technique visible, even though they didn’t
need to use it anymore and they could have welded. And to me that’s sort of
what I’m after in decoration. You always want a reason
for doing something, but you’re looking
for the thing that isn’t necessarily the logical
or necessary move that brings, that lifts a project. This is a house in Los Angeles
by Richard Neutra from 1961 called the Ohara House. It’s one of the most
beautiful of the small Neutras in the Neutra Colony, which
is a group of nine houses that he built on land that
he would only sell you if you hired him to be the architect. And this is one of Julius
Shulman’s most famous photographs from the early
’60s of a Neutra with the Ohara children in the left. And it shows you that
the living room is really the balcony and the way
that these houses were meant to be lived in was to
indulge the fantasy, at least in California, that
you could be living outdoors. This is also my house. I bought this house in
Silver Lake 13 years ago. And the received way of
living in a Neutra house was like Julius Shulman
shows in the photographs. I find this decoration
a little tentative and not really thought
through at all. But this is what naked
Neutra architecture looks like when originally conceived. This is a picture of
the house recently, and I wanted to see what I could
do to add to the narrative. You know it’s
intimidating to step into that architectural legacy
and think– what are you going to add to this? But I am interested
in challenges. And so rather than make it
look like restored like a car, like the Shulman
photographs, I put things like these Austrian 1920s
barrel-backed chairs that you can see a
little bit there. I put a curtain on the
outside of the balcony to sort of claim that
white enamel floor space more convincingly as
the living on the inside. And I put the most
organic and sensual, sort of reminiscent of Miro
sculpture inside this rigid box to try to dissolve the
sharp angles of it. There’s Mies. There’s Poul Kjaerholm. And these Kjaerholm
chairs are a bit of Scandinavian meeting the
American modernism of Neutra that I actually have not
seen anyone do before. And the results I think are
successful, not necessarily for a purist. But here’s a photograph
by Mario Testino of Dakota Johnson, the actress,
in the house that was in Vogue. And of all the places
that they could have chosen when
they were looking for a modernist backdrop
for this photo shoot, they did not choose
a correct house. They chose a house that
had actually decoration that was an intervention to it. So I don’t know. I find that I put this picture
in here also to show you that I love putting a little
American thing– that’s a red Sean Givens coffee
table– in the context of an American city. I think it’s also important
to subliminally refer to the context in which
you are designing. This is a design here of mine
I want to share with you. Because I want to show
you things tonight that are not common knowledge,
and maybe, hopefully not, familiar images. This is the Maharaja of Indore. And he was a great dandy
and a great connoisseur in the ’20s in sort of middle
western, west central India. He went to Paris, as many of
these Indian Rajput titles did. And there wore Western
dress and became infatuated with the modernism
that he found in Paris. He bought three Birds in Space
sculptures from Brancusi, went straight to his studio. He visited Eileen Gray
and Eckhart Muthesias. This is his palace in Indore
before the lasers– not really, I think we might have
lost the battery here. But before is below. Above is after his renovations. And you can see that he
was interested in looking at Corbusier and the
streamlining movement that he found in Europe. He was one of the early
purchasers of the Eileen Gray Transat chair, which we
see in his own bedroom at the palace on the upper left. And that is the actual
original Transat chair from that room, which sold at
Phillips for over a million dollars. I’m embarrassed at
the mention of money, but it does come up as a
way to sort of validate the importance of
iconic design pieces as they continue their
travels through time and become more collectible. But this also shows you
how that piece of furniture was sort of used as an object. The room was designed
as an environment and the chair was
dropped into it. And later we’re going to see
Eileen Gray’s own apartment, and show how she maybe came
at it a little differently. This is that same room
without a decorator. Lest you think you can
do it without help. It’s later. It’s after independence. The palace is not
curated anymore. But it’s still a room
that’s being used. You can see the
bed canopies there, the light fixtures are there. And there’s some decent
modernist furniture. But I just had to include this
picture because it shows what happens when you get sloppy. Thank you. Is that a laser? Oh, it’s a real laser. This is Eileen Gray’s own villa
titled, sort of romantically, E-1027 in the south of
France near Cap-Ferrat. And she built it for herself. And there is her Transat chair. And I’m fascinated by
the effect of this house on Le Corbusier, who was really
basically obsessed with it, tried to buy it,
and became, I think, unable to accept that a woman
could design modernism that sort of exceeded
anything he felt he had done in a house at that time. And Corbusier later painted
murals on this white headboard and in several other
places to the fury of Eileen Gray, who felt that he
had then vandalized the house. But it was his way of
laying claim to her creation when he couldn’t buy it. But I think that the
chair in this context shows that the
furniture came first. And Eileen Gray was primarily
a furniture designer. This is one of her only works
of architecture and certainly the first. And it shows the
use of space sort of being devised as a diagram. That’s called the
Michelin Man chair, and that’s the Transat chair. And the rugs just
fall where they are. But you know, she
makes a diagram of how she’s going
to use the room and the architecture falls
into place around it. This is Le Corbusier
with his mural, kind of her impression of him. I put this picture
in this morning because I came across it on
the train on the way up here. And it shows– it’s not really
about interior design, is it? It’s about an attitude. But it’s a way of
a man occupying space maybe versus a woman
occupying space, which relates to some political
themes that we’ve all been following lately. Interior design
and architecture– I thought I’d have a roomful of
architecture students tonight. So I wanted to show a
section– there are some, but also many practicing
architects and graduates. Welcome. I wanted to show some
examples of how architecture and interior design can both
be conflated and intermingled to the point where you cannot
identify where one begins and the other leaves off, and
