The American Way
It’s been said that contemporary American design isn’t highly regarded in international circles. You are the first American to be tapped to create the annual conceptual installation "Das Haus" in Cologne, Germany. Why do you think they wanted an American?
When they approached me, they said they were interested in seeing whether an American would have a different spin or different point of view than Europeans might have on the house. I thought, "Well maybe, maybe not. I don’t know." I struggled, personally, with being American—I’m not sure what that really means, and I don’t know if any American really does. Maybe that’s being American, the struggle with that. I think being a New Yorker is very different from being from Kansas or being from Arizona. Everyone is so different. How can you say how an American lives?
Good point. So how did you approach the design process?
I just started thinking about how I live and then I realized: How I live isn’t necessarily how I want to live. I think that’s the way most people feel. Maybe that’s American. Maybe that’s human. I think that’s what frustrates me. Let’s say I buy a house, and there’s a dining room in it because it’s a legacy. It was already there. The house was built and it wasn’t built for me. It was built for some life, maybe fifty or a hundred years ago. We’re forced to live with a legacy. I don’t need a dining room, because I don’t host dinners, so why do I have a dining table and eight chairs? That’s wasted space. In New York, we don’t have that type of luxury. "What do I really need?" is a question that interests me. I need peace and quiet. Where’s my quiet room? I’d rather have that than a dining room.
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"Das Haus" was launched as a platform for designers to present their version of an ideal home. Is it a good exercise?
The program is fascinating because it’s much more than just a conversation with international buyers. The show’s creative director, Dick Spierenburg, has elevated it to a conceptual place that’s flipped between consumers and the trade. It’s an interesting opportunity, but it’s certainly not an easy audience to conjure.
Did you get any direction?
Dick had some good points. He said, "You need to find the balance where folks can still project life into this house."
How did that resonate with you?
The home is about mind, body, and soul, so I call it a "sustenance house." Good furniture is meant to facilitate function, and it’s for each of us to decide the right pieces for thinking, resting, eating and sleeping.