Philip Gorrivan is living out something of a dream at the moment since he and his family have moved to South Kensington in London where they will be for the next couple of years. The trick, he says, to falling in love with a city is to quit comparing it to your own city. He still has his design business here in New York and is traveling back to the office every other month. Another designer who is part of our “second-time-around” series, we interviewed him in his rental apartment several years ago. He has since bought and decorated a new apartment on the Upper East Side—but we had the feeling he couldn’t wait to get back to London. If you don’t read the whole interview you won’t get to the part where he says the weather in England is often sunny and the food is really good …
So, the last time we interviewed you, you were “Superman” – you were married, with small kids and working until midnight, involved in lots of charities … the list was long.
Well, I’m still married with kids and still working …
And you’ve moved to London, right?
We moved to London in August and the children are in school there. Lisa, my wife, has a new position in the bank and it’s something we’ve always talked about or dreamt about, going to live in a place like London or Paris for two years. And we were lucky because we managed to get our kids into the school of out first choice within two months.
Wow, that was lucky. Where in London did you decide to live?
We live in South Kensington and the kids love it. London is such a great change from New York. The moment I stopped comparing London to New York, I started really loving London.
That is the trick, isn’t it? You have to see the city on its own terms.
You have to. We always try to look at other cities in terms of our city. You’re trying to say this area is like the Upper East Side or is this area the West Village of London?
Can you describe your house in London?
We live in a Grade II listed Georgian house; it’s a whole house, one of those white Georgians with a black door. We’re right off of Thurloe Square, in a lovely street. We have a lot of open space because we have two gardens either side. I guess one of the nicest things is the sense of open space wherever you go.
Yes, there is a lot of green in London – and cats in the street, which you don’t see here.
Not only cats but foxes! We had a fox the other night on our street!
Yes, the urban foxes, they’re really at home. We’re making London sound so cool but I have to confess, I don’t really like London. It’s not inclusive … perhaps it was because I lived there when I was young and lonely and poor.
[laughs] So I had a moment when I lived in London when I was young and lonely and poor. It was when I was in college—I worked in the House of Commons for six months.
Yes, I’ve tried that … is Park Slope like Hampstead? But in the end it doesn’t work. What are the kinds of things in London that you’ve started to enjoy?
The whole design scene is refreshingly different. There are so many companies, furniture makers and fabric designers that are very specific to the United Kingdom. A lot of English companies don’t even have distribution beyond the UK. So that’s been a discovery. And once you get to know the city, there are so many different places for antiques and vintage pieces in all these neighborhoods, so that’s exciting. Also, everyone is always complaining about the weather but there are in fact lots of sunny days—and everything is flowering right now. It’s already spring!
So have you got any British clients yet?
It takes a little bit of time but we have one project. I’m here every other month and we’re super busy here right now with close to a dozen projects.
How did you end up getting that job?
I studied art history, political science and international relations in college in Vermont, and then I applied for this program. I got a position and it was really exciting. Literally, I was working in the House of Commons for an MP and I was one of three people on his staff. I helped write speeches and did research. It was a fun experience but my typical dinner was having a Guinness … and crackers or something. But London has become more global now. Twenty years ago, it felt like an English city.
Perhaps the British class thing is not so obvious any more.
It really is so multi-cultural. And London to me feels very shiny right now. The city is very clean. I’ve been going to Paris a lot too but Paris to me, although it is always beautiful, it didn’t feel very clean.
It isn’t clean. There are dog turds everywhere. I guess these countries are