then in ways where that’s less true. But this is one of
the ways where that’s most holistically true for me. This is Alvar Aalto’s
Villa Mairea in Finland, and it’s modernism like we just
were looking at at the Philip Johnson Thesis House. It’s very handmade. It’s very sensual. And in Scandinavia,
they have a funny way of incorporating the
most traditional sort of natural materials like
wicker, wrapping these columns and sort of humanizing
the modernism, even though this is a
very futuristic house. But the support
system of the stairs, the columns being
pared unnecessarily, then wrapped with
wicker unnecessarily. You know– where
is the decoration and where is the architecture? And this is a very blurred
relationship between those two. I sometimes think of
Shaker houses and furniture as the first modernism. And I’ve never been in
a Shaker 18th century room that didn’t feel complete. And even though maybe
there were no contents, it was the first minimalism. Certainly I think John
Pawson is always thinking about these kinds of rooms. But here are two Shaker
rooms in Pennsylvania that show the possibilities
of designing in a minimal way and not really decorating at
all, because the brooms are there for utility
and not ornament. But accomplishing a
result that feels like you wouldn’t be unhappy
in the space. This is a room by a graduate
of the GSD, Lee Mindel, from the architecture firm
Shelton Mindel in New York. This is– I call it
an architecture firm, but Lee would describe himself
as an interior designer as much as an architect. And this is someone I’ve learned
a lot about curating furniture from in modern spaces. Lee designs in a way
that is very focused on Scandinavian design, but
not in the familiar ’50s sense. He’s going into a
level of deep knowledge about Scandinavian stuff
that includes more Jacobsen and that sort of Design
within Reach stuff. This is a chair by
Finn Juhl, and I always ask people to guess
the date of that chair. And everyone says 1955 or
something like– it’s 1936. So it comes from the same
sensual moment as that Alvar Aalto house that we just saw. And Lee’s own
apartment in New York is a place where
he’s experimented with a lot of this contents
versus architectural shell. And that is a Gaudi chair,
called the Siamese chair. We can’t really see
that it’s two seats, but it is, and in
the background, a Fornasetti screen. And he created
this rotunda which is sort of meant to mimic the
watertower typology of New York loft buildings and
the stairs go up to something but from the
outside references a water tower, but is made of glass. And then he changes
what goes into here. You know Gaudi is early
20th century modernism, but he moves
industrial furniture into that he works with
pieces by Marc Newson and ’50s Scandinavian stuff next to that. The combinations that Lee
Mindel pursues in architecture that he conceives
of himself also is something that’s taught
me a lot about a very calm potential future for
a lot of these pieces that is not just the familiar
way that we know them. I mean I think he’s, in a way,
given a second life to some of this furniture. This is an apartment in New
York in a building from 1930 that I put in here because
it’s Georgian, neo-Georgian apartment house architecture. And Lee Mindel is still
furnishing it like– well, it’s a bit more jazzy and
flamboyant than the stuff that we just saw. But he’s reduced pediments,
moldings, and neutralized the background context. And here he’s
created point of view by contrast, rather than
harmony, which the first three slides were more about. This is maybe a building
that not so many people know by Philip Johnson. I don’t think I knew
it until I started to write about architectural
history for The Wall Street Journal, and I was
looking for stories to pitch of things that weren’t
the stuff that everybody already knew. And I came across this
building by Philip Johnson in Dumbarton Oaks. It’s the Pre-Columbian
Art Pavilion. And it just dumbfounded
me, because it was so unlike anything
else he ever did. And it’s based on
the circulation around an open courtyard,
which the drawing doesn’t describe very well, but
that center circle is open to the sky. There’s a fountain. So we, in this view
from the story, are actually looking
through that access. And in each of these little
bays is a vitrine containing pieces of pre-Columbian art. And I thought about
Philip Johnson tonight and starting our evening
in the Thesis House. And I thought about what are
the buildings that he really tested himself as a
sort of sensual designer and not the industrial
designer that based on the vocabulary of
Mies that we know him as. And this one came to
mind as one that’s one of the most successful
and consequently unique, has no progeny. Come back with me
to LA for a moment. This is Richard Neutra,
rather severe character, and the roof of his own
house, the VDL Research House in Silver Lake. And you could see my house
in the bushes somewhere, you know they were
all near each other. And Neutra was very rigorous,
very authoritative, and used to take all the furniture
out of his house when he had Julius
Shulman photograph them. And then would surprise
clients by visiting them years later just to check in on things
and see how they had maintained the interiors, which I don’t
think many people enjoyed. But there was no
saying no to Neutra. And one thinks of
him, like Mies, as a real sort of
tough stonewaller. But the closer you look at the
VDL Research House and the more you sort of look at the
priorities of Richard Neutra’s design, I find that he is a more
sensual designer than we first give him credit for. This entire wall
of that back room is mirror, which is
designed to reflect, we can make it out in
there just a little bit, the double view of Silver Lake
Reservoir and double the light. And this is not something–
this is like decoration. I mean it’s something an
interior designer would try to come and do afterwards
if it wasn’t that way already. But Neutra was not
afraid of those kind of sensual touches amidst
all the rigor of his plane architecture. Here’s my house, looking
toward Silver Lake, there’s a little water there. And I brought this
light to show you that the composition
of the building is pavilion stepping
down a hill. But that the main
message of this picture is that the promise of the
house that you are actually going to be in the living
room, but outdoors, is something that really is
only fulfilled by furniture. So if an architect feels
that they can deliver that without somebody sort of closing
the deal with how the furniture plan makes it come true, I think
that’s sort of a long shot. And I thought about
what Neutra intended. I thought about what
I could add to it. And one of the things I did
do was furnish this back patio like the real living room. Jumping centuries, because
