Yet another death impacted the design world this past week, that of esteemed designer and architect, David Easton. One of our early interviews for the House column, we met with David in 2007 when he was still living in his downtown loft. He was on the verge of experimenting with living in a modular home in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the time the sale at William Doyle of a goodly portion of his worldly possessions was the first part of the experiment. Luckily he still owned the New York part of his life, which was put on show and which we are re-running for you today. He wrote the captions himself, and they do capture his voice. He really was a thinker, managing to sound erudite, charming, funny and slightly offbeat all at the same time. Rather thrillingly, he also told us that he drinks a glass of red wine with his breakfast each morning.
I’ve actually interviewed you once before, ages ago when I worked at Money magazine … I don’t even remember how I got your name or who you were. I just knew you were a well-known decorator …
[In tones of aghast, mock surprise] Are you here to interview me because I’m in the design world? I’m a sex therapist.
Then we have even more questions for you … Are you well-known?
I’m not Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Would you like to be Arnold Schwarzenegger?
I’d love to be running part of the government.
What would you do?
Well, the first thing I would do is … George Bush … I’m talking about cutting his …
Um … emasculating him?
Thank you. That’s so much more polite.
What else would you do, apart from that?
I would get the troops out of Iraq. He’s so stupid he doesn’t know that Mohammed died in 632 AD and they’ve been fighting for fourteen hundred years and you’re not going to solve it. And we wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the greed of oil.
Are you generally interested in history?
I’ve taught history actually, at Parsons …and I’ve got thousands of books to prove it. The problem is I think it is less and less relevant to the future.
Why? We don’t arrive out of a vacuum.
It’s not important anymore. I’ve built all these Georgian houses, we’re talking about fifteen to twenty-five thousand square foot houses. Young people are not going to build that way. They still are up in Greenwich but that’s the last blast. We can’t afford to. We’re not going to be able to afford to.
Do you think it’s necessary for people to have such large houses?
No, I think in the day and age when people are starving and dying … I know I’m sounding like Mother Theresa. Did you ever see her when she was dead with her feet? … She had these little tiny feet like bird’s feet … that’s subtext …um … the population is changing. The earth can’t afford it. That’s why Jimmy [his partner] and I are going to build a modular house, just as an experiment to learn how to do it. And it’s not going to be classical.
You think this is one of the ways people are going to be building in the future?
I think it’s the only way people are going to be building in the future.
When you say modular do you mean it’s in pieces, like a kit?
There’s several different modular productions of houses. Actually Sears Roebuck, if you look at the 1908 catalog, you can get a two-bedroom house for $359 and then you can buy your stove, your refrigerator, your bananas and your underwear …well, not the bananas … but when the population doubles, what are you going to do? – if we survive
Well we’re just going to be living in these mammoth cities, aren’t we?
Look at science fiction. Read William Gibson’s Necromancer. Look at the world of the future or go all the way back to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, 1932. Fucking cloning, cloning! All those things, well not all of them but a lot of them, are going to come true. Jules Verne, 1853, Around the World in Eighty Days and that kind of thing. But certainly the technology, the advances of technology, the requirement for technology, certainly the population, and most important in America is the demographics. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant drops from 72% to 54% (I’m all for it – that’s what America is all about) It’s going to change the value system for classical architecture.
What is going to happen instead?
When you read Gibson or [Neal] Stephenson’s Snow Crash, you read about people who don’t live any place. They’re all in flux. They’re bunking in bunks that you pull out of the wall, as you’ve seen in Hong Kong or Tokyo.
Isn’t that fundamentally against our nature? I mean we need a cave to call our own.
No, we adapt. That’s what we do. It’s Darwin. Richard Dawkins and his book on God. This whole thing of science versus God is a critical factor in terms of change. Will Christianity survive? We’re gonna get what we deserve starting in 1094 with the first Crusades.
You’re not factoring in the triumph of science over religion. You’re saying that Islam will take over and secularism will give way to another belief system. I am [factoring that in.] When you look at history, Mesopotamia, Iraq, those religions are gone. Five thousand years ago, you look at Greece and Rome – gone. Christianity is weakening.
Great art came out of those religions …
You can’t deny the great things of religion but it doesn’t stand the test of intelligence. I believe in science.
Doesn’t affluence, above all else, sound the death knell of religion? Richer countries are less religious than poorer ones.
I understand what you’re saying … but I think in the end survival will defeat religions.
I take it you’re not religious then?
Absolutely not. I had 20 fucking years of Catholic education. [laughs]
You sound pessimistic although you don’t strike me as a pessimist.
Oh, I’m not pessimistic. I only saying change is going to take place. Also I find our work is changing.
How is that changing?
Well it’s just that we’ve done more modern things than previously … we are doing a job in Jackson Hole and they put in front me these log cabins and I said let’s just look at more modern contemporary wood buildings. I put together a package of images of more country-style houses from all over, but some of the most critical ones were in Belgium, because there’s wonderful style going on there right now … really wonderful. I travel a lot … you can buy mushrooms in Amsterdam. Happy Valley it’s called.
Were they good?
Do you think Europe is more exciting –design wise– than the United States?
We’re too rich. We’re too rich. I mean we don’t have to adapt.
What do you think of all these glass buildings going up in the city?
They’re inevitable … ubiquitous in their decoration. They’ve all become so simplified that they all look alike.
Why are we becoming so conformist?
I always think that maybe life has become so rich in other things than possessions. I’m not saying that everyone that has a glass-walled apartment building is intensely intelligent but I think that there’s an acuity that exists in New York that is so focused on success and survival and moving forward that often times we put away a lot of our stuff.
That sounds awful to me.
Read Clockwork Orange.
How do you define success?
Honey, it’s one thing. Money. Honey, money. Money, honey.
What’s your attitude to money?
Well I realize as I’ve gotten older that’s it’s important to have accumulated in terms of what people have generally, no a lot but enough that I know that I could survive. This apartment, which I know it’s vulgar to say it, but it only costs $834 in maintenance, and so I know I can pay that and this project we’re working on, the modular house down in Charlottesville [VA], and I’m going to go teach and live there.
So that’s the experiment.
Well, the modular is an experiment and so is living there. I don’t know if I can live in Charlottesville …What I’d really like to do is open a bookshop with a fireplace and a wine bar and a long table and lots of books and have people come in and talk all day.
Why can’t you?
It’s a wonderful dream but … small bookshops, they’re edgy financially. As a joke I said:
What the hell, I’ll open a sex shop in the basement. There are no sex shops in Charlottesville … that I know of.