By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch
Philip Gorrivan is living out something of a dream at the moment since he and his family have moved to South Kensington in London where they will be for the next couple of years. The trick, he says, to falling in love with a city is to quit comparing it to your own city. He still has his design business here in New York and is traveling back to the office every other month. Another designer who is part of our “second-time-around” series, we interviewed him in his rental apartment several years ago. He has since bought and decorated a new apartment on the Upper East Side—but we had the feeling he couldn’t wait to get back to London. If you don’t read the whole interview you won’t get to the part where he says the weather in England is often sunny and the food is really good …
So, the last time we interviewed you, you were “Superman” – you were married, with small kids and working until midnight, involved in lots of charities … the list was long.
Well, I’m still married with kids and still working …
A look at Phillip's South Kensington house.
And you’ve moved to London, right?
We moved to London in August and the children are in school there. Lisa, my wife, has a new position in the bank and it’s something we’ve always talked about or dreamt about, going to live in a place like London or Paris for two years. And we were lucky because we managed to get our kids into the school of out first choice within two months.
Wow, that was lucky. Where in London did you decide to live?
We live in South Kensington and the kids love it. London is such a great change from New York. The moment I stopped comparing London to New York, I started really loving London.
That is the trick, isn’t it? You have to see the city on its own terms.
You have to. We always try to look at other cities in terms of our city. You’re trying to say this area is like the Upper East Side or is this area the West Village of London?
A wire sculpture by Philip's daughter, Isabelle stands on a plexiglass table in the front entryway of Philip's New York residence.
String balls from a rope factory in Connecticut flank a French 18th century console in the front gallery.
A small painting by Hunt Slonem stands next to a Bouillote lamp by Joseph Frank and a collection of French mid-century ceramics.
A 1960s Austrian chandelier illuminates black lacquer walls of the octagonal gallery.
Looking past an English side chair in the gallery into the living room.
Curtains out of a fabric designed by Philip for Duralee surround a photograph 'Transparent City #6" by Michael Wolf. The Jansen coffee table is from the Marché aux Puces.
Arranged upon a custom table is a sculpture by Pamela Sunday purchased at Guy Regal and a 1920s purple glass bowl.
Can you describe your house in London?
We live in a Grade II listed Georgian house; it’s a whole house, one of those white Georgians with a black door. We’re right off of Thurloe Square, in a lovely street. We have a lot of open space because we have two gardens either side. I guess one of the nicest things is the sense of open space wherever you go.
Yes, there is a lot of green in London – and cats in the street, which you don’t see here.
Not only cats but foxes! We had a fox the other night on our street!
Yes, the urban foxes, they’re really at home. We’re making London sound so cool but I have to confess, I don’t really like London. It’s not inclusive … perhaps it was because I lived there when I was young and lonely and poor.
[laughs] So I had a moment when I lived in London when I was young and lonely and poor. It was when I was in college—I worked in the House of Commons for six months.
Looking across the living room. The lacquered ceiling gives the space a sense of height.
A Chinese wooden garden seat stands next to a Scottish horn chair from Yale Burge.
A custom sofa is topped with pillows in a Suzani fabric from Angelo Donghia. The side table to the left of the sofa is by T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings.
Philip placed a bright yellow oversized 18th century Chinese vase in a corner of the living room. "There is always an accent color in rooms I design; this time I used acid yellow," he says.
The living room built-ins, which are filled with favorite objects and books, are lined in a Farrow & Ball wallpaper.
A view of the Black Forest by German artist Susanna Kuhn stands on an easel in the corner of the living room.
Yes, I’ve tried that … is Park Slope like Hampstead? But in the end it doesn’t work. What are the kinds of things in London that you’ve started to enjoy?
The whole design scene is refreshingly different. There are so many companies, furniture makers and fabric designers that are very specific to the United Kingdom. A lot of English companies don’t even have distribution beyond the UK. So that’s been a discovery. And once you get to know the city, there are so many different places for antiques and vintage pieces in all these neighborhoods, so that’s exciting. Also, everyone is always complaining about the weather but there are in fact lots of sunny days—and everything is flowering right now. It’s already spring!
So have you got any British clients yet?
It takes a little bit of time but we have one project. I’m here every other month and we’re super busy here right now with close to a dozen projects.
