On occasion, and this was one of them, we almost forget to talk about design at all in an interview. Barry Goralnick is both an architect and interior designer but he’s also a passionate reader and very involved with the theater so that was the direction in which our conversation mostly headed. His husband, Keith Gordon is a composer and lyricist, and, as you will see in the photographs, they have an amazing little recording studio tucked into their Chelsea loft. We love talking about books and reading but we charged Barry with the task of convincing us to fall back in love with theater—he did try and we did leave agreeing that if we continue to rule it out, then it’s our loss.
I read your bio and you’re kind of brainy … lots of degrees, Harvard, English literature, a specialist in Baroque architecture and so on. I guess one of the things we talk about quite often is training, or whether training is actually needed. I know you’re an architect and obviously you need that training but when it comes to interior design, we meet so many who never had any kind of formal training.
That’s very controversial. Honestly, I think we all find our way. I mean as an architect you need engineering and all that but I know people who come to interior design, like Clodagh through fashion. Amy Lau has a degree in fine arts.
We interview designers from an extraordinary variety of backgrounds, dancers, people from publishing, finance, teaching … the list goes on and on.
Right, well Charlotte Moss started in finance. It’s sort of like being a movie star – it’s something that’s not definable but it pops out. I just saw Django Unchained and I thought, Christoph Waltz has the most charisma of any person … it’s just astounding.
And you know it when you see it.
And you know it when you don’t see it. Things are flat.
But I guess that creativity has to be fostered in some way.
In my life it was my mom, I mean she was a stay-at-home mom, but she loved design. We were always redecorating the house and we moved to the beach so I was building sandcastles, well, like houses and architectural designs. I was just encouraged to be creative. She actually could draw pretty well and it was sort of a shame that she was the wrong generation.
Yes, it was a lost generation in a way.
Later when I went to college she became a real estate agent because she loved going around peoples’ houses. It’s a little tangentially doing what I do, matching people to their homes.
Yes we’ve noticed that with our interviewees, the way the apple doesn’t always fall so far from the tree.
Well, actually I took one of those interest tests because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. My number one thing was minister. [Laughs]
As in priest?
It was because of my love of reading and analyzing things.
Is that your first love then, reading?
It would be very hard to choose. I love reading. I read all the time.
What do you like to read? What are you reading at the moment?
I read mostly novels and biographies. I’m reading a novel called Watergate [by Thomas Mallon]. It’s new. There are like a hundred and twelve characters in that story who all had a part in it.
Isn’t that a story that’s so well known—it would be so hard to make it fresh again?
You would think so but you kind of get into Nixon’s head and Pat [his wife] and his secretary [Rose Mary Woods] and the burglars …
Why did you choose that novel?
Okay, I put this thing on Facebook saying I’m looking for a new novel—give me ideas. A friend sent me this list and I’ve read all of Thomas Mallon’s books, and I felt like I’d had enough but it’s really good. And he kind of makes a little twisty Rosebud mystery, which you don’t expect.
Do you read off a Kindle or the print version?
My partner gave me a Kindle a couple of years ago, thinking I would hate it. I love it. I read on an iPad now. And we’ve run out of space [for books].
Why do you have a blog?
For one thing, we’re all trying to forge our brand, get work and get better known. Because I have so many interests, including theater, it’s like I’m creating my own little magazine. It’s really fun for me to tell people about things.
Alexis Bittar [the jeweler] has the most charming blog—and it includes all his spelling mistakes. It’s wonderful.
[Laughs] I was at a Christmas party and a friend of mine, a theater producer, said, “Oh I read this and I saw that on your blog.” And I said, “But you never comment on anything.” He said, “I’ll only will say snarky things to people if they’re being self-promoting.” I said, “Well, you’ve never said anything to me.” And he said, “You’re just on the line.”
But everybody is spinning themselves in a million directions—isn’t it exhausting?
No. In fact [having connected through Facebook] I’m having drinks tomorrow night with a girl from college who I haven’t seen in thirty years.
But there must be a reason you haven’t seen her for thirty years.
So as well as disliking social media, I’ve also gone off something else you love, which is theater. Can you coax me back? Convert me? So much I’ve seen has been horrible.
There is some really good theater out there but it’s not all Broadway theater. The show I really liked on Broadway last year was Clybourne Park. I also thought Peter and the Starcatcher was refreshing, made me feel like a kid again.
I read the reviews. That’s all I do now. What does it have over a good movie or a really good HBO series?
There’s just something about live performance that is mesmerizing and ther
e is nothing quite like the way an audience engages with performers and vice-versa. The challenge for Broadway is economics. Today most shows need to have a big star to be successful and that gets expensive.
That didn’t used to happen. There used to be theater stars but the Hollywood actors weren’t shipped in.
Yeah, it’s always happened. In the late fifties, there were theater stars like Ethel Merman, but then they would ship in Lucille Ball to do a big musical. It’s not a new phenomenon.
Now they want Russell Crowe … and Scarlett Johansson.
Apparently, she’s good.
Well, that’s all that matters.
There’s so much good stuff being done all around the fringes. In March they were, like, a hundred shows opening, all vying for press and reviews. It’s really hard.
So how do you allocate your time, your design work, your theater interests, your reading. What’s your method?
[Laughs] That’s a really good question! It’s a balancing act. And I set parameters. I don’t work on weekends.
Is design one big fantasy of order? Outer order contributes to inner calm in some way?
One hopes! Ironically so many people say to us, “We don’t want it to look like it’s been designed.”
And what you do you say to them?
I just sort of nod and carry on.