Designer Discourse: Grant Gibson

A Q&A Series with Prominent Designers Circle Members

Travel is an eternal source of inspiration for many people, especially those in the design industry. The colors, patterns, materials and visual imagery on display throughout a journey are unending. Grant Gibson takes it to another level. His firm of two decades, GRANT K. GIBSON INTERIOR DESIGN + TRAVEL combines his two passions and weaves them together, creating once-in-a-lifetime trips that are as thoughtfully curated as his design work, and bring together travel and design through private tours, experiences and guided shopping excursions, with pre-vetted vendors.

Chair from Paris flea market, Penobscot Bay photography by Grant Gibson. Interiors photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

Personality is the driving force behind Gibson’s design sensibility. His spaces are curated to his clients’ individual tastes, and with a feeling that they are tailored but not too much so. There is a wonderful level of comfort and simplicity in his aesthetic. It offers a carefree feeling with soft, sophisticated hues, pops of color, and imaginative juxtapositions of lines, colors and patterns.

His work has been featured in numerous design publications; he is repeatedly named a ‘Designer to Watch’ and has been included on Elle Décor’s A-List. His design book, ‘THE CURATED HOME | A FRESH TAKE ON TRADITION’ (Gibbs-Smith) was published in 2018.

Custom upholstery, art by James Nares. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

Gibson answered my questions recently about the tools, inspiration and principles that propel him in the design field.

Ariane Trimuschat: What was your first introduction to design-what drew your interest in the field as a career?

Grant Gibson: My parents brought me to everything from an early age, from antique stores, auctions, art galleries, and flea markets. If we were on vacation, we would be exploring and end up with some incredible collections.

Christopher Spitzmiller lamp, chest from 1stdibs. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: What are your key influences? Where do you get your inspiration?

GG: Travel is always on the top of my list. In addition to interior design, I started a boutique travel company where I take small groups on adventures. We have had such a diverse mix of people of all ages from around the country join the fun. India and Morocco have been favorites, and I can’t wait to add some new adventures in the future. Mexico City, Petra, and Egypt are on the list.

Water Photograph by Peggy Wong. Interior photography by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: Name three design tools you can’t live without.

GG: My iPhone allows me to take great photos and stay in touch with clients and vendors. My pad of paper and pen, which I take endless notes during client meetings and keep task lists. There is something much more satisfying about a real pen and paper instead of keeping it on your computer or phone. My bookkeeper and office manager (can they be tools?) to run a proper interior design business are essential. I think it is necessary to know where your strengths and weaknesses are and hire professionals for help.

Marin breakfast room, Raoul fabrics, antique French farmhouse table, chairs by Charles Fradin. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: If you could design any property in the world, which would you tackle?

GG: I would have to say that I am currently in the process of doing this already. I had always wanted to have a summer home in Maine after spending summer there for ten plus years.
I searched for an old home to restore but ended up purchasing five acres of land with a private beach and designing something new in an old style. My goal is for the house to look like it has always been there and blend in with the rest of the traditional architecture.

AT: What are the first three things you consider when planning the layout of a house?

GG: I always start with a floor plan, which guides what goes where and makes sure everything will fit. It is essential to listen to my clients and how they will use the room. For many years there was a trend to knock down walls and have an open floor plan, but I see the return to rooms back to traditional layouts. Lastly, I think natural light is so important.

Vintage lounge chair, artwork by Walter Kuhlman, fireplace by Jamb. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: What design element should one focus on and invest in most?

GG: I would advise you to buy the best of the best that you can afford. When you purchase a quality piece, they stand the test of time. Especially, upholstered pieces that are hand-made will continue to wear well after years of use. I love it when a client calls back after years, and we reupholster a sofa or pair of chairs in new fabric. Pieces should not be thought of as disposable but lifelong pieces that can be used for many years and passed on to younger generations.

Custom vintage-inspired navy blue sofa, artwork by Walter Kuhlman, pair of coffee table from Paris flea market. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: What have you learned during this pandemic? How has it affected your business?

