Friday, May 11, 2012

Gregg Gelman

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

Interior designer, Gregg Gelman grew up in Manhattan in the 1970s where he spent some of his time riding his bicycle chasing celebrities as an amateur teenage member of the city’s first paparazzi. After studying photography at RISD he did stints as an actor, assistant to the literary agent of CAA, screenwriter and TV producer. While living in LA, he found himself moving every six months and creating spaces with little money—soon he had realized that his designing these interiors was a real passion and he found his way back to New York. Together with his partner of 20 years, Joe Hershberger, he lives in a Soho loft that is decorated with a certain stylish restraint.

I don’t really know a huge amount about you. You were born and raised in New York?

That’s correct. I grew up on the Upper East Side, right across from the Regency Hotel so we had an amazing view of the hotel rooms. It was during the 1970s when New York was a crazy place. I was held up at gunpoint twice.
Looking down the main hallway towards the master bedroom. Peeking past the kitchen into a corner of the master bedroom.
Southern light pours into the master bedroom from a wall of glass. The floors are covered with leather tiles.
A fascinating view of the rear facades of other Soho loft buildings is visible from the master bedroom.
A vintage string chair by Allan Gould sits below a painting by Sherrie Levine.
A painting by John M. Miller hangs above the master bed outfitted in linens from Calvin Klein. Estiluz swing arm lighting fixtures are positioned above 'Cannot' side tables from Cappellini.
Rocky perched atop the headboard.
Was it was pretty scary to grow up here then?

It was, but it was also incredibly fun. I remember I cycled everywhere. I’d ride down to Times Square and go to see the second act of shows for free. I also used to chase celebrities with my camera. I was a teenage paparazzi.

I truly believe that growing up in New York, and I’m raising two sons here, you end up being an individual like nobody else in the country because you’re just exposed to so much at an early age.

A view down the loft hallway toward the living room.
A painting by Wayne Gonzales dominates a master bedroom wall covered in oak.
The flat screen TV is hung from a spare wall in the master bedroom.
The sunken while marble tub has inset lights that also illuminate the master bath floor.
A work on paper by Sherrie Levine and a gouache by Wayne Gonzales add a touch of color to the master bath.
Looking across the master bath towards Gregg and Joe's closet.
Gregg and Joe's closet.
So you had a working mom, which at that time was unusual.

I had a working mom, which was pretty great. It was quite an accomplishment for her because she raised us originally New Jersey until I was twelve and she went back to school and got a job at CBS news. My parents were divorced when I was one. She wrote for the 11 o’clock news, so we watched TV and they would film it in the newsroom and we could see her [in the background] typing.

Do you have brothers and sisters?

I have one brother who is a television producer at CBS. So he followed in my mother’s footsteps. He’s a producer on “48 Hours”.
Gregg's office was efficiently tucked into a space in the middle of the loft. The white mesh chairs are by Alias and the overhead cabinets are custom.
Corian countertops and Kobenhaven cabinets work together in the minimalist kitchen. On the far wall is a photograph by Scott Peterman and a paper plate by Roy Lichtenstein stands atop the countertop.
A Robert Rauschenberg collage hangs on a wall of the guest bedroom.
From the other side of the room. A work by Mel Ziegler hangs on the south wall of the guest bedroom.
The guest bathroom.
Did you want to go into that field?

I did. I wanted to be in the movie business for a while and moved out to Los Angeles and was in the training program of Creative Artists.

Oh wow, that’s a tough job.

That was incredibly tough and really one of the most special experiences of my life. The attention to detail that they taught us has carried through to everything else in my life. If you delivered a package wrong, an actor wouldn’t have the sides [script] for an audition or if you filled up Michael Ovitz’s Hershey jar incorrectly you could be fired.

When did you decide, “I can’t deal with this.” How did you go into design?

Well it was always an interest of mine. I went to Rhode Island School of Design. I studied photography. I actually became a screenwriter in LA and all the time I was out there I was moving every six months, redecorating my own apartment and creating unique spaces with no money and just this vision. And I finally realized this was a real passion of mine. And it actually translated very well from being a screenwriter where I was creating settings for my characters to becoming an interior designer and really creating settings for my clients.
Looking down the loft hallway lined with Gregg's photos toward the living room.
Gregg's series of 'paparazzi' photos that he shot during his teenage years.
Michael Jackson holding Emmanuel Lewis during a tour reuniting the Jackson 5.
Princess Stephanie in front of Gallagher's Steakhouse.
Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel.
Well you are creating a set design—the bottom line is that you’re creating a world. But as a designer, you are given the “characters” i.e. clients. You don’t make them up!

Yes. My philosophy as a designer is to have my personal vision and all my knowledge to the job but I want the home to reflect the clients. A lot of designers really create environments that are only their vision.

