David Netto By Design
The acclaimed American interior designer describes why David Bowie and Bryan Ferry are among those who've informed his practice
A gifted writer and talented designer, David Netto enjoys articulating his design philosophy both in theory and in practice. Since withdrawing from Harvard’s graduate program in architecture and opening his own studio in 2000, Netto has focused on residential projects, outfitting homes in his particular brand of Modernism, a style to which he seeks to restore the liberating eclecticism of its early pre-war period.
Netto’s extensive knowledge of art and design history, and his openness to the serendipities of daily life, join to create textured, full, unfussy spaces that feel at once familiar and exciting. A firm advocate of prioritizing the personal, Netto believes interiors should accommodate the people who live in them, not the other way around. In 2017, for example, Netto furnished a house in Amagansett, New York, with simple white rugs, blond wooden chairs and benches, and white shelving—all contrasting beautifully with the deep electric blues of the flower-patterned wallpaper.
A Connecticut residence he designed in 2018 has a classic Greek meander pattern running along the top of the great room’s walls, and cozy wicker bubble chairs resting beside a restored, partly exposed, brick fireplace. For a residential project completed in 2019 in London, Netto uses two large mirrors to amplify the light in the room—and provide a tantalizing peek into the client’s library.
At home—he lives with his family in a Richard Neutra-designed glass house in Los Angeles—Netto stays loyal to his design principles. Works by Cy Twombly and Al Held hang alongside drawings by his children; there’s a Jean Arp sculpture inside and a trampoline out back. This peaceful coexistence of art and the quotidian is a crucible for Netto’s acclaimed designs. Finding inspiration in influences as wide ranging as Wes Anderson, François Truffaut, and Bong Joon-ho movies, as well as ocean liners and old photographs, Netto is always working.
Netto is also among the one hundred contemporary designers and studios featured in By Design: The World's Best Contemporary Interior Designers, Phaidon’s new, detailed, in depth and beautiful survey. To celebrate the book’s publication, we sat down with David to ask him a few questions about how he creates such contemporary yet timeless rooms.
Who or what were the inspirations for you when you began your career? My biggest inspirations have not really been decorators, but designers and musicians Paul Smith, Bryan Ferry, and David Bowie. Also, restaurateurs who create incredible atmospheres like Serge Becker and Keith McNally. If there was something at the beginning that really inspired me, in was the Aero flagship store on Spring Street—a multidisciplinary playground of good taste. When I began my career in the mid-90s I thought I wanted to be an architect because I was leery of what decorating as a profession really WAS—certain stereotypes of behavior, etc. That Aero shop showed me that decorating could be cool, set the style and change the culture like great cinema. It was a real lightbulb moment.
How would you describe what you do? What do you think makes your sensibility unmistakeable? I find the opportunities hidden in architecture and when I don’t find them, I invent them. I turn a house into a portrait of someone they might not be yet. Whenever I can, I turn clients into collectors. I tell people they need more books. I cut the cellophane off of lampshades, and that’s what I hate the most. I come to work every day and take a position against vulgarity—to paraphrase mademoiselle Chanel, it’s what keeps me in the game. My work, if it is unmistakeable, is that way because it’s some of the most optimistic and unstudied interior design right now. It has formality, and a certain consistent respect for good furniture, but it’s always quite relaxed.
What, for you, constitutes ‘a good space’ from which you can build upon? A fireplace, a high ceiling, great natural light, an architectural point of view with integrity.
How important is it that a space you create affects the client you design for? Well, if it doesn’t affect them, that would truly be a tragedy! Think of what trust people place in you for years, the money they spend, the time they take to communicate with you. These are all privileges—these people could hire anybody—and the result should be emotionally overwhelming and life-changing. I’m secretly disappointed if they don’t walk in and burst into tears (which does happen a lot).
What you do is akin to art but it also has to answer to the client’s demands – how do you assimilate both of these things? I have’t really developed a method, it’s always a struggle, but my method is to make something seem like their idea. I’m patient, I don’t mind coming back another day, but if I suggest something three times after that I know it’s not going to happen. My big no-no is when someone tries to outdecorate me—tracing me on Pinterest or showing me furniture before I’ve even presented anything. I have outgrown that and those jobs I do not take.
How does experience affect your approach – what ‘extra’ does it give you? The best tool I have to do a good job is my knowledge of history. The two years I spent getting an MA in Art History from Columbia were the most important time of my life in terms of what it has paid out.
You can find out more about David’s professional life and work at his site, here. To learn more about By Design, a richly illustrated, authoritative global survey of the best and most creative interior designers and decorators working today, and buy your copy, go here.