The Interview: From a covetable pair of Alberto Giacometti candlesticks to an unexpected event on a hot night in Connecticut, interior designer, David Netto, reveals stories and favorite objects from an illustrious career in design, along with his career highlights and guilty pleasures.
INTERVIEW BY CAMILLA FRANCES | 3 NOVEMBER 2023
David Netto, photographed for Vendome Press
The most memorable trip I've taken:
I went to Cuba in 2002 with a group of architects to study historic preservation in Havana, and ended up so fascinated and in love with the society there I barely thought about architecture. The social experiment and how it had turned out - the warmth, the total absence of racism; it was like arriving at the best party in the world half an hour before the sun came up.
The best party I've ever been to:
Havana (weren’t you listening!) This is the best way in the world to offend my ten favorite people, who have gone to enormous trouble to entertain me beautifully, but here goes: My favorite party was given by Charlie Ruger in 1993 on a very hot summer night in Connecticut. My car broke down on the way from NYC, and then our taxi got a flat tire. For some reason it was black tie, and we were sweating in tuxedos and long dresses, in our early 20s. My friend, Nathalie Farman-Farma (then Gimon), got loaded, saw things needed a lift - they were a bit too polite and piss-elegant - and suddenly, in mid-sentence, grinned and launched herself sideways into the pool.
It was still light, and very early for this kind of thing, so it was shocking. To be gallant, I jumped in right after her, in all my evening clothes, and then we had a real party. I drove someone to LaGuardia airport at 5am, dripping wet, in a Mercedes 600 (the third car of the night), and left them to sleep it off on top of their luggage. Key ingredients: 1) We were young 2) Surprises! 3) No expectations for the night.
Interior by David Netto © Pieter Estersohn, Vendome Press
A moment that defined or changed my career:
Two things: when David Amini, the owner of Beauvais Carpets, said to me as I left his showroom during one of my down-periscope periods, “Now don’t hide your talents away.” And when I paid for my own ticket to go to Paris to interview Francois Catroux for WSJ Magazine (they wouldn’t pay to send me), and ended up writing his book. Essentially, when I changed my life philosophy from being wary of getting sucked into things to saying Yes to everything.
The greatest challenge I've overcome:
Professionally, deciding to be in a service business that required sharing myself and taking a certain amount of being kicked around. Personally, I’ve had some serious setbacks and disappointments of the heart.
My proudest achievement:
Really delivering as a father. My kids like me, they know I’ve made all the time in the world for them, and they know I’m in their corner.
An object I would never part with:
I own a pair of terracotta candlesticks made by Alberto Giacometti for Jean Michel Frank in the early 1930s. Usually you see Alberto Giacometti’s work in bronze or plaster, which is materially a generation or two away from his hands being on it. As objects, their intimacy is unnerving - you can feel his fingerprints in the wet clay. Plus, they are ultimate examples representing the intersection of art and furniture. Bought at Phillips, I missed them once, and when they came back around I got lucky.
The best gift I’ve ever received:
Not a thing, but an experience. My friend, Kadee Robbins, and I were in Rome together and it was my birthday. She said, "meet me at the door of the hotel at 6:00", but wouldn’t tell me why. We got into a car, and she still wouldn’t say where we were going. The car entered Piazza Navona and pulled up in front of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, now the residence of the Brazilian ambassador, which contains a magnificent gallery by Borromini that is impossible for the public to see. One of the great secret sights of Rome, and no one can get in. Kadee knew I had studied Borromini and what it would mean to me to see that room - but I can’t remember ever having mentioned it to her. She knew the Brazilian ambassador’s daughter and we were received like old friends. “Take your time,” our hostess said. “And come talk to us when you’re ready.”
My guiltiest pleasure or greatest extravagance:
Bringing my kids to stay at Claridge’s once a year. The cost is unconscionable.
My next weekend-away destination:
Charleston, SC. First I was in love with the city, but now I’m in love with someone there.
I would describe my childhood as:
I’m going to skip this one, even though it is essential to any talents I may possess as a designer.
My favourite flea market or antiques fair:
The East Hampton Antiques and Design Show. I always find things I can use, I always spend too much money at Mantiques Modern on Hermes silver boxes I swear I will sell on to clients and never do, and I always see a lot of friends who make me feel better for shopping aggressively. It’s a good investment and a good vibe.
I feel most confident when wearing:
A thick turtleneck under a tweed blazer, trying to give Steve McQueen.
My signature scent:
I deplore most scent, and never wear it myself. I don’t wear deodorant either.
My go-to recipe:
I am not a cook, but my former wife made me smoked bluefish hash once for my birthday, and that is my favorite thing that has ever been cooked or served in my own house. My contribution? Add dry sherry for the win.
My all-time favourite fabric:
First of all, it’s discontinued. Everything great gets discontinued. Decors Barbares’ Andrinople has the kind of vivid gypsy red every room needs a shot of, a cochineal red, and of course Nathalie discontinued it. I bought all her remaining stock, and use it like a very fine secret stash of old whiskey.
Ideal interiors in three words:
Learned. Graceful. Optimistic.
Distasteful interiors in three words:
I can do it in one word: vulgar. “The opposite of beauty is not ugliness. It is vulgarity.” - Coco Chanel.
The person I call for good advice:
I call my daughter, Kate, and I call my very smart longtime friend, Belle Burden.
The person I call for a good time:
Lee Manigault, someone I’ve admired since I was 15 who now lives in Charleston and has seen it all, and has everybody’s number.
My dream dinner party companion:
Louise Grunwald. No explanation needed, if you know, you know.
An artwork or exhibition that took my breath away:
The biggest and most beautiful emotional response I’ve experienced to an art exhibition was the David Hockney show I saw at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, 2013. I was aware of the power of his enormous plein air landscapes, but nothing could prepare you for the impact of the video room: a world of his work, alive, not even painted, but the actual encounter with nature as it must occur in his brain. I’m proud to say I burst into tears.
A new artist or designer whose work excites me:
Adam Charlap Hyman. He has a collection of folky fish and whale rugs with Schumacher; I find them as exciting and charming as anything I could ever find to put into a house, both historic and of the future.
Interior project by David Netto © Roger Davies for Vendome Press
- - - - - - - - - -
Just One More Thing...
One master: John Stefanidis
One muse: Gordon Parks
One city: Turin
One artwork: Deux Crabes by Van Gogh (1889)
One book: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
One museum: Scottish National Gallery
One shop: A’maree’s
One song: Red Guitar (David Sylvian)
One color: Dark green
One flower: Orange tulips
One word to describe your style: Badass
One word to describe Cabana: Kaleidoscopic
Interior project by David Netto © Francesco Lagnese, Vendome Press
- - - - - - - - - -
David Netto, a monograph, is published by Vendome Press and available now.
- - - - - - - - - -