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Philip Gorrivan on Dream Clients and Decorating For Families

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Welcome back to Curbed Interviews, wherein Raina Cox (of If the Lamp Shade Fits and Curbed's Moonlighting series) interviews major players in shelter media and interior design. Have a suggestion for someone whose voice should be heard? Send it here.

Photos courtesy of Philip Gorrivan Design

Growing up in the Northeast with a French Moroccan mother, interior designer Philip Gorrivan's early influences were an off-the-wall mix of Americana and west African exotica. One of the few male high-end designers with young children, his work walks a fine line between glam and family-friendly. Whether it's designing his Duralee fabric collection or selecting chic holiday trim, Gorrivan's muses are always bold color and strong pattern. During an upbeat break in a recent L.A. trip, he shared his thoughts on a decade in design and new parents' inclination to cover every corner with rubber bumpers.

You are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of your design firm. What have you learned?
I truly love what I do and I don’t think of it as a job. It’s a calling. And there are moments—we all have challenging moments—whether it’s with clients or with vendors or the economy. You have to question what you’re doing, and also when you’re a small business owner you always have a burden. There’s always a burden when you run a business. Even given all that, I have not looked back, and every year has been better than the last. When the recession came along, I think it was a good wake-up because the economy isn’t always getting better year after year. I think it’s an important lesson to run a small business through a bad economy. It’s an opportunity—you learn so much. It makes you a lot smarter about how you run your business, how you spend and manage the finances. It was not fun. [Laughs.] But it was a good lesson. I’m glad that we’re past the worst. You just have to take the good, the bad, and the ugly and most of it’s good and it’s fun.

I had dinner with two good friends last night, and we were talking about how important it is to be stimulated and challenged daily. I’m to the wall all the time, constantly challenged, and although I often have this feeling of angst like, “Oh my God, how am I going to get this done?!” I’d far prefer that than having a career or profession where it's like “Oh, I want more!” or “I need more!” I’d always rather be, “The sky is falling!”

Your signature look is a marriage of restrained silhouettes and exuberant color and pattern. Is that the influence of growing up in Maine with a Northerner father and a French-Moroccan mother?
It must be! I grew up in a small town—Portland, Maine—and from a very young age I was always attracted to art and antiques and textiles. I always wanted to be an antique dealer or antiquarian or an art dealer. I sort of discovered interior design through that process. I grew up in a house that was filled with lots of antiques—some of them weren’t so good and some of them were good—and also in a New England town very much rooted in colonial America. You go to these New England towns and that’s the look. The Windsor-back chair that everyone needs to have in their kitchen.

I do have this Moroccan mother. She met my father through her good friends and moved to Maine. I was lucky to have this sort of exotic mother who introduced a whole new world to us. Subsequently, growing up in our house, we were sort of frenetic with these Moroccan patterns and Americana. I think my love for color—I think color can be arresting in an interior—comes more from her. But for my mother, coming from Morocco, anything old isn’t good. If it’s new, it’s nice. But in Maine being old is considered desirable. My mother was always saying my father’s things were junk. [Laughs.]

You are one of the few big “names” in interior design with young children. What does that bring to your work?
I do have a lot of clients who come to me because they have kids. They want glamorous interiors. They want interiors that feel finished and layered, but they also want them to be family friendly. There is a way to decorate with children in mind, but still not have to have little rubber pads around coffee tables.

It’s funny, sometimes I’ll go pick up my daughter or son at one of their friend’s houses. You go in the apartment and there are games everywhere and there are bumpers everywhere and there are no rugs because they don’t want them to get ruined. All of the furniture is sort of worn and threadbare. You don’t have to live like that with children. In fact, I think if you introduce children to nice things at a young age, they learn to respect them. In my apartment, we have lots and lots of layers and glass. We’ve got centuries of ceramics throughout, and my children just recognize what they are and respect them.

Speaking of your children, do you fight with your pre-teen daughter over Justin Bieber posters in her room?
No! If you teach children the right things and give them a little bit of order, if you teach them about art and antiques and the value of things—the historical value and the decorative value—they learn to respect them. My children love art. I have old Masters’ drawings in my daughter’s room. We’ve got a vintage Sound of Music poster and then we’ve got lots of her art. She likes to draw; both of my children like to draw and I want to encourage them, obviously, and empower them. I always frame their art and hang it on their walls. My son loves maps; we’ve actually started collecting old maps to hang in his bedrooms in New York and Connecticut. So I think if you teach children and show children, they’re fine and they respect things around them. [View photos of Gorrivan's Manhattan apartment, published in the December 2009 issue of Elle Decor, over here.]

And with my clients I preach the same thing. There’s no reason you can’t have a beautiful, comfortable, tailored, layered apartment and raise young children. Mistakes and mishaps are going to happen. You do have to be mindful of materials you use. I’m not going to put silk rugs necessarily in a family apartment where there’s going to be lots of traffic. There are so many products out there that are so versatile. Sometimes if we don’t use leather on banquettes in kitchens, we’ll use indoor-outdoor fabrics. There’s so much product out there, you can always get the look.

Who would be your dream client, living or dead?
Obviously it has to be someone with lots of houses! [Laughs.] Someone who collects houses and someone who has a love for decorating. A client who loves collaboration with a decorator—someone like [socialite/style icon] Babe Paley. She was a great collaborator with Billy Baldwin. She had amazing taste, she had lots of homes, and I truly think she probably enjoyed the whole process of decorating. I think it’s really fun to have a client who gets involved—but not too involved obviously [laughs]—in the stages of design. Because at the end of the day, in all of the projects that I do, I want there to be a collaboration with the client, and I want it to be their signature and not mine. It’s their moment, I want it to be about them.

· Philip Gorrivan Design [official site]
· Philip Gorrivan fabrics for Duralee's Highland Court [official site]
· Philip Gorrivan's Pick: The Magnolia Company's Red Lacquer Wreath [Curbed National]
· A Designer's Family Style [Elle Decor]
· If the Lamp Shade Fits [official site]