Photographs by Jeff Hirsch
One of Brock Forsblom’s friends introduces him thus: “This is Brock. He went to Yale and then he became a decorator.” Well, we can let his friend know that there are plenty of Ivy League graduates among the decorators we have interviewed—somehow their academic achievement doesn’t get in their way. Brock, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, has a less spiky response, which is that what he likes most about the job is the practical problem solving aspect of it. He’s also a thinker and he’s well aware that this is a world primarily driven by fantasy wish fulfillment … as well as other, darker impulses. Having majored in English, he left his former job working for Tony Ingrao and is now writing what sounds like an intriguing novel set in the world of interior design. There’s a distinct paucity of novels written by interior designers and we’re hoping it finds a publisher soon.
You’ve clearly had a lot of “hand” in this apartment—you like to make things, don’t you?
There’s a lot of “hand”. I think I’d prefer it to be either urban or provincial, as long as there is “hand”, you know what I mean?
It looks like you entertain a lot in here too.
I try to.
So, we’ve put you in the “up and coming” category—is that where you place yourself?
Um … I think no other category could hold me [laughs]
But it takes a lot of confidence to leave Tony Ingrao and start to work on your own, doesn’t it?
The reason I left Tony was to write a book, which I am actually writing. That’s a whole other thing. From a design perspective, working for Tony was fantastic. It was penthouse, after duplex, after Palm Beach … Hamptons, whatever. The man’s got it made—it’s raining. But I worked there for eight years—I learned a ton—but at a certain point it was, “this is fabouche, this is amazing but” … it seemed more exciting to try something … you know … slightly …
So what did you learn there?
Well to harken back to my Columbus-Ohio-ness, which comes with a deep sense of fantasy—I learned from Tony how to be grand, you know?
But does that describe your style?
Am I grand? I think I like a grand gesture. I think if you’re going to do something, let’s just go for it. There’s tackiness that comes with grandeur sometimes—I’m not accusing Tony of tackiness—but sometimes by being big, you go too far and make dubious choices.
But you didn’t study design, you studied English, right?
That was the first fantasy. Interior design is very much the playing out of all the things that I kind of ate up as a reader. That sounds terribly … um …
What were you reading?
I was drawn to the early novels, the 18th century and the early 19th century, which are broadly domestic. You know, we have the Austens turning the Gothic novel into the novel and Tristram Shandy and Sterne …
But Jane Austen hardly ever describes interiors or houses.
No, it wasn’t so much about description. But you do get the Balzacs, the Stendhahls, The Way We Live Now and all of that … all of the set dressing, which of course I eat up as well. There’s nothing better than a little set dressing.
So the 18th century fired your imagination?
Yeah … that and my best friend’s mother had the most sublime living room filled with old French furniture. I’m not over it. She was French and grew up summering in a castle—not a very pretty castle but it was a castle—and that meant a lot to me. It had a few Louis XV bergères in it, upholstered in velvet … I just thought, “This is it.” It still might be it for me. I could put a little Louis XV bergère in every room of my life. I don’t … because of my boyfriend, I try to spare the French antiques. It’s all too “old lady” for him—that’s the blanket term.
The grandma thing. That’s what my husband says about antiques but they will come back. Okay, so you didn’t study design at all?
I was a failed architecture major. I studied architecture for two and a half years and no one ever sleeps. As a twenty-one year old, I was like, “I don’t want to not sleep for the next decade of my life.” I adore sleeping.
An architecture degree does seem to be so much work.
It’s so much work, I think more even than something like corporate law. It is a culture of pain and suffering, like communal … aggghh! It’s horrendous! And I thought, these are not my people. Most of the other classes I was taking were literature classes, so I kind of back-ended into that.
And what did you do after you graduated?
I got a job at Christie’s as the abandoned property … well my title was “specialist” although specialists took umbrage at that. [laughs]
Abandoned property specialist? That was your title? What was the job like?
It was totally strange. It was an inventory management issue for Christie’s because there was all this stuff. It was all of the stuff that hadn’t been picked up or people had only picked up half of it.
Oh so it was abandoned stuff at Christie’s?