the degree I did get was in Architectural
History from Columbia before I dropped out of Harvard. This is Syon House,
a big English country house by Robert Adam, which
is a renovation of an existing earlier sort of
castellated building in the Neoclassical style. And Adam, in 1760s is highly
obsessed with symmetry. So he’s looking to
create a square room, like a Roman colonnade
with complete symmetry inside a space, which
because of the older dimensions of the castle
that he’s working in, is actually a rectangle. And the windows are
off-center, and then you have to deal with the stair
tower and all of that. And he does that by sort
of inventing a column screen, which is the third–
it’s two rooms within the room. It’s the real room,
which is rectilinear. And it’s the fictional
room, invented by Adam, which is the square within that. And I really thought
about this room when I first saw how it
behaved the first time in plan. And I thought, what
can I learn from that? And one of the things that
I’ve done that I think is sort of an application
of that formula in a modern context is,
when I find a room that’s too small– the whole room was
not including the soffit, which I created– I sometimes chop it
into bits and I have a third, as the fictional soffit and
veneered alcove, and 2/3 as the space in the room
that you actually use. But if you didn’t do
all of that and dropped the soffit and
changed materials, you would just think, oh,
I’m in a bedroom that’s smaller than I wish it was. And this way you’ve distracted
by the use of finishes from a fundamental
spatial disadvantage. And if you saw those
two images together and I wasn’t
explaining it, you’d know all of that right,
the Adam and veneered wall? I was worried about dwelling
too much in opulence. And so I brought a picture
of one of my favorite rooms, which is Louis Armstrong’s
kitchen in his house in Corona, Queens, which is a museum
now and you can visit it. It’s one of the great
secret museums of New York. I think this room has every
ounce of the potential to make happiness and
the sophistication and boldness of
palate that we often associate with much more
sophisticated designers and users. Louis Armstrong had bold
tastes, but really there was no outshining
his own character. And so the potential
of a room to be a portrait of its
occupant is something that I’m pursuing as a
designer all the time. This was a gift to
his wife Lucille, but I come back to this
room again and again. And I think if we didn’t
have a lot of money, and if we had a tiny space and
if the only thing we could do was buy a compact stove,
and what can we deploy? The answer in this case
is color and the sort of sophisticated zone of white
sliding Formica doors there. And you know, the intimacy
of scale is forgotten. I like to play things
not up the middle, and I only show opposites
next to each other. So as a complete
jump in scale– this is one of the most
successful rooms I think in America, which
is the Seattle Public Library by Rem Koolhaas, which
has its origins in the GSD. Rem was teaching here, and Josh
Ramos, who was a student here when I was here,
was the person who made him aware of the
competition for this, which obviously he won. And delivered one of the great
modern buildings in America. I think this room
is successful way beyond just the Rem
architectural you know, web-like glass shell. And the way the bookshelves
behave and the furniture plan is designed is a big
part of why it really is the living room of Seattle. And so I like this, in
the atmosphere and use phase of our evening, to show
you that that kind of modernism can be a happy
making place, too. Ruthie and Richard Rogers came
to speak at the GSD this fall, I’ve heard. And I’m sure they were in
Piper, but being a decorator, we’re going to make Stubbins
into the Piper it never was. This is the River Cafe
by Richard Rogers. It’s Ruthie Rogers’
restaurant, and for all I know she showed
it to you already. But I just had dinner in
it in London last week. And now that pizza
oven stove in the back is painted bright red– which
is a very Richard Rogers thing to do– and so is the pipe. And this is a room where it’s
known for its atmosphere. Everybody wants to be
there, and yet, you know, this is a sort of ferocious,
groundbreaking, modernist character who created it. Why is he able to conjure
such a sunny atmosphere? And I think the answer
is because of the colors and because of the
lighting techniques. This hut is actually one
of my favorite buildings to talk about. I think it’s one of the
most telling buildings to talk about and sophisticated
buildings to talk about. It’s Le Corbusier’s only house
he ever built for himself, called Le Cabanon, and
it’s on the same property almost as the Eileen Gray
villa that we looked at before. He didn’t get to buy
the Eileen Gray house. He later, 20 years later
almost built this small house for himself, which is one room. And did not have a
kitchen because he was close enough to the
owners, the proprietors of the restaurant
L’Etoile de Mer next door that they took
all their meals there. But in the axonometric
drawing you see that this guy, who we know
for Ronchamp, for the Carpenter Center right here, for
these huge sculptural sort of brutalist creations–
when it came time to make his own
environment, made it something extremely intimate
and sensual and specifically wooden, by choice. The only furniture in
it are these two crates, which were based on wine
crates, but they aren’t– I mean their interpretations of that. And I think it’s an
interesting thing to compare with what I was
trying to say about the Eileen Gray house, because
like that, it’s clear that the diagram for
this room came first and the placement of the windows
and the sort of elevation aspect of the facade fell
into place after that. So it’s a building
conceived abstractly and diagrammatically,
a little like Eisenman, and then given its visual
identity afterwards. One day in 1965, Le Corbusier–
he was an obsessive swimmer– took his daily swim and
swam off into the bay and never came back. I think that travel is
very important for anybody interested in design,
both because you never know what you’re going
to find and because you have to get used to
remembering that it takes work to know what’s out there. You don’t really feel
things from looking at it on a computer. I went to Sweden
last March and April, and my daughter, who’s
nine at the time, is actually the person
who got this idea. I went to the Tree Hotel
with her, at her suggestion. And the Tree Hotel
is a sort of drop out– I mean not really off
the grid– but you know, it’s a zany place. And it’s in lower Lapland
and the proprietor has bought a 1930s
Swedish nursing home and then built six rooms
that have a theme– this is The Bird’s Nest. Oh, and there’s a
