Monday, March 19, 2012

My Tea with David Netto

(Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

"Stop by the house this weekend," I told him. "I'll whip up some cardamom scones, I'll ask you a few questions, it'll be fun."

I can talk to him like this because for the last two months, David Netto (acclaimed interior and furniture designer, contributing design editor of the Wall Street Journal and all-around 21st century bon vivant) and I have been working on a design project together.

Yes. You heard that correctly.

(Okay, actually it was art-directing a tribute book for our childrens' annual school fundraiser, but can you believe I got to work with David Netto?!)

Guess what? He's just as smart and stylish and crazy talented as you think he is. So when our project wrapped last week, I thought I'd invite him over for a Q and A so you all could get to know him too.

(NEWS FLASH: If you would like to hear David in person (along with one of my other favorite bloggers, Gaye Tapp of Little Augury), come to the Westweek 2012 panel discussion this Thursday, March 22nd at 10am called "Take Five: Four Designers Talk about Influence, Fantasy and How to Stay Inspired." It's open to the public, so click on the link and I'll see you there.)

Back to the tea. Here's how it all went down.
(Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Okay, Netto, level with me. Every time I see you at school dropoff, you are a vision of sartorial elegance. What's your secret?

I think you have to be disciplined about dressing well if you're out of your twenties. For instance, I just recently started wearing pocket squares. I wanted to have something that was sartorial and cosmopolitan but I didn't want to wear a collared shirt and tie every day because I live in LA and that would be ridiculous. People like Gay Talese can do that because they have New York behind them.
(Gay Talese via here)

Well, you're modern with a classic edge. Or classic with a modern edge. Whatever. It works.

I'm big on respect for yourself. Putting a tie on most days at home to write does make me take life more seriously. I don't view that as an inconvenience. I'm inspired by the abstract painter Robert Ryman who gets up every day, puts on a suit, rides the subway to his studio and gets to work painting white squares.
(Robert Ryman via here)

You know who else inspires me? Shaquille O'Neal. Did you know he has a doctorate in business economics? And George Foreman. He said you have to learn to respect every dollar before you can learn to own your own success.

Okay, you know I'm itching to ask you some design questions. I wrote a couple down so here goes. What are the elements of a successful room?

A successful room has to have an honest relationship with the person who lives in it. This has nothing to do with aesthetics, it has to do with the vibe. For instance, the simple pressed linens on the bed of a humble surf camp in Tulum, Mexico have just as much authenticity and charm as the ones in Valentino's chateau. Valentino's may be ironed twice (once in the pressing room and then again on the bed) but that's true to him. You have to admire that, the hairspray and the six pugs. They're all legitimate extensions of who he is.

A successful room has a story behind it. One of my first jobs was working for Bunny Williams on Ted Forstmann's apartment. I had to style a bookcase before he came home from work to make it look like his family had lived there for thirty years. I ran out and bought things like Grand Tour souvenirs and marble tazzes and arranged them into convincing little vignettes along with various books and things I found in his closets. He was so happy with it that he ate his dinner in the living room that night. "At last," he said, "I feel like I have a real home."

What advice do you have for people just starting out on their style journey?

Watch Stanley Donen movies.

Do you have any design heroes?

Georges Geffroy. Go check out the house he designed for Christian Dior. Interior design was never braver and more interesting than in 1930's-1960's France.
(Photo via here)

What types of rooms are you liking these days?

I am very into the idea of a black-upholstered room with lots of Louis XV furniture, like the one Architectural Digest featured a few months ago of designer James Galanos' house in Beverly Hills.

(Above photos via here)

How would you say your style has changed since you've had children?

One of the reasons I got out of decorating was that to do it the right way it would have been hard to be a normal person and live that life. So I decided to dismantle that identity and take another course which was to become a father. I moved out to Los Angeles so that I would be able to pick my daughter up from school four times a week and help her with her homework.