A Fauvist landscape by M. Anders hangs above a photograph by Philipp Lachenmann.
Bright yellow tulips and a set of purple glassware perk up the Jansen coffee table.
Recessed shelves display art and ceramic objects including a small landscape that Philip found in a sidewalk trash bin and a pair of circular lights purchased in Paris.
A view across the living room seating area towards the dining area.
A Chinese wooden garden seat stands next to a vintage French wing chair that was once part of a room Philip designed for a show house in New York.
Philip designed the dining area's tables and banquette, upholstered in a Romo fabric. The rug is also by Philip and is based on a design by Andre Arbus.
Looking across the living room sofa towards the children's bedroom wing.
How did you end up getting that job?
I studied art history, political science and international relations in college in Vermont, and then I applied for this program. I got a position and it was really exciting. Literally, I was working in the House of Commons for an MP and I was one of three people on his staff. I helped write speeches and did research. It was a fun experience but my typical dinner was having a Guinness … and crackers or something. But London has become more global now. Twenty years ago, it felt like an English city.
Perhaps the British class thing is not so obvious any more.
It really is so multi-cultural. And London to me feels very shiny right now. The city is very clean. I’ve been going to Paris a lot too but Paris to me, although it is always beautiful, it didn’t feel very clean.
It isn’t clean. There are dog turds everywhere. I guess these countries are suffering from lack of money after the downturn. Although people could still pick up after their dogs …
You can see that things are different and you do get a sense of a lot of unemployment in Paris.
In the kitchen eating area the red patent leather on the banquette is from Philip's line for Highland Court. The table is from a Washington, Ct. church fair.
The family's kitchen bulletin board.
In a corner of the family room a tortoise shell lamp by Karl Springer stands upon a small tulip table by Saarinen.
In the family room the sectional sofa is covered Philip's fabric for Highland court. The standing lamp is by Arreduce.
A French 19th century drawing of Alexandre Hesse of Saint Sebastian hangs on a wall in the family room.
An abstract painting by Carol Hunt hangs on a wall above the family room sectional sofa. Mirror ball pendant lights by Thom Dixon give the room a bit of a nightclub atmosphere.
What has changed in your career since the last time we interviewed you?
Um … did I have a fabric collection then? Since then I’ve launched my second collection and I’ve just launched a wallpaper collection. We’re working on a furniture collection as well, and I’m working on a book. And just the business in general has picked up … there was the recession of course, and the worst of that was there was no sense of when it was going to end. Our business is back to where it was and I’m busier now because I guess I have more experience. The clients are back and housing is booming. But definitely the role of the interior designer is changing.
How is it changing?
So much is available now; there’s so much online – I mean you can Google “bunk bed images” and you get five thousand bunk bed designs. Pinterest has changed everything. I see the role of the designer now as advisor and facilitator. It’s still hard to pull everything together—how do you create a cohesive space? That’s where the designer fits in.
The bedroom hall is papered in a bold geometric pattern designed by Bob Collins. The 18th century table was purchased from a client.
In the master bedroom, metal side chairs from the estate of Tony Duquette flank an American bow front chest of drawers, c. 1810. A 1960s Sputnik ceiling fixture hangs above the master bed.
Philip's pottery collection is a mix of Scandinavian, Japanese and Chinese pieces found over the years. The painting is by English artist Vanessa Smith; it was purchased at Art Basel in Miami.
The walls are covered in manila hemp from Phillip Jeffries.
A view across the master bedroom. The painting above the bed is by German artist Michael Laube. The trompe l'oeil painting on the far wall is by Hiroshi Otashi.
Peeking into the living room from the master bedroom.
Philip's son, Charlie makes it clear that it is dangerous to enter his room.
So here is a British question to finish off with: have you had a chip butty yet?
A chip what? Is it food?
It’s a sandwich made from white bread, margarine and then British chips, not French fries. French fries are made from extruded potato mass but British chips are thickly cut direct from peeled potatoes and then deep fried. And you put salt and vinegar on them.
[laughs] I didn’t know that! A chip butty? Okay … wait, so it’s white bread … margarine, not butter? And fries? Okay, I do want to say one thing on food in England … in London you can get everything and the food is so healthy. You can tell it’s healthy because the expiration dates are so short. It’s right off the farm and it’s all organic. The food is really good there!