Yes. It was all kind of things like the stuff that had been sent to Christie’s, like fakes for example. If you, unsolicited, send a fake to Christie’s, they don’t send it back.
What were you supposed to do with it all?
If it was really abandoned, like no tag, no nothing and it was worth something, I was supposed to put it back into a sale and hold the proceeds in escrow. If it was bought and paid for, I would have to try and get it back to them, which was a lot harder. You know there is a lot of death involved in all of this, a lot of divorce—death and divorce are the only reasons auction houses exist. And debt. I wrote a poem about death, debt and divorce when I worked there—that’s the auction house saying, that’s their business.
Did you publish the poem?
Yes it was my piece in the Christie’s staff art show.
Okay, so you are a writer as well as an interior designer.
Yes … well what is the literary version of a Sunday painter? A Sunday writer.
Do you write on Sundays?
And the book that you wanted to write when you left Tony Ingrao, what was that?
Oh, it’s a novel … coming of age, bildungsroman … novel, set in the world of interior design.
I think a novel set in the world of interior design could be extremely juicy.
Is it a comic novel?
Well, it ends in a wedding, which is, I suppose, more comic than tragic. [But] I mean there’s a lot of like … darkness involved in all of this.
Tell us about the darkness …
The darkness I’m interested in—I’m sure there are plenty of darknessess—but the trap laid for many, if not all, in the interior design world, is getting confused with your clients. Now some interior designers are really rich and can do whatever they want—Tony is one of those. You know, if you’re Peter Marino or Jacques Grange, you can live a big life and you have a lot of money but even if you have a lot of money, you probably don’t have a billion dollars. And for everyone who works in the industry, there’s this strange edge or line, where you spend all day long selling things you can’t afford to people who can afford them.
And what effect does that have then?
Well, for some people, it’s a job, like selling widgets, it just happens to be $25 000 consoles but there are people who get very attached to these things and they’re like, “Where’s my $25 000 console?”
So it’s all about envy?
Yeah! It’s about envy but it’s also about [how] people have notions about what they deserve and what they expect and what they need to be happy. It’s true of anything, clothes, cars, interiors. I just happen to know more about interiors than I know about cars. There are so many stories of designers who live beyond their means and the ones that get caught because they have started stealing. There was this designer who was known to be a kleptomaniac and he would go into stores and the dealers would follow him around because they knew he would steal things. I forget if it was a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt or a Whitney, one of these big ladies [for whom he was working] and he stole like, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s pipe from her house and then published it in table scape in his house in Architectural Digest! This was like in the ’70s or something.
This is a riot. I wonder who he is … well he’s probably dead by now. So you really think that a lot of interior designers are driven by a kind of psychotic materialism?
I think it’s a presence, certainly. And so much of being an interior designer is having your own fantasy and the fantasy fulfillment of others—it’s a lot of fantasy wish fulfillment.
And what other aspects of their tortured souls will you be exploring in the novel?
Well there’s kind of the rise and decline of our hero—if you can call him a hero …
Normally if interior designers appear in anything fictional, they’re parodied—I mean it’s interesting that you’re taking this approach.
Yes, like “The Pajama Game”. Although “Interiors” is a good example of a depressing interior design movie—the Woody Allen movie. It’s like, “This celadon vase will fix everything.”
I think this is wonderful material—I really hope you get it published. You’re very intelligent—on a day-to-day basis, thinking that you actually do this for a living, how do you do it if you’re so analytical about it?
Yes my friend likes to introduce me: “This is Brock. He went to Yale and then he became a decorator.” But I’ve been to my college reunion—they’re like, “Cool!” Or maybe I’m a broken gay man … I don’t know! [laughs loudly] At the end of the day, I like the practical role of interior designer. Yes, there are throw pillows and tchotchkes and gold but at a certain point, there is a lot of problem solving that I like. And … [he drops his voice to a whisper] … I love touching things.
Who are your clients then—what kind of people?
You mean like right now? I work for my friends.
Who are your friends?
They’re like artistic people. I’m doing a ladies’ clothing store on Lexington in the seventies.
I’ve never been to Ohio—what was it like growing up there?
Charming. Playing in the backyard.