GG: Fortunately, I love my home, partner, and dog Alistair, so it has not been a struggle like it has been for some. We love to cook, read and watch movies. This year has made me think of my priorities in life and be grateful and live each day to the fullest. As for my business, we are as busy as ever and have seen a shift of efficiency with Zoom and working with clients, architects, and construction teams. This has changed the interior industry and so many others forever in a positive way.

Katie Ridder wallpaper, mirror from Mecox Gardens NYC, Waterworks plumbing. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: Are you seeing any new trends in what your clients are asking for/prioritizing after the year we’ve had?

GG: Home offices, workout rooms, outdoor spaces, and beautiful locations within a house with good zoom backgrounds.

Bunny art by Hunt Slonem. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: What course of study was most relevant to what you do as an interior designer?

GG: Psychology!

AT: What is the most impactful interior design lesson you’ve learned in your career?

GG: Always follow your heart and gut with potential clients. If you see red flags in an initial meeting, listen to those as they will come up again when working together.
Designing a home is highly personal and a long-term process, not something that can be rushed or forced.

San Francisco bedroom with Urban Electric light fixture, chairs from Paris flea market. Photograph by Kathryn Macdonald

AT: What keeps you coming back to the SF Fall Show each year? What do you most look forward to at the show?

GG: It’s a tradition and wouldn’t be the same without attending. It’s fun to see friends and go booth to booth to see what treasures have been brought in from around the world. The internet is a fabulous tool, but there is nothing like seeing something in person.

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.

At Home with Designer Gary Hutton

Gary Hutton’s 40-year career in design has earned him the moniker “the Dean of West Coast design”. A born and bred Californian, Hutton studied under Wayne Thiebaud, Manuel Neri and Robert Arneson, three 20th century iconic artists, who shaped his vision of art and design. Known for his innovative methods for integrating advanced technology into homes as well as an expertise in sustainability standards and design for off-the-grid living, Hutton, principal and owner of Gary Hutton Design, the San Francisco based interior design firm, lectures around the world, and his furniture collection launched in 1986 has produced iconic designs.

Living Room in Hutton’s San Francisco home: Sectional in Loro Piana fabric, leather-and-oak Havana chair, and A5 polish stainless steel table, three by Gary Hutton Designs, complement a Knoll 1972 Cini Boeri Lunario table. Elsa Peretti candlesticks from Tiffany & Co.,
Photograph on wall by Jonna Arnold, Lighting  by Gary Hutton. Photograph by John Merkl

Making a Home

I spoke with Hutton via FaceTime from his home in San Francisco where he has been spending 2020. Hutton has a contagious enthusiasm for what he does and an easygoing, authentic quality about him that makes you feel like you are talking to an old friend. “I moved in here as a temporary measure 19 years ago,” he said of his flat in Cathedral Hill. “I signed a one-year lease and thought that was it, the location is great, it’s so central. It has become so comfortable. Every time I walk in the door it’s wonderful, there’s a familiarity. There is a nice small entry hall and each one of the rooms is at a different angle from the other, so the floor, the vinyl tiles that I had custom made, are at a different angle and that allows each room to have a different feel. It’s allowed me to experiment,” he shared. “What makes this my home is that it’s wonderful and anonymous. I just started reading a book, The Making of Home by Judith Flanders (Atlantic Books 2015). I am completely fascinated by this. The amount of research is amazing. 500 years ago there was no such thing as privacy.”

Hutton’s entry, looking into the bedroom, Dancers painting by Harley.
Photograph by John Merkl

Nurturing Creativity

Hutton has used the last 9 months of this year wisely. “It’s been a double-edged sword,” he admitted of isolation. “It’s given me a little time to be creative. I bought a block of clay on Amazon and I’ve been sculpting with it, I was a sculpture major and was always experiencing with it. I’ve come up with a new table design that I’m taking to the foundry to have it made in bronze; it will go into my furniture line at Hewn (showroom at the SF Design Center) as an end table.”

Clay form, untitled, photograph and form by Gary Hutton Design  

Creating things brings joy to Hutton’s life, “working with the clay, and cooking-which I can do more of, and trying to get inventive with it. I’ve always been a recipe follower, but I am trying to be more creative in my cooking,” he admitted. “Cooking is my hobby, I’ve always enjoyed it. I miss dinner parties at home. I usually keep them small-four people, that’s a good size. More than six and it breaks down to a couple different conversations at the same time and doesn’t feel inclusive.” Of course, I had to ask him to share some of his favourite dishes, “The Grand Duke Ferdinand’s Soup, a perfectly clarified broth, you crack an egg into the soup, from Giuliano Bugialli’s Foods of Italy” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Inc. 1984), he replied. Which sounds amazing.

Hutton’s Kitchen, tailored in dark gray with a backsplash of Brazilian quartzite;
a custom pot rack from Metal Art Concepts holds Hutton’s collection of copper pots and pans. Photograph by John Merkl 

Design Perspectives

Hutton believes the pandemic and time at home has changed his perspective on design and how he lives at home. “I’ve made sure I’m surrounded by the things that bring me joy,” he said. “When I did my remodel there was a lot of purging, so I made the point from that time on that I’m not going to buy anything that I don’t absolutely love. I’ve been working at it. Everything in this apartment is something that brings me joy,” he shared.

Hutton’s Study, collection of war objects. Photograph by John Merkl

On Modernism

He is, at heart is a Modernist. “Philosophically everything is modern when it’s made,” he says. We’re living in this time and I feel like we should capitalize on what we have here and go about things in that modern way. It’s not to the exclusion of any period; I approach design from a modern point of view and a cleanliness in what I do. I like to go about things in a modern way, using modern materials.”

Dining Room, Knollstudio Brno Chair by Miles van der Rohe in 1930, Gary Hutton Design Pier table, painting by Don Rizzo. Photograph by John Merkl

With such a strong interest in Modernism, I was surprised when I asked Hutton to tell me his favourite piece in his home. “I have so many,” he shared, “but my absolute favorite piece is a two-drawer Biedemeyer chest from 1820 left to me by a dear friend who died early in the AIDS epidemic. Biedemeyer was the first modern furniture,” he explained, “It came about because the technology–saws that could cut veneers–allowed more people to have the furniture. It sits just outside my kitchen and is filled with plates and pots and pans.”

Living room, Pierre et Gilles’ Les Cosmonautes is prominently displayed on an 1820 Biedermeier chest. Hutton’s collection of vintage glassware lines the shelves above.
Photograph by John Merkl

Remote Working

Running a business during isolation is a whole new ballgame, especially when your business is so visual and tactile. “The remote working thing takes longer,” Hutton explained. Even with social engagements, travel and commuting out of the equation, “it has required me to get new skills; the time that might have been saved has gotten devoured by the extra logistics that we have to do. If I need to go to the upholstery shop, I have to make an appointment, I can’t just show up. The pandemic precautions, rightfully so, that everyone is taking, all take more time. You can’t just go to one of your people that is working on a project and stand behind them; you have to set up a Zoom meeting. Thursdays I go into the office because that’s the day the cleaning lady comes to my home and she wants me out of here. At the office, everyone picks a day. At the (San Francisco) Design Center, you come in, you have to sign in, hand sanitize, put on gloves, masks, sign out.”

Study, 1950 mid century Paul Frankl desk, Gary Hutton design rug, Kartell Louis Ghost Chair, Gary Hutton’s personal art collection Photograph by John Merkl

With the projects Hutton is working on now, how to meet and communicate with clients via computer is always front of mind. Some of his clients are very used to conference calls, but, he says, computers can’t always do the job. “We’ve had some in-person social distance meetings with clients; but as great as all the online capabilities are, you can’t talk about color or fabrics, you need to see and feel them.”

Study, Toshiyuki Kita for Cassina  Wink Adjustable Lounge Chair, Italy, circa 1980,
opposing chair 1960 Italian Chair.  Photograph by John Merkl

On The Fall Show

Hutton has been a supporter of The San Francisco Fall Show for years, and has been featured in the Lecture Series, most recently in 2016, for a conversation with his client, the art collector Chara Schreyer. The two discussed various projects he worked on for her, covering five residences designed to house 600 works of art which were chronicled in the book, Art House (Assouline Publishing, 2016), by Alisa Carroll.

“I think my favourite thing about the show is that it is a total visual education,” he shared. “One doorway and you’ve got admission to the entire world of furniture, art and antiques history. You could walk from Roman artifacts into mid-century into 18th century. It is this incredible visual feast. I see it as a real educational experience for me. I’ve become a nut about this sort of thing.”

Which brought the idea of Modernism full circle for us. Walking through the show, everything you see was modern in its time. A bit of a mind-bending concept when looking at an ancient artifact, but in 2020, time has become almost a state of mind; as we live through this period that will surely be written up in the history books of the future.

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.

A Chat with Designer Timothy Corrigan

On French Châteaus, The Comforts of Home
and Being Grounded in 2020

For someone who travels around the world on a monthly basis, is renovating (not his first) 18th century French château, Château de la Chevallerie, and has been named to most of the design world’s ‘Best Designer’ lists, Timothy Corrigan is refreshingly down to earth. We chatted by FaceTime and our conversation went in several directions as we talked about our mutual passion for travel and tabletop settings among other things.

Timothy Corrigan | Photograph by Nathan Kirkman

I first met Corrigan in 2013 in my first year as Show Director of the San Francisco Fall Show, when he gave a fabulous lecture about his renovation of the 45,000 square foot Château du Grand-Lucé in France’s Loire Valley (he has since sold it and it is now a luxury hotel) and again in my final year as Director in 2019 when he spoke about living with stylish and comfortable rooms. He names the Lecture Series one of his favorite elements of the show. “I love the lectures and the programs.” he admits. I still remember several lectures I saw over the years, a wonderful talk with Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, and the one with Nina Campbell, Charlotte Moss and Suzanne Tucker,” “The Divas of Design!” I reminded him. “To me,” he said, “the quality of your lecture speakers is second to none in terms of shows. And the support of the design community is amazing. It’s palpable.”

Timothy Corrigan, at his post-lecture book signing for “The New Elegance”
at the 2019 Fall Show | Photograph by Hernan Santander

Corrigan opened his design firm, Timothy Corrigan, Inc. in 1997 after a career in advertising, heading up Saatchi & Saatchi Bates Worldwide’s international operations. Today it is one of the leading design firms in the world, with offices in Paris and Los Angeles. He is a master at combining “European elegance with California comfort”. Corrigan has won numerous awards and is the author of two bestselling books, An Invitation to Château Grand- Lucé (Rizzoli, 2013), which chronicles his acquisition, restoration and decoration of a great French country house, and The New Elegance: Stylish, Comfortable Rooms for Today (Rizzoli, 2019).

With clients on four continents Corrigan is not used to sitting still, so the pandemic has been especially jarring. “I have not travelled this little in 30 years,” he admits. “I currently have projects in China, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and in six different states in America.” Despite this, he has spent most of 2020, during lockdown at his home in L.A., however, he was able to go to his office. “I’m very lucky, because our office has many windows and everyone has a private office. It helped me maintain structure and routine,” he shared.

Chateau de la Chevallerie in the Loire Valley

An Interesting Time for a Move

While most of us were getting used to the new normal as lockdown went into effect, Corrigan was moving. “The day L.A. was shut down was the first day of a 3-day move,” he shared. I was between two houses and spent the first three months unpacking. I had sold my last house unexpectedly and took a rental which I realised I hated; I did not like being home, he said. “I always tell clients their home should be a sanctuary, but this was not, so I moved and it was the most wonderful thing. I really do love this new house—the scale of the rooms—bigger rooms and fewer of them; I’m 6’4” and I need bigger spaces! And, it is much lighter and brighter—I need light.”

As moving usually does, unpacking gave Corrigan the opportunity to take stock of his art and furniture in a new way and he gained a new appreciation for one work in particular, “my Carolus-Duran painting—he was a portrait artist—a master of shadow and light,” he explained. “In the other house the walls were white, white, white. The color of walls really impact light; with paintings the background color really affects how you see the painting. I painted the walls in the new house a warm, golden, honey color—not a color that was in the painting—I just really knew that the painting needed the warm tones.”

Carolus-Duran painting | Photograph by Massimo Listri

Home Comforts

For Corrigan, home is about comfort. “We’ve all walked into a room and you can tell that no one uses it—the formal room—those are deadly rooms,” he says. “It’s partially that the furniture is not really comfortable. It’s also a mindset where you are decorating with fabric that is too fine, too delicate.” Corrigan favors comfortable furniture where you can put your feet up. “We often put marine varnish on furniture and antiques so that you can put a hot coffee mug or a wet glass down. We use performance fabrics so you don’t have to worry about spilling wine and you can comfortably use the room, all these elements are practical.”

Jardin Tibetan Knot rug designed by Timothy Corrigan for Perrenials
Photograph by Nathan Kirkman

Corrigan feels rooms should be used. “Every room has a purpose,” he explains, “a reason for going there. In my own living room, I wasn’t using it, so I put a desk in there. You don’t have to use a room for its intended purpose; the dining room can also be a library. Rooms can have dual or multiple uses, just make sure every room is working hard for you.” For Corrigan, his favorite room in his house is anywhere he can curl up and read in a comfortable chair. “I have really enjoyed doing a lot of reading these last months. I purposely don’t read the paper in the morning, instead, I save it and come home and read The New York Times at night. It creates these special occasions for me within my home. The world is so heavy and dark right now, I don’t want to start my day with the news.”

Photograph by Amy Barnard

The New Normal

The pandemic has not changed Corrigan’s design sense, but it has changed how he works. “With so many international clients, we always did Zoom meetings, even pre-pandemic,” he said, “but we didn’t do it as much with domestic clients. I’ve learned we can be just as productive and even once the pandemic is in the past, we’ll probably do more meetings this way. I believe that just as WWI changed so many people’s habits and patterns, so will this. Nothing is like connecting in person, that will always be important, but we can be very efficient these days with technology.” Corrigan has also noticed that his clients are looking at their houses in a new way, “we’ve received phone calls from clients who say they never really appreciated their home until now,” he shares. “For a lot of my clients, their homes are showplaces, as they have several and they haven’t really experienced them until now; they are gaining a new appreciation.”

Photograph by Lee Manning

The thing Corrigan is missing most at the moment is France. “I have a new apartment in Paris, and the château I am renovating. I have been trying to do it from L.A. but there is nothing like being there.” He is now working on a new book about Château de la Chevallerie called Town & Country which is scheduled to be published in 2022.

Room at Château de la Chevallerie | Photograph by Eric Piasecki

The lockdown has not slowed Corrigan down. “We’ve gotten four new projects during this process—new construction. That part has been busy. I’ve also used the time to develop a collection of new tiles for New Ravenna, the ‘Rolls Royce’ of tiles. I do the drawings myself. And I have a new collection of fabrics and rugs which I launched a year ago with Perrenials. I am also doing a third collection of china patterns for Royal Limoges. I have 14 sets of china at the chateau,” he admitted, which got us once again talking about tabletop.

Jardin Français Collection by Timothy Corrigan for Royal Limoges

With no social engagements or travel, he has found a bit of time for relaxing, “I have never been a television person, but I’ve started watching a new Australian series called ‘A Place to Call Home’, and time for reflection, he shared his perspective on this time we are living in: “I think it is so important for people to try to find the positive thing in all this; more time with family, not traveling so much. I am trying to consider what the gift is in this. To me that is the biggest lesson.”
Wise words.

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat
Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for seven 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.