UFO and other things. And he is really a patron of
important modern architecture on a very miniature scale. And I want to write
about this guy. I don’t know how I’m
going to do that. But some of the most exciting
contemporary architecture that I have found is
at this hotel in Lulea, this is about an hour
away, where Facebook has a huge server plant. And I asked why that is. I thought maybe they wanted the
Swedish workforce– exactly– and I love that answer because
it seems so environmentally optimistic. They don’t need
to cool the rooms. It’s colder there
many months a year than it would be in
another part of the world. These are my children asleep
inside The Bird’s Nest, and when you’re in it– I
mean a picture is very hard to take in this–
the light source, hid behind a sort of
metal valence, is a very important reason
for why this building is so sensual and successful. If you just put a lamp in
it or recessed lights when you were up there, it
would not feel the way that concealed source
of light makes you feel, like you’re on a boat. And this is another
room at the Tree Hotel. This is called The
Glass, The Mirror Cube. And you can only
see it as anything but mirror at night when
the lights are on inside. I didn’t get to
stay in this one. I’ve seen this picture
all over this school, and I thought it was a
terrible thing to do to me. Because I thought I was
racking my brain, thinking I’ve got to bring all
these modern things to show the kids
that I understand what they’re interested in. And then out comes the most
sort of Edwardian, Orientalist, 19th century thing that
I think I’ve ever done. But here it is, so I
thought I’d just own it. This is an apartment I did a few
years ago in New York downtown for someone who was very
interested in Russian history and aesthetics, and
her husband is Iranian. So the tiles on
the fireplace there are faux-painted Persian tiles. And the color palette
with the strong reds and the embroidered
curtains is meant to evoke you know Chekov, which
is what she was looking for. And the reason that the red
is so important in conveying a Russian identity is that
there was a huge textile industry in Russia in
the 19th century and up until the revolution in Kiev. And it produced these red
quilts and embroidered cloths that we think of as
Russian peasant dress components and Soviet
flag red and so forth. But why was that color there? The answer is in the centuries
before, the trade route from Afghanistan had involved
the scraps of British soldiers’ red coats. And they made their way to Kiev
through Khyber Pass and all of that, and then
were incorporated into patchwork textiles. So that’s a little
rationalism behind that room, and how you conjure
atmosphere when you know things about history. This is a modern project of
mine, just finished this summer on Long Island. And you know it’s a rigid box. I worked with an architect who
does this and doesn’t really like to do anything to it
except keep it as white and as empty as possible. And we clashed frequently
over my attempts to introduce exotic things and
organic shapes into the box. So you can come to
your own conclusions about how successful that was,
but the client is very happy. And the way that I thought
we wanted to take that on was furniture by Wendell
Castle like that, as many round
shapes as possible. That’s the mini Wendell Castle. There are two sizes
of that table. Organic sculpture and the
sort of manipulation of scale by using these enormous
Nyhavn pendants that are supposed to be outside
in the kitchen, which the architect had
a heart attack, you know, and insisted
I made a mistake. And they needed to be
smaller and the canopy was 11 inches wide,
and blah, blah, blah. But I think it was
the right move. And that boat hanging
in there we actually had to make, because
a real rowing shell was like 17 feet long. And we had to make a 2/3
scale version of it that would actually fit in the house. Anyway, this is my
attempt to animate an orthodox modern white box
with beautiful wood finishes. But very much about the
plainness of modernism. This is the bedroom,
the master bedroom in that house which had the
same problem as the bedroom with the soffit and
the veneered alcove. And the room is too small. We gave all the floor plate
juice to the living room. So the first attempt
to resolve that was to make this dressing
room a sort of cube object, and that became a color,
and then it became veneered. And then I thought,
well, you know what– why don’t we grow that
wall up on the outside wall where we actually didn’t
think we needed it, and it’ll become the headboard. And so it will be as if
we started with that, and then the headboard
grew out and unfolded like a piece of veneer
origami, and is now three planes of the room. The other side of the room,
the view from that point is just a white wall. And you don’t remember
that this room is not as big as you wish it was. The view helps, but
also the introduction of some 18th century
furniture, which is totally unexpected in
this architecture also helps. Two devices that
I have found are something you can
use to lift things is to repeat outside
what you just did inside. So the outdoor shower
is in the same layout as the interior bathroom shower. And this sense of
doubling again, but in a different
external context, is just the successful
way to design things in a way that implies that
you’ve really added something that wasn’t there before. Sectional diversity
is another way. You can unfold a
house if you provide one slice, a view vertically,
in a house that’s very much about horizontal views. These are some glimpses
of the inside that show some of my favorite
objects to include in this kind of
white box modernism. There’s a Charlotte Perriand
en chaise, Tokyo chaise, the sculpture that you saw
from a distance before, and then this art
print that used to belong to Louise Nevelson. I’m always trying to put sensual
shapes in sharp-edged boxes. Another real pain in the ass to
try to make young or relevant is Tudor and Elizabethan
architecture. And this is a house
in Los Angeles, which was from the ’20s and in a
style that is unkindly referred to a stockbroker Tudor. And you know it’s really hard
to not end up with Rebecca. And I took it on as a challenge. That we’re just going to
have to figure this out. Because these people
could not be in there as Elizabethan characters. So the furniture plan is
surprising for the room. These two chaise
longues facing a sofa. The screen behind
them, which conceals a sort of modern alcove that has
furniture based on Dupre-Lafon, and a table from
Design within Reach that’s a copy of a
[inaudible] table. But here is another one of those
chairs from 1936 by Finn Juhl. It’s a pair. This is not an expensive
room to furnish. It looks like it would
be, but the main mission was to whiten it