I don't live on a large scale. My family lives in a four-room house in Silverlake designed by Richard Neutra that's all about happy-making modernism. It's taught me about the importance of designed space versus volumes of space. And it's the ultimate reason that anyone should move to Los Angeles because Neutra houses are all about the fantasy of living outdoors.
(Photo via here)

Describe your typical morning.

[My wife] Liz and I don't make an elaborate breakfast but we do make tea and coffee in Christofle thermoses. On a silver tray with a linen insert. Every day. And some mornings we add a flower in a shot glass. From the moment we wake up, there's a commitment to a certain standard.
(Photo by François Halard)

And when I make scrambled eggs for my daughters, I cook them in these little copper vessels with lids on them. And handles. And I serve them just like that on a plate. Because it's fun and they love it.

What are your necessities?

I like the signifiers of an orderly life, none of which my wife Liz is the least bit interested in. It's important for me to have lightbulbs in the house. And postage stamps. And pens and pads of paper. One of the nicest things she did for me recently was to go out and buy a whole mess of the exact same kind of pen -- Papermate Flair felt tip -- and put them in a big cup for me.

When I was twenty, I had this awesome Sarah Lawrence slob roommate.We lived in a tenement in the East Village in the same apartment where Larry Clark filmed "Kids." I was in architecture school in Cambridge so I was only there about a week a month and I said to her, "Look, I'll pay for 2/3 of the rent and I'll hire a maid twice a week. In return, I would like to you to do one thing for me. Get my mail and stack it on this silver tray so it's all oriented the same way. That's it."

And? Did she?

She did. And that detail was the difference between squalor and chic.

Your name has been all over the press lately (here, here and here) due to a certain shady bankruptcy filing by your former employer MacLaren. Anything you want to say regarding that?

Life is full of surprises. Make lemonade. We have every expectation that the bankruptcy will be invalidated. It's a lot more exciting this way than if I had to design three more cribs and just wait until the clock ran out.

Quick, three words that define your approach to style.

Disdain, mixed with affection.

What's style to you?

Well, if you're going to make me define it in a sentence, it's not going to be "Every room needs to have a little light blue in it." It's going to be an attitude. Do you know the Strauss opera "Der Rosenkavalier"?

(embarrassed) Umm. No.

Hugo von Hoffmannsthal was the librettist. I love the way he describes the field marshall's wife, the Marschallin: "Mischief in one eye, and compassion in the other."

Final thought?

If you're a slob, don't do any of this stuff. Because maintenance is something you have to like doing -- otherwise, don't start. As Diana Vreeland said, "Millions of people have no style at all. They are happy."
(Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

Thank you so much, David! See you on the playground. :)


pve design said...

I'd like to have tea with David Netto too or Piero for that matter.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

PVE: Well, then get yourself to LA, missy. :)

Anonymous said...

Never have I craved tea as much as today. Tea time is a time zone of it's own at your home and would love to some day be part of it. Your blog is the place where I come to be inspired. The place where I feel invigorated to continue with my plans and most definitely the place I come to learn.

This post talked about someone I didn't know, referencing people I'd never heard of and of places I've never been. Having "googled" every other word (like I did using my dictionary when reading Robinson Crusoe in 4th grade) I come out victorious not only understanding the message but embracing my new knowledge. Thank you Lisa!

Karena said...

Lisa oh my what an interesting interview plus an amazing designer! Bravo!

Now I want a Christophe Carafe.

Do come and join my new Fashion Giveaway from Fresh Produce!

Art by Karena

Jessica Thor-Miller said...

I adore David’s approach to breakfast (or life, really) and I’ve been trying (trying!!!) to make otherwise mundane tasks or events something special. I’m just plain tired of dashing out the door with breakfast in one hand and coffee in another. There has to be a better way! The goal is to mine my life for these moments and improve them – small tweaks can change your entire perspective.

I’m simply crushed that Westweek is just out of my grasp this year.


Notes From ABroad said...

I love his attitude.
I wish there were more than maybe 4 other people in the world,counting him, with that attitude.
Loved this ! besitos, C

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Such a fascinating, stylish fellow! I love his honesty and common sense, particularly to the slobs at the end. Because we all have to be realistic and realize that not EVERYONE is as 'designey' as us!

