David Kleinberg

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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.

Kleinberg at our first interview in 2006.

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.

The walls of the library are covered in linen panels with nail heads in a grid motif. David designed the sectional sofa to double as a guest bed equipped with a queen-size pullout.
Guido Gambone vases are arranged atop the library windowsill.
The sectional is upholstered in a combination of green flannel and linen fabric finished with a green linen tape.

A small mirrored-top side table is a vintage Mark Sciarrillo design. The collages on either side of the bookcase were found in Paris.
A pair of Edward Wormley chairs is covered in leather from J. Robert Scott.
An orchid stands atop a marble coffee table found on 1st Dibs.
Looking towards the west wall of the library. On the right, above the desk, are works by John Storrs and Morris Graves.
L to R.: David purchased this 19th century Anglo-English chair during a trip to London in 1988.; The guest bath.

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!”

L to R.: Glass shelves, a mirrored wall and ceiling all reflect light in the bedroom hallway. The mirrored ceiling is a relic of the apartment’s former decorators, Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade.; The bedroom hall is filled with art, books and ceramic sculpture.
Looking across the master bedroom. The ceramic vessel was purchased at Primavera. David’s custom-made bed is topped with an E. Braun & Co. coverlet. A stripe linen fabric covers the walls with matching curtains.
A flat-screen TV hangs above a 1950’s lacquer console.
L to R.: The plaster bust was a gift from a London antiques dealer.; A work by New York artist Mark Sheinkman stands atop a bedside table from Alan Moss.
To create a calm environment, David used neutral tones throughout the bedroom.
In the seating area of the master bedroom a painting by Dozier Bell hangs above a custom linen covered sofa.
A lamp from Primavera stands atop an American cabinet. Lavender orchids pop against the neutral tones of the bedroom seating area.

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.

David created an interesting main hallway by covering the long barrel vaulted ceiling in Venetian plaster.
In the kitchen smooth Calacatta marble countertops mix with vintage stainless- steel cabinets. The standing candelabra is by Erik Höglund.

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.

David decided to keep the original Denning & Fourcade lacquered chinoiserie panels in the dining room.
An Art Deco alabaster fixture hangs above a dining room table by Raphael. The 1940s chairs are covered in a Dedar fabric. The French metal gourd is from Primavera.
L to R.: Standing atop the original marble mantle is a pair of orchid-filled, bronze pots by Just Anderson.; An abundance of storage space is hidden behind the dining room’s original chinoiserie panels.

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.

David had his eye on his current apartment for many years. The elegantly proportioned living room with its thirteen-and-a-half -foot ceilings was a big attraction.
Oversized windows flood the living room with light. A pair of Danish neo-classical cane-backed game chairs stand near a coffee table by Jean Royère.
A large oil painting by contemporary artist Garth Weiser hangs above the sofa.
L to R.: To give the living room a luminous quality David painted the elaborate millwork left by the previous owner in several shades of white.; A French art deco sofa table displays some of David’s box collection.
On the far wall a custom lacquer cabinet was inspired by the work of Maison Jansen.
A group of favorite objects that have traveled with David from apartment to apartment are arranged atop a bronze side table.

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.

A French cabinet displays a group of Danish ceramics. The art above is by Joan Jonas.

L to R.: A whimsical 1930s spiral chandelier, Swiss in origin, is suspended from the living room ceiling.; Looking over the Bruno Romeda circular sculpture towards the fireplace.

Peeking into the main hall, another sculpture by Bruno Romeda.
A view across a custom sofa covered in Romo fabric, towards the black lacquer cabinet that houses a flat screen TV. The artwork above the sofa is by David Bomberg.
David created a separate reading area on the far end of his living room. The Italian directoire table stands next to a wing chair upholstered in Edelman suede fabric.
L to R.: A French mid-century bronze lamp stands prominently atop the Italian directoire table in the reading area of the living room.; A tufted ‘bookcase sofa’ creates a cozy place to sit and read.

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.

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