Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Just in case you missed my interview with David Phoenix on Decorati:

I met David Phoenix in 2002 when he was already at the top of his game in the Los Angeles high-end design market…

Back then, I went to LA to see him because many of my designer clients told me “He’d be a great client for C. Mariani Antiques and Custom Work-he’s getting all the big jobs these days.” I found David to be charming, elegant, chic and absolutely not interested in anything I was selling. But I was still happy to meet him and continue to adore his work. Over the years, we’ve bumped into each other and he was always dressed to kill, and I was usually rummaging through dusty antiques and looked like “Pig-Pen” from Charlie Brown. But he was always gracious, kind, and the perfect gentleman.

Then a couple of years ago, I noticed that David wasn’t around as much and some designer clients of mine asked me “What’s David up to these days? We haven’t seen him in the showrooms like we used to.” I said “dunno” since I hadn’t been seeing him at all the usual places either. But I did know that his office was open since I stopped by one day while in his neighborhood. I do recall that David was offsite that day. I figured he probably high-tailed it to Portofino, Gstaad, or some other impossibly fabulous spot for some R&R.

Last month, I decided to give him a call to see if he wanted to do one of my interviews for Decorati, and he said “Definitely!” So we met for breakfast at the Bel Air Hotel and he was just as striking, sophisticated, and charming as ever. Except he looked even better, I think it was the lighting, but I noticed he had the greenest eyes and the same full head of hair (I think it’s the one I had but lost about 30 years ago. Coincidence? Hmmmmm.) So then I asked him to “entre nous” share with me the exotic and secluded resort he’d been at last year. And then he dropped the bomb on me…

He smiled and said, “Actually I was diagnosed with cancer.” He took time off to treat it and beat it, and that’s exactly what he did. In fact, he’s been cancer-free for more than a year, looks better than ever, and throughout this whole ordeal kept his business fully running and staffed. Every project was completed during that time… something David wanted to fulfill. Amazing, huh?

Let me just say that David’s last name is prophetic: just like the mythological phoenix, he rises from fire and apparent destruction to emerge even stronger and scale even greater heights than before. Talk about Phoenix rising, David is one for the books.

So I wanted to start my interview with a somber question that had lots of gravitas:

Buzz: Is it true your idol was Dinah Shore and you never missed her talk show?

DP: {David laughing}. Yes, that’s true! Through Dinah’s show I saw beautiful, sunny LA, and felt the need to move there. I loved Dinah’s personality. She was always warm with her guests, and charming, and one of the reasons I moved to LA was to be a part of that feeling. And believe it or not, I was inspired by her white sectional on the show too!

Buzz: Is it also true that you somehow got her famous brownie recipe and would you bake a batch for me?

DP: Yes. I coincidentally made a friend in LA that worked for Dinah, and I persuaded him to introduce me. Fast-forward, I found myself at her home and in her kitchen… we sat, we chatted, and I got that secret brownie recipe. As for baking a batch for you, of course!

Buzz: Speaking of cooking, I also heard you’re a great chef, and that you worked at a number of restaurants including La Cote Basque in NYC?

DP: Not exactly. As a child, I wanted to become a chef. At 18 I was offered an apprenticeship at La Cote Basque and I took it. It was actually the experiences I had working in kitchens day in and day out that made me realize that the culinary world was not my true calling. After that experience, I was only sure of one thing: I wanted to make beautiful things.

Buzz: True or false: you didn’t go to design school and are completely self-taught in interior design?

DP: Very true and having left home at 15, I never went to college at all. Experience has been my teacher. And I am blessed to have had many people believe in me and my work.

Buzz: So how did you transition from a baker to one of the top designers in the country?

DP: By chance, I heard of a position for a sample librarian at +gies of fabric, in the Pacific Design Center, and my design journey started from there.

Buzz: Describe your design style in three words or less?

DP: Comfort and quality.

Buzz: Tell us more about your style. Tell us why you tend toward the traditional versus the modern?

DP: I believe that you are your experiences. My aesthetic draws from both the timeless design traditions of American aristocracy and the laid back luxury of the West Coast. My projects are inspired by the diverse landscapes of New England and California. As a native Bostonian living in LA, I tend to meld a dual design perspective… spaces that are relaxed yet elegant.

Buzz: Some designers find a fabric they love and use it in multiple interior projects. Thoughts?

DP: I almost never use the same fabric on different jobs. There are so many amazing fabrics out there, and it seems like more come out every day, so there’s no need to reuse the same fabric.

Buzz: What are the essentials of a warm and welcoming space?

DP: An intuitive arrangement of seating and objects. When you design with comfort in mind, the end result is warm and welcoming for the person using the space.

Buzz: Who has been your most inspirational design mentor and what influence did that person have on your own design style?

DP: There are actually two, the phenomenal Michael Taylor and also Kalef Alaton. Michael’s sense of scale and the materials he used were perfect. And Kalef I admire for his use of antiques. He and his interiors were so glamorous and chic.

Buzz: On any decorating project, what is the absolutely first thing that needs to get done?

DP: A master plan between you and your clients.

Buzz: What do you think is the biggest mistakes most clients make before they hire you?

DP: They go out and buy all their rugs and they’re invariably wrong. People think “I’ll save the designer mark-up” and in the end it costs them more.

Buzz: When you walk into a home, what are the biggest mistakes you typically see?

DP: Bad seating arrangements and non-functional pieces. I’m big on comfort and spaces that are comfortable for people to live in. An intuitive seating arrangement - the right chair in the right place - will make the person feel more comfortable in their home.

On the Spot…Buzz: What is your FAVORITE:

Color: GREEN
Magazine: ELLE DECOR
Room in your house: BEDROOM
Room to design: KITCHEN
Hobbies: Other than cooking, SPENDING TIME WITH FRIENDS
Vacation destination: FIJI

Buzz: You often work with antiques in your projects and what draws you to antiques?

DP: Each has a different story to tell.

Buzz: What is the single most important antique that you’ve incorporated into one of your projects?

DP: For the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, I used a rare pair of 18th century Irish Chippendale chairs. They were magnificent and she adored them.

Buzz: What are your favorite antique accessories that you buy for yourself?

DP: Boxes: alligator, tortoiseshell, wood, I love them all.

Buzz: What is your favorite antique and why?

DP: My favorite piece of furniture is a lamp that belonged to my great grandmother. It was an Italian majolica urn lamp and it was in her front window. Every time I visited her she would wave goodbye to me with a warm smile and that lamp sitting there. I always told her I loved that lamp and one day she gave it to me. Now every time I look at that lamp, I remember her and her smile and it’s a great feeling.

Buzz: Has your health ordeal and recovery changed your attitude about issues that come up at work?

DP: Absolutely! I learned that YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING. Be honest and authentic in your work.

No comments: