It’s always interesting to interview a designer after they’ve moved to another apartment and, given designers’ penchant for moving, we think eventually we may well be interviewing everyone at least twice for HOUSE. The ever-elegant David Kleinberg recently switched from a glass eerie near the 59th Street Bridge to a small but perfectly-formed, very grown-up apartment in the east 70s with a large, beautiful, airy living room that is as elegant as he is.
Let’s just ask why you moved because your last quote from our previous interview with you was that you can become addicted to glass buildings—obviously you’ve gotten over that addiction.
I sort of aged out of that building. Everyone in the building was young and they were in their late twenties or early thirties and they were all pushing strollers. I kind of felt old and then—no disrespect intended—but one of the housewives from New York Housewives lived above me—and I thought, I’ve got to get out of this place.
And not another glass building?
I’ve always said, I just want one nice room—find something with a pretty living room and I’m fine but they usually come in ten-room apartments and I can’t afford one of those.
What did this place look like when you bought it?
I’ll show you the real estate brochure. The decoration was very Denning and Fourcade: a lot of faux bois and damask and borders on the ceiling. There were so many curtains on that window you couldn’t tell it was a window.
I wonder why people smother windows with curtains.
Well with this window, there’s a nasty-looking brick building outside of it but the light in this room is divine.
Do you have a design alter ego, a kind of love of a style that you don’t actually create in real life, so to speak?
Yeah. You’ll see the dining room. But it would be very correct, French, very proper.
This is very elegant though. Elegance to me seems to be something you do very well. The refined mixing works well.
I hope so. And like you said when you came in, “Oh I remember that from your other apartment!”
So is this it? No more moves? I read somewhere that you have a habit of moving. Why do you move a lot?
Um, I never think of myself as moving a lot but I realize I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to repaint. I think I say to myself, “If I have to take the books off the shelf and move the furniture, I may as well just keep on going.”
I don’t believe you—there must be more to it than that.
That’s really why I’ve done it. With this one, I like the small building, I like the intimacy of it. And it makes me feel even more grown-up.
You’re very grown-up! You don’t go in for trends. What has changed though, over time? What do people want now?
Things haven’t changed that much. My clients still want something that is elegant. Everyone says that they want things to be refined but they want to it to be livable. All my clients say to me, “I want this to be the house that my kids’ friends come to.”
Gosh, that’s not how I think of your rooms.
Well look at these chairs [strokes his chair]. Pet one of these chairs—they’re like a GeoPet!
There are no giant beanbags.
Not in this house but there are rabbit-covered giant beanbags in an apartment just across the Park.
We asked you last time what sort of design trends you hated and you said ’70’s light fixtures.
And I still do! And I was pretty prescient about how much would be coming flooding into the market!
What do you think of other trends—the Roman and Williams retro thing for example?
You know, it’s never been my look but I’ve always sort thought that kind of “old tat” look had its charms.
Oh dear you’re damning it with very faint praise!
No … I mean I kind of get it. But I think what they do, and maybe I shouldn’t say this but the way that Axel Vervoordt does it kind of feels inherent, it feels natural, whereas the way they do it feels like what they’ve come from, which is set design.
What would you say it takes to get to the top of this profession?
I’ve always said that it’s not that I’m the best decorator but I show up. I do what I say I’m going to do. I’m not nonsense. I’m not bullshit. I’m not dishonest. Here’s the way I work. Here’s the fee you’re going to pay me.
So you make people feel secure.
Right. And people know that I’m their advocate. It’s sort of like the way people are a little nervous of walking into art galleries—I think people are a little wary—still—of this business. You know, [they worry] are there hidden costs? How does this work? Am I really paying the right guy?
What it takes to get to the top is there. I think you have to have some talent and I won’t be so disingenuous as to say I’m not good at what I do but I think I’m just an honest, fair person and people respond to that. There’s a reason I’ve done four or five projects for the same clients.
What are you better at now than when you first started?
Delegating. And the clients are pretty cool about it. Yes they want me but it’s shocking to me how much happens, not that I’m not aware of, but that happens between the client and the project designer. That is totally gratifying because I made the right choice when I hired them. I trained them because they now represent my point of view. I just think, wow, that works! That all goes back to Albert Hadley.
So do you see yourself working as long as he did?
No, I don’t want to be doing this until I’m ninety.
So what do you want to do?
Well … I don’t sort of have a third act in mind. I don’t have a back up plan. I used to think I’m going to buy an apartment in Paris and live there, but maybe I’ll just sit in this nice room and read a book.