Your own home is really quite minimalist, with a lot of art. What do you do when clients want lots of color and prints and traditional design?

I just did a beach house for a couple on Fire Island. They came to me with their plans and they said they really liked shabby chic. I said, “That’s great and we can work with that but you do realize that you’re building a glass, minimal beach house.” Over the course of working with this couple, their education grew in terms of design—shabby chic was only what they knew from what they had seen before they came to me.
Oversized curved windows fill the living room with northern light.
The living room furniture is a mix of 1940s and 1950s French, Italian and Danish vintage pieces. A pair of Charlotte Perriand 1950s oak and rush chairs face a 1950s oak and metal coffee table by Jean Prouvé.
On the far wall metal wall shelves by Mathieu Mategot hang above a console table by Jacques Adnet. The large 'Fold' painting is by Tauba Auerbach.
Hanging above the living room Flexform 'Passodoble' couch are works from left to right: Fred Sandback, Roy Dowell (top), Neo Rauch. The 1936 'Veronese green Bollicine' glass floor lamp was designed by Carlo Scarpa for Venini.
Rocky perched atop the metal wall shelves by Mathieu Mategot. How did he get there?
What’s the difference in personality types between people who want warm, cozy spaces and people who want minimalist and clean edges?

Cozy spaces usually reflect people who want their home to be a reflection on their family, a place for their friends to gather for long dinners. The cold, minimalist thing can reflect, I guess [people who are] a little bit more controlling.

Did you see that thing in New York Magazine with the differences between Democrats and Republicans? They did drawings and they said the Democrat is messy, the Democrat will talk to anybody. The Republican is neat and controlling …

And it’s not really true. I’m a Democrat! [Laughs]. And I have a small country house that is decorated with English antiques.
Arranged atop the Jacques Adnet table are mercury glass candlesticks and ceramic votive holders from Morocco.
On the right a pair of 1940s Danish easy chairs on Cuban mahogany legs by Kaare Klint flank Hans Wegner stacking tables.
In a corner of the living room a sculpture by John Chamberlain and a group of ceramics by Axel Salto, Arne Bang and Jorgen Mogensen are displayed atop a 1941 birch cabinet by Artek-Pascoe. The wall art is by Rudolf Stingel.
Rocky walks past a Charlotte Perriand daybed upholstered in a Rogers & Goffigon linen.
Looking toward the dining area of the loft. A Poul Henningsen 'Contrast' hanging fixture is suspended over the dining table.
A niche to hold the flat screen TV and display artwork breaks up the loft oak wall paneling.
Rocky hanging out in a dining area wall niche.
Looking across the living area to the front exposure. The loft was designed to optimize the natural light and create distinct and separate areas for living, working and sleeping.
A view across Spring Street.
You are still living in Soho. I remember when I was a senior in high school the only thing down here was the Spring Street Bar and now it’s shopping mall and I always think no real New Yorkers live here anymore. I was kind of surprised you lived here.

The great thing about New York is that there are a million great places to live and no place perfect to live. For me Soho, when I wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning or I’m here during the week at night, it is the most beautiful place to live in the city. Every building is low, there’s lots of sky, the buildings are gorgeous, the streets are cobblestone. On Saturdays and Sundays it gets a little crazy, but we leave … but even then [the weekends] don’t really bother me. I like having all the services near me.

You said that you had a view of the World Trade Center from your bedroom. What did you see on 9/11?

I was in bed, watching television at 8:45 in the morning and I heard the plane fly over and I literally fell out of bed and hit the floor. Then I went to the window and obviously the direct view [of the plane hitting the tower] was a horrifying thing but there were a lot more horrifying things that happened that day.
Another seating area that was carved out of the corner of the living room holds a Mathieu Mategot 'Nagasaki' metal table and three chairs. A work by Larry Johnson dominates the wall behind.
A 'satellite'ceiling fixture by Mathieu Mategot hangs above the sitting area table.
A vintage portable camera flash is displayed atop the living room windowsill.
Vintage Danish chairs by Ole Wanscher surround a mahogany Italian dining table by Ico and Luisa Parisi.
A Sol LeWitt drawing that was conceived in 1969 and executed in 2006 covers the dining area wall.
The 1950s cabinet is by Hans Wegner.
Did you see that as a turning point in some way?

I thought I did and it affected me for a quite a while but New Yorkers are so incredibly resilient. The turning point was that we came back to the same point, in some ways, and perhaps a little bit smarter.

When you’re not designing, what types of things do you like doing? Do you cook at all?

I’m a huge cook.

I thought you were going to tell me that you didn’t cook because it’s so clean in here!

I cook only raw foods! [Laughs]. I actually have a problem with people helping me in the kitchen … but people always wander in. They want to talk to you while you’re trying to get things done. I hate open kitchens!