and brighten it. And then distract you
with so many components from different eras
than the architecture that you didn’t really remember
that you were in a leaded glass Tower of London environment. And one thing that’s probably
not noticeable that I think means a lot is I took out
the linen fold paneling which you see here, which was
continuous across the fireplace and made that sort of painted
empty zone above the fireplace to hold the painting. This is another room
in that same house, and this room is tiny. I like to paint a ceiling
dark in a tiny room. And then I had the
problem of it getting very depressing in there
between the dark brown ceiling and the old master
painting that we liberated from a heavy Baroque frame. So this painted stripe
was the solution to that, which is sort
of a Mexican jail detail, but in a very elegant
room from the top down, I think it’s successful. But people forget about
the potential for ceilings. It’s actually the
biggest wall in the room. Some designer once said
that and I never forgot it. This is a house in Long Island,
which was an interesting design challenge because it was
a hexagon from 1980s. It was a collection
of hexagons on stilts. It’s a post-renovation,
the facade was completely reinvented
with new casement windows and so forth. But what I really want to
talk about is the plan. And this shows the CAD plan of
the house as it is finished. And this shows me working
out the furniture plan to try to animate
these extremely sort of bizarre
geometries of these rooms and find a way to reinvent them. The pie-wedged shapes of
these three smaller bedrooms were actually the way
the living room was, too. There was a kitchen,
like a pie-wedge. This system of dividing
up the hexagons, it happened again and again. So I cleared that out and
made it empty and tried to create an access with
the stuff arranged according to the fireplace, but
lengthwise that way. There is a TV room and study. There is a living room. There is a very strangely shaped
sofa that goes in this TV room. And then there’s
a top floor, which is like a lighthouse,
which doesn’t have any divisions at all
because we took them all out. And that’s the master bedroom. This is the living room. And if you can imagine that
that column was concealed in the sheet rock of
the kitchen pie wedge, and we never knew about it. And then it was, of
course, rusty and a mess when we exposed it. So I painted it
blue and wrapped it in rope, sort of remembering the
Villa Mairea in a Long Island vocabulary. This is the upstairs
sitting room. And I thought,
you know, if we’re going to be decadent and
take out all the walls and it’s really like
a sort of spa room, why don’t we move
the bathtub out of the bathroom, where it
was originally in the plan, past this partition, and
put it in the bedroom. Make it really participate
in the bedroom. And you can be in
the bathroom looking at the ocean from there. One of the ways that you want
to cue people how to use a place is color. And when you encounter confusing
cul de sacs or a multiplicity of doors, and you don’t
know how to tell people where they should
go, that’s actually a great way of saying
this is one child’s room. This is a guest room. This is another child’s room. Here’s that sofa in
the TV room office. I really do– it seems
quite inevitable to me now. But I don’t know what
else we would have done in here to furnish this room. The architecture was so
bizarre that it actually took a decorator to fix it. This is a wonderful
object, which is one of the prototypes of the
original Jacobsen Ant Chair, bought at auction in Sweden. And it has all of the sort
of patina and crustiness of handmade nature of
modernism that I’ve always loved and pursued in my design. Back to California
for a moment– this is the Neutra house
when I found it, OK? It had been restored quite well
by a contractor and a Neutra fetishist. And it was completely white
and sort of mostly empty and looked not like
any family was ever going to be living in it. But proudly taking
pictures of it, that was what went on in there. So the house is built
around a tree, which is a wonderful beginning for it. And the color of the
white lineolum floor was the first place I thought I
could attack this issue of what am I going to add to it. So I changed the floor to
this rich, darker blue, which was a great contrast
with the caramel of the wood and that Corbusier sofa
in caramel leather. This is another
way of showing you how I like to work
with context and work with the strengths of an
architectural situation, but I also don’t like
to accept just anything. This firebox opening
the dimensions of it in this Victorian
apartment in New York was extremely uptight
and measly, I thought. So I designed a mantle that
ignored the dimensions of that and is giving the
optical impression that the fireplace is something
much bigger than it is. And this is a brushed
stainless steel insert so that we don’t feel like
we’re completely period Louis the XVI. And it keeps it a little young. Another architectural fiction
from a project of mine was the beam system in
this penthouse ceiling, living room ceiling. The idea of a penthouse is that
it’s a house in the sky, right? So the country farmhouse
aspect of it was delivered. It was the terraces,
and you can see green in the city, which is
an incredible luxury. But the architecture didn’t
follow through on any of that. So I introduced these
beams that are lined oak, and they’re also a great way
to make the ceiling lights be less obvious. This is a headboard. It’s an upholstered wall
in a tiny, tiny, tiny room. But instead of making
a bed with a headboard, I made the whole wall the
headboard and the softness of that doubles as
sort of proscenium into the fantasy of this
Swedish Josef Frank fabric. This is a very interesting
room to me, but very subtle. And I hope you get
it and like it, because it cost a lot of money. This is a house in Nashville
for great clients of mine. And we were trying to restore
an important Georgian house by Charles Platt from 1910. And it was just getting a
little old ladyish sometimes, a little correct. The architect was
obsessed with Platt. He’s someone I work with a lot. And American classicism
is a wonderful thing, but these were
young clients and I wanted to do something a
little bizarre amidst all of the correct stuff. And so this paneled room
that the architect designed, I suggested we do
hand gouged oak in all of the flat surfaces of
it instead of just flat veneer. And I got that idea from
Jean-Michel Frank’s Llao Llao Hotel in Patagonia. If you look at these
closely enough, you can see that
the hand gouged oak is in all of the
architectural– he gets that device from African
furniture, certain furniture in Mali that he used first
to make a cabinet out of, and then there was this
