At first the architect and designer, Campion Platt seemed to want to hide behind long, brainy answers to our questions (we cut quite a lot of them) but he loosened up and he’s such a nice man—has an endearing love of dark chocolate and thriller movies, created the most gorgeous non-saccharine pink bedroom in New York for his wife—and, one of these little surprises we get when we ask the right question—loves cutting people’s hair.
His new book, Campion Platt: Made to Order (The Monacelli Press) showcases his assured modern take on interiors and we winkled out of him some of what he meant by his belief that a ‘storyline’ should guide the ideas behind a project.
The first thing I wanted to talk to you about is your quote on your website about luxury and materiality [“Luxury is about materiality and context”] What is that about? What does that mean?
Oh … you’re putting me on the spot here. It means that when you step away and you’re talking about luxury in itself, luxury can be defined by many things—it’s about the best product, the highest style.
When we’re designing for clients, it’s not about the cost of an object, it’s much more about the quality of the experience. It is about the context. At the end of the day, when the client comes their own living space, they should feel comfortable.
So what are your most failsafe techniques for figuring out what a client wants?
…. I’ve had lots of experience not doing it the right way. But you know the phrase: “My architect, my shrink.”? I know more about them than their best friends do.
Are you direct about asking who is going to be in charge of the money?
In a way, yes, because I want to have very clear cut ways to get from A to B. And you know, they have to sign all the drawings, so everything they’re approving along the way is something they’re agreeing to … I’m always very budget-minded from the beginning. I usually present a few options for something within the parameters of the overall story we’re trying to tell and once they sign on to that story, then it’s very easy for them to say if the story is this, then it follows that these are the only two options that work in this space. I’m very pragmatic about it. I try to stay to that storyline so that the theme runs all the way through. That’s not to say it’s kind of matchy-matchy.
The word ‘theme’ is a bit scary … you don’t want it to look ‘theme-y’.
Exactly, that’s what I’m saying … I want them to say, “Where does this piece come from and where is this piece from?” I’m into fractal geometry.
It’s like a snowflake.
I haven’t heard this, about having to have ‘story’ for an interior design project. What’s the difference between a ‘story’ and inspiration?
You have to have a story before you can become inspired.
So this is all very cerebral—how receptive are people to this?
Well, one of the reasons I wanted to do a book was [to express] those parts of a conversation at a cerebral level, a conversation I might not exactly have with a client. Here was my opportunity to describe a process. I mean those conversations with the clients are more natural. Those conversations are about trying to draw them out, listening to what they say and tagging them to create this ‘storyline’ at the beginning.
So what was your ‘story’ in this apartment?
Well, my wife who came from D.C., always wanted the white loft downtown—that meant exposed radiators and pipes everywhere. I said, that’s all well and good but let’s do something a little more ‘with it’. So she wanted the white walls and white floors but then basically said you go do what you want after that. She actually didn’t come to the apartment for eight months—until we moved in.
God, weren’t you nervous?
We moved in July 4th and I cooked dinner for her and we had dinner out on the terrace. We watched the fireworks–you could see them on both sides … and she loved it. So we slept there that night and the next night there was a torrential downpour … about 200 gallons of water came in through that light fixture [in the main living area] and destroyed everything here. We had to move out for four months. We got one night …
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Well, it’s ten percent design and ninety percent execution. But I like sketching, the very beginning.
How about the feeling on completion? Is it anti-climactic?
Yes. Completion is an inevitability and hopefully goes as well as possible but I’m much more concerned with the front end.
Are you a spender?
No, it’s funny, all the magazines call me and ask me what I’m collecting right now but I don’t really collect anything. I’d rather not have anything. You know, we have a few houses, a few kids, all these objects, insurances and everything—it all becomes a drain. I’d rather not focus on that.
Does the responsibility of being the one who generates most of the income get to you? Are you a worrier?
No, I don’t worry at all. It is what it is and worrying about it is not going to change anything. But I’ve been cutting my twenty-year-old son’s hair since he was zero, and I end up cutting hair for a lot of friends. I always figure whatever happens, I can always go work in the barbershop. I love cutting hair—it’s instantly gratifying.