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
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
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
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
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.