full architectural envelope. But that room, when
we were making it– and there was only one
person who I could ever find who could make
it in New York, a French craftsman–
the flat panel started to split when we
only carved one side of it. And the wood would crack. And so the guy who did it
had to carve both sides, even the invisible
backside to keep it from splitting– so it’s twice
the work that it looks like. Here are two of those chairs
in another project of mine from the hotel that originally
were covered in antelope skin. But I love Frank and I was
fortunate to get these funded. And this is a big living room
in a house on Long Island that I did recently
that was published in Architectural Digest. I did a lot to this room. I’m not sure that I’m
able to explain it just from this image,
but I will tell you that the fireplace is set into
a Venetian plaster chimney press wall. I wanted there to be
a large, strange sort of totemic object, a
mysterious intervention in all of this Hamptons’ wood. And the wall wraps the corner
and goes into the dining room. So there’s no conventional
door with a casing there. You know you’re moving around
this like a big Richard Serra sculpture. It’s much darker than it appears
in this picture all the time. So that’s my
attempt to introduce something modern and
strange to this beach house. I have a few copies, if
anybody wants to see it, of my new book, which I’ve
just come out October 25th on a French designer called
Francois Catroux, much more talented than me, didn’t
need any school at all. He was invited tonight,
didn’t come up. But Catroux is now going to
turn 80 years old in December. And one of the things
that fascinated me, knowing what I
did about his work from following it in
magazines, was its range. This is his first project from
1968, which is a amphitheater fashion show room. I mean the seats are
to watch a fashion show for Mila Schon in Milan. And he had never
trained or worked for any designer or architect. And through a society
introduction, the woman I guess took a shine to him, and
said, would you do this palazzo that I want to be modern. And he’d locked himself in a
hotel room for three months and did this project. His own apartment, which
came out soon after that and was much photographed
in 1971 in Paris had– this is the
Mila Schon reception part of the showroom
on the left, and this is Catroux’s
own apartment in Paris from the early ’70s. It has these undulating
banquettes on the walls, and plants are the
main furniture, and I didn’t really know
how to describe this. I mean it’s very
groovy and cool. And we know that it exemplifies
that Stanley Kubrick 2001 era. But he came, when we were doing
the captions, and said to me, I remember why I did this. It was the late ’60s,
’68, ’70 in Paris. And everybody was
against everything. This was the time of
the student riots. And without realizing it. I was against everything, too. Against furniture, against
objects, against bourgeoisie. So you know instead of a
coffee table, we have a cube. Instead of a sofa, a cushion,
and no commodes, only volumes and art. And so that explained and
decoded this room for me. Catroux is much more
innovative than he’s been given credit for. And this is the stainless
steel fireplace mantle that is the first time
that that kind of modernism was combined with
an 18th century object on the cover of
this book from 1974. His mid-career work is–
here’s the range, right? Remember I said there was range? This is probably 1983. It’s his own dining
room in Paris. And it’s a very rigorously
historical evocation of the Percier and
Fontaine drapery at Malmaison for the
walls, lots of mahogany French 18th-century furniture. And yet he’s got a
toe in his times, because this carpet is
completely Memphis post-modern. It’s a wall to
wall carpet that’s illusionistic
octagons of marble. This is a later, I think
2000 or 2003 room in Paris by him where he’s
still using antiques, but somehow we end up with a
modern room, a younger room than let’s say in an
antiques-filled room. And when you look
at it, you realize it’s because of the palette. You know he’s taken out the
rich colors that we associate with the 18th century and
these shapes and Boulle, like the desk in Louis XV. And no dark greens and ruby red. It’s all bone and beige,
working its way up to white. But the real thing that
explains the point of view about this room
is when, you know, he said, they were
great collectors and they had a great
collection of carpets as well as everything else. But we didn’t use any of them. I said I wanted
to use straw rugs, because the room
would just become too heavy and opulent if we had
that furniture and Renaissance objects, and then
also fancy carpets. So the rugs are all straw. This is Catroux’s own apartment. When I went see him
in Paris, I thought I was going to see something
like the dining room, you know, full of mahogany. And this is the way
he’s living now. He’s gone back to
being young again. He’s gone back to the ’60s. And so the modernism
of this Ron Arad desk and the sort of diagonality
of the furniture plan is what he’s interested
in pursuing now. This is another
view of that room. I’m going to close
with a couple of images of a very recent project
of his in California, which is a house that is inspired
by Frank Lloyd Wright, which is sort of obvious, I
think, from these pictures. But I actually
find it interesting that the only comp is, in
my mind, the house of James Mason in North by
Northwest, which is a creation by
Hitchcock, you know, of matte painting and the set. The furniture inside the Frank
Lloyd Wright-based gesture of field stone
walls is European. This chair by Royere is covered
with chamois goat chin hair. And this is a Vladimir Kagan
sofa and Royere polar bear sofa. But in a nod to America,
because this is Los Angeles, we have two Nakashima chairs
and with the innocence of American wood,
made in Pennsylvania. The undulating carpets
and the amoeba-shaped sort of furniture groups
is something that I think he uses to relieve
the strong orthagonal lines of the architecture. And I asked him about the tree. You know, was it
your idea to make the tree such a prominent
feature in the living room? And he said yes. There was a window
around the tree, but it was touching the house. And the window was all
divided panes of small lights. And he wanted to make
it really invited in to participate in the room. And I thought where have
I heard that before? You know, it’s my own
house with the Neutra tree that was the first gesture of
the composition of that house was building the pergola
around the existing tree. And so without knowing that
that was a really California gesture in the
Neutra canon, Catroux came and thought
up the same thing himself and sort of put
this tree in a terrarium, but you feel like you’re
