David Netto, On Design

David Netto doesn’t have a signature style. “I come at every project with respect for the architecture,” he says “I try to make a portrait of the client, the person, it’s not about me.” Netto grew up in New York City and escaped to Los Angeles, where he settled with his family and business. He is a multi-talented creative: his interior design firm, David Netto Design was founded in 2000, followed by his line of modern children’s furniture, NettoCollection which he sold in 2009, and his lighting collaboration with the artist, Jennifer Nocon, Netto Nocon Lamps. He is a writer for publications including The New York Times, Town & Country and The Wall Street Journal, along with a monograph on the work of Francois Catroux, published by Rizzoli in 2016.

Photography by Katrina Dickson

Netto spoke in the Fall Show Lecture Series in 2016 upon the release of the book. He is enamored with San Francisco “It is such a great town for antiques and design and has a legacy of great style; it is a town that really celebrates the Fall Show,” he shared. “There is a passion for the home in a very sophisticated way in San Francisco, the same way there is a great opera there. San Francisco is interested in the best so you always know you’ll experience something special.”

Living room of a modern beach house for a newlywed couple with Calder tapestry. Photography by Gieves Anderson

I recently spoke with Netto about coming out of the pandemic and how it has changed his design sensibility. “It’s made me a lot more efficient because I used to wait to go somewhere to see something and everything would take weeks between meetings and you had the impression, out of habit, that in-person was the only way to conduct design meetings. I just made a very complex presentation with someone who wants very complex patterns and textiles. The idea of explaining without being able to put the samples in her hand was weird. We just did it in zoom and it worked. In this reality I’m busier than I’ve ever been.”

View of Living Room of Southampton country house. A pair of Jean Michel Frank armchairs sit near a Motherwell tapestry in a room overlooking the ocean. Photography by Paul Costello

Could it be that the new virtual world has made things more efficient? “The hardest thing for me is that you can’t just go shopping,” he says. “I love to go to showrooms, it’s a contact sport.” The lockdowns have had a dramatic effect on the way showrooms and galleries are able to operate – “the thing I fear the most,” says Netto, “is the loss of the shops and businesses; so many are going out of business. That’s going to start affecting antiques dealers and the network of small businesses. That’s the industry change I dread the most. I do much more at auction now. If there is one thing I am doing-I am buying much more inventory and holding onto it; I have much more of a commitment to holding special furniture in inventory.”

Mirrored chimney breast in Upper East Side Apartment with antique mantel and Pierre Paulin Tongue Chairs. Photography by Francesco Lagnese

As far as what clients are asking for in these new times, Netto says their needs haven’t changed wildly, except for one thing, “People want Zoom backdrops in their house.” But Netto sees one room in particular coming to the forefront: “2020 has been the comeback of the formal dining room. “The meals are more old-fashioned and structured, and people look forward to that. I think that will continue,” he forecasts. Let’s hope.

 View from living room to entrance gallery of Upper East Side Apartment showing walls replaced by half height bookcases. Photography by Francesco Lagnese

Netto sees every room as needing the same amount of attention when it comes to design, but not necessarily the same financial investment. “Every room should get equal amounts of thought, but I don’t think there is any need to spend consistently in every room; some rooms can be accomplished without any contents put into them; beautiful plasterwork can make a room -the most important space can be the least expensive” he says. He also believes that we should celebrate stairs and passages with considerable thought as these areas of a house are as important as the rooms.

Lower 5th Avenue Apartment of photography collectors, entry hall. Floor contains reclaimed heart pine boards framed by borders of white oak. Photography by Don Hamerman

When it comes to mixing styles and periods, it’s nothing new for Netto : “I don’t ever not do that, it brings young energy,” he says. “One mixing secret is to use the same period, with different cultures.” What to avoid, he says, is not using contents of high quality. “If you are mixing high quality pieces, you’ll have success.”

Color is the scariest thing for him. “I am an architect by training. I always have to draw and I am always jealous of peoples use of color, the really flamboyant designers like David Hicks. There is something optimistic about the colors I’m drawn to. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from my friend Miles Redd. He said-‘I love your style, it’s so optimistic.’ Stephen Sills is a master of color and juxtaposition; he says ‘there are no ugly colors, it’s all what you put them next to.’” For Netto, color is a history lesson, and he is inspired by the French 1960s design where they were not afraid to try every possible use of color—designers such as Georges Geffroy – Christian Dior’s designer. “I try to challenge myself,” he shares.

Netto’s Kips Bay Showhouse room is an eclectic composition featuring Art Deco club chairs and a Lalanne bird table. The lamp in foreground is from his lighting collection with contemporary ceramics artist Jennifer Nocon

But nothing matters without the right lighting. “It doesn’t matter what you do if you don’t know how to light a room,” he says. And it’s not so easy—not everyone knows how to properly light a room. “Recessed lighting can work – a little technology -I love recessed lighting when it is artfully deployed; two over a window to illuminate the curtains gives a nice effect,” he says. “Every switch has to have a dimmer, no bulb should be more than 40 watts. That’s a thing for me, I like very low lighting, lower than you think you want,” he stresses, and when I pushed back, imagining putting on makeup or reading a book with a 40-watt bulb, Netto stood his ground, which I admire.

Entry Hall of Southampton country house with secret door concealed in bookcase to guest room. Photography by Paul Costello

When working with new clients, Netto says he first needs to get to know them, and then create options for how they will love their house. “It comes out in dialogue– It’s my job to tease it out of them – I want to give them something they never knew they wanted,” he says. “Every room should have three good reasons to enter, and there should be two good reasons for making a design decision. I will have completely failed if my clients rarely use a room.” Clients who collect make it easy. “The nicest thing is when someone is a collector, one of my earliest projects was with a photography collector–you can’t make it look bad. And everyone needs books; I don’t do many houses that aren’t filled with books,” he admits.

Living room of Lower 5th Avenue Apartment. The mantel is exaggerated in width to disguise awkward proportions of firebox. Photography by Don Hamerman

For all that goes into transforming a house through design, Netto’s key to creating timeless décor is simple. “It’s all about quality,” he says. “If you choose great things and have really good furniture, it’s the best way to make a room look timeless. The thing is if you’re a good decorator you just don’t think about it being timeless; in my own work I don’t think about that and my work has aged pretty well.

Living Room of Connecticut House; Louis XV ebonized desk with a pair of Isamu Kenmochi wicker chairs, an African clay bowl sits on the brass table by the fireplace. Photography by Francesco Lagnese 

One style I like right now that is agreeable is the re-emergence of wicker that is everywhere. But a good decorator shouldn’t follow trends, they should set the trends. If you’re not setting trends you’re not doing the highest level of work.”

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat

Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director at Large, living in London with her family. Follow Ariane on her blog, SOJOURNEST, where she focuses on all things home and travel and on Instagram at @arianetrim.