In Clover Vintage said...

Thank you for the inspiring post! Order and elegance without worry. Making happy family memories is where it's at.

shiree segerstrom said...

Wow. Fabulous post Lisa. I'd seen David's name here and there over the years but it's so interesting to delve beneath the surface. Too fun. Thanks again for adding me to your blogroll! I'll be back. Shiree'

Unknown said...

haven't all of us had to make some distinction between squalor and chic?
i can totally understand DN's desire to have his mail in a strict orientation on a silver tray.

for me too, the distinction was once drawn by silver (silver flatware) -- in the next-to-last of a long string of small San Francisco sublets. and so my youth passed away.

thanks for this interview, Lisa.
- Elliot

Suzanne said...

Hi have to admit that sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words, but thanks for a great interview with talented and gorgeous David Netto, what an attractive discovery he is...

Susan in TX said...

Well now I know why I'm a slob...I don't like maintenance! :) Thank you for this, Lisa. It was very interesting. In reference to the opera - I've never heard it other than snippets on YouTube, but it is an integral part of a storyline in one of Eva Ibbotson's books, A Song for Summer. It was originally intended for adults, but it's usually in the YA section of bookstores/libraries now - but don't let that fool you - an excellent "comfort read."

Jeanne Henriques said...

Fantastic Lisa, I loved this post. I am embarrassed to say that this is the first I have heard of David Netto. I have been away from the USA too long and feel way out of touch. You brought it all home for me. I like his way of thinking, I feel their is a Virgo mind at work there. :) I have much to think about and explore here including the Fortnum and Mason jam? in your photo. :) I would be all smiles on that playground each morning..what a handsome fellow...all style, I like that!
Great pics and post as usual...
Jeanne :)xx

Jane said...

Scrambled eggs in copper containers for his children? This man has class.

Loved reading this Lisa.


Bumble at home said...

Small pleasures,always the best.plain and simple ,David Netto is civilized.I loved this post Lisa you always give us just the sort of thing we want to read,thank you.

Emily said...

Wow, I will be googling all morning looking up the many names he mentioned in this interview. Thank you for introducing me to David. He is one classy gentleman!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

To all the commenters: So glad you like this post! David is definitely one of a kind: erudite, optimistic and 100% down-to-earth. I learned a lot from this interview too (just downloaded "Der Rosenkavalier" on iTunes) and am definitely going to check out those Papermate pens the next time I'm at Staples. :)

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Lisa-Class is just THE best! And, your humility while interviewing Mr. Netto is dear. I learned {once again} so much from this post.

Kathryn said...

Charming interview. I loved the Diana Vreeland quote at the end. It's a good reminder that people value different things. I'm in the "Values Style" camp but I like to think I play well with others.

Thanks for introducing me to David Netto.


Anonymous said...

Had never heard of him, but a really great interview, and such a wonderful attitude towards life - so civilized. Thanks!

Maryl said...

Incredibly impressive man. But didn't he seem a bit too good to be true to anyone else? Lisa, you should interview his wife, Liz, to get the real story. There's got to be some imperfection there!! Thanks for the great post.

Hobnail and Brass said...

what a wonderful interview, and an inspirational attitude. also, cardamom scones sound divine... recipe please? xo.

Lazarox said...

What a privilege it is to work with David Netto ... that envy .. but envious ..
regards from juegos de vestir

Reggie Darling said...

What a fun and well-done (and well-illustrated) interview. Not only is he smart and opinionated, but his movie-star good looks are a bonus!

quintessence said...

Just saw this. Great interview with a very smart, stylish, insightful guy!!

Helen James said...

oh i am all a flutter what a fabulous man and interview , thank you Lisa, It reminded me when my first son was born and we were living in an awful appt in Brooklyn that I hated, my husband was working nights and every evening when he left I had the ritual of setting a tea tray with a fine bone china cup and saucer, silver spoon and a cookie, it made it all seem romantic and bearable ....... must remember to do that again for myself soon


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