in the room with it. I didn’t want to end with
somebody else’s work. So here’s me. We’re going to die
with our boots on. That’s the nature of the
job, architects, too. And I’m presenting in London
last week to a client. It shows the mess that I have to
carry with me for these things. It shows the diversity
of furniture and samples and elevations that I rent
are on top of CAD drawings to show shadows in atmospheres
and carpet samples back there. But what I think it really shows
and why I brought it to end on is that you have to take them
where you want to take them. You have to always be
trying to tell them a story. And I’m on my feet, not
putting a piece of fabric in someone’s hands,
but trying to tell them the story of this house. And I hope I haven’t
bored you with my story, but that’s what I got. So thank you so much. I was told to put aside a
time to entertain questions, but Michael Phillips is
fleeing without a question. If anybody has a question,
I’m happy to talk. Shoot. The gentleman, front row. Yes. Kerry Ellen. I’m a Fellow from
the Hutchins Center. Wow. So a couple of things. And you kind of ended right
where I wanted to start. That is, I think if you’re not
familiar with interior design or interior designers,
your vision of them might be the ones you see in
the movies of, you know, the– Frank? Yeah, yeah, exactly. Walking around with his arms
crossed and pointing out how horrible everything is. They’re out there. I guess. And I was really curious
if you could just talk about how you
source the things that you’re going to use,
whether it be chaises or lamps. Are you walking around
with images in your head or in your laptop
or on your tablet? How do you actually
do the work of saying this is going to go there? Is it from your knowledge
of these materials? How do you become aware of
things that are coming out? What’s your catalog when
you’re working with a space? And then the second
question is if you could talk as to why you think
it is that interior design or design, as these
subjects are exploding, is not taught here at Harvard? That is an explosive
second question. The answer to your
first question is I find that if you
know your business, you know exactly what you
want to do for a house and for a client. Even more so than you
may be wanting to let on. Because it doesn’t look like
you’ve listened sometimes if you just immediately,
if you knew that fast, and you didn’t look at my
portfolio clippings of images. Then you didn’t ask me what my
favorite color was or whatever. But the main part of this job
that’s important is confidence. You have to have the competence
to get into character and invent the story history
for something that– you have to invent this
stuff for people. So whether they may be
completely aware of that or not, you know immediately–
if you know your business– what you want to do. And you have a vocabulary
of sofas and shapes and rooms in your head
that this refers to, that I’ve been
auto-piloting, collecting in my head for years. How do you know what’s new is
something that the internet has helped with immeasurably. And the way the
internet has not helped with doing interior design
is that now everybody knows the price of everything
or they think that they can do better than you. And they think they’re
going to tell you what they want before you tell
them, which is a big no no to lose control like that. But the advantage
of the internet is that you really can look up
what’s happening at the Milan furniture fair. You can find out that certain
things like those wine crates in Corbu’s Cabanon
have been reissued by Cassina for $600, whatever, you know. But that’s harder. Keeping hip to what’s new and
coming out there is harder. Well, that’s what I meant
by travel is so important. I don’t think I
ever learned as much as when I get out
of the building and pound the pavement. You walk around and go shopping. And then you go to Europe and
you see what’s happening there. You’re never going to learn that
in your office on the internet. Why is interior design not
taught at the GSD at Harvard? I think that architecture
has traditionally looked down on this discipline as
something insufficiently rigorous and intellectual. My experience at
Harvard when I was here 20 years ago was
that nobody talked about furniture plans, the
role of furniture plans in how a building
would be used, nobody talked about lightings’
role in atmosphere. There was a sort of fetishism
about the iconic potential of shapes of buildings. You know that because
Frank Gehry, and Toyo Ito and these guys had done
these tremendous civic projects that– I mean, you know
there is that career waiting for somebody. But I knew that my
voice and design was going to be houses,
residential, architecture and decoration and
that atmosphere is key to know to do
that successfully. But I hoped, you know,
that things would change and it seems like
they sort of have. I mean if I’m invited here,
that’s a great sign, right? Thank you for asking that. Yes? I wonder [inaudible]
the house in Long Island I think it was that really you
struggled with the architect about the interiors. And I’m wondering
what he was thinking was going to happen
in that space, was anybody going to
live in that space? Excellent question. Well, you know what? That was a manifesto building. I wasn’t working
with that architect. That house was from 1980. It was somebody I think who
was very interested in the feng shui of the site, the
incredible, hypnotic, magical sight on the ocean. And so he set up that
view and then became obsessed with these hexagons,
sort of like the Philip Johnson Museum with the grid of
circles or something. It was just that was that
the message was these shapes. I didn’t find it to be tenable
as a living environment that anybody would tolerate. And what I was proud of was that
we didn’t tear down the house. We decided to take
that challenge and see if we could come out
successfully by scooping out the contents of it. Professor Hildebrand? You have a question. Thank you for the
beautiful talk. I loved the answer, your
answer to the first question. And it struck me that the
answer revealed something about narrative in the work,
that you build stories. And whether those are
fictions or whether they’re sort of fully
excavated realities from the origins of a project
or an owner’s intentions, that that’s beautiful. And I would love it
if you would link that to being a writer, which
is also being a narrator. And I’m particularly struck
by the– Bruce Springsteen says that if you write only
about your own experience, you won’t last very long. And that always stuck with
me, knowing his song catalog. And I think it’s
true for someone who’s a contributing
editor or someone who’s called on to write regularly. You have to find stories. And what I think
you’ve done is you’ve woven your respect for those who
come before you in architecture and decoration into the
root of the work itself. Your projects are
real interventions. They push against the orthodoxy
or the mania of the architect who didn’t want a decorator. And so what you
do is somehow you combine your respect
for the origins and your own predilection
toward building a story and making something
whole out of the both. Thank you. Yeah, you know, I
sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t try to
have a signature style. Because that would be a
scalable, marketable, easier thing instead of
starting all over again, you know, inventing the
stuff for every project. But I think if that was going to
happen it would be here with me already. And I can’t do it that way. So what I like to do is to try
to add to the history of what has taken place already. With the Neutra house,
with the beach house. And it means you
respect what you arrive and appraise as the reality. But what are you
going to contribute that adds to that history
and you can’t succumb to the deification of something
that is important architecture. It may not be the way
somebody wants to live in it. And the person who hates
the inside of my house most is Richard Neutra’s son,
Deon, who lives nearby. You know and all the
Vogue covers in the world don’t matter to him. I mean he just wants
it to be the way, he has one idea of
how that could be. And an interesting snaps– [inaudible] Yeah, yeah, my house
that his father was– [inaudible] his vision is the
one that his dad [inaudible] Correct, in the early black and
white photo with the children. But there’s a documentary
called Concert of Wills, about the building of the Getty
Museum and Richard Meier’s epic project. But his interaction
with Thierry Despont, who is designing the 18th
century French Decorative Arts galleries, which is a major
component of the Getty holdings. You know, the Getty did
not want white boxes holding the 18th
century furniture. They wanted to have the
complete environments. And Meier, great
as he is, does not believe that there are any
other colors in the canon, you know the
vocabulary to be drawn on for this project than
black and white, well, basically than white. And he and Thierry
really get into it, and there’s even more
brutal scenes between him and the landscape
designer, Bob Irwin. But that stuff,
you know, it tends to be a tussle in the
middle, but I really can’t think of a time
when it hasn’t ended well. And the architect, even if
challenged and frustrated by my outre
suggestions, in the end, you know, sees that it’s turned
out well and tends to agree. I’m still working on
Dion, but he’s 90. It’s harder to change
people’s minds at that age. Yes? [inaudible] Tim? Having just been through
the Philip Johnson house, if you had some thoughts
about what you might do there? If you are even at that
point, maybe you’re still like taking it all in. But– You know what? That’s something that
I think is impossible. I’m not going to
abdicate answering, but I think that
that’s no one’s house. So right there you
can’t, you can’t say, it was for this
person and that’s why they love you know
[inaudible] and this is their story that we want to
layer up on top of the Phillip Johnson story. That thing has to
stop in time and be a platform for its identity. And it really is a much
more important house than a lot of people realize,
because it’s the ancestor of The Glass House. But I think the great
solution for that would be to have rotating
exhibitions and sort of curated installations
of furniture there by great
designers who appreciate what it is and can be
trusted to lift it, you know, the integrity of
the whole place. And maybe a great auction
house like Phillips, that really supports
modern design and they can exhibit furniture
there and photograph it as the backdrop for a catalog. The Johnson house should
be an unfinished thought is my short answer to that. It’s been beautifully
restored, and you don’t really want to complete something
that nobody can ever own. Because the story
of that is it’s going to be growing as a
legacy of architecture, not of completely decorated rooms. I look forward to
watching that happen. Right? I guess that’s it, Scott. I mentioned you. Did you like your shout out? It’s really exciting
to be back here. I just wanted to say that I
don’t think that anybody, what? Oh, now you want to talk. I want to say to the few
students that are still in here, but many alum,
that nobody but the people in this room realizes how
hard it is, what you’re doing. I had a friend who had
done basic training in the Israeli military
and then come to the GSD. And he said that the GSD
was harder than that. That the sleep deprivation
and the incredible work hours that you put into
getting this degree have my complete
respect, whether I’m a decorator or failed attempt
to graduate from here. And I sort of– it was important
to me to come and say that. Thank you for having me.

13 thoughts on “David Netto: “Designing Interiors (The Part They Forgot to Tell You About)”

  1. Harvard GSD needs a new A/V guy badly. Just listen to that mic, it's unbearable. A school like that should have a perfectionist running the A/V at these events. I mean how much are they paying the speaker to be there and then they sound like hell.

  2. Cambridge, MA can get cold and it can take time for interior spaces to catch up. Personally, I wear a down vest under everything, from mid October forward.

  3. David is not trying too hard to be fashionable. OK? Just get that out of your mind and focus on the content.

  4. Do yourself a favor and begin watching at 5:48. The guy's introduction is an excruciating example of "More is a snore". Longest 5 hours, er – minutes in memory.Sheesh!

  5. Wow – turning down the lights on this talk was a huge disservice to us watching on You Tube. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.

  6. Factual error after 35:00 in the description of why red is important in representing Russian identity, very disappointing in this level of a speaker. It is true that red is a very important color for Russian identity. It is not, however, because of the factory in Kiev, dating 19th century, and not because of the British uniforms. The tradition of using red in Russian folk costume, utensils, interior fabrics and as decorative elements of exterior of wooden buildings is way older than 19th century, many centuries older. There are many examples from both southern and northern Russia to prove that. This tradition is so old in fact, that it is reflected in the language itself. In Russian "beautiful" – красивый is derived from the word "red" – красный. Makes me think what other types of factual information is carelessly misrepresented by the speaker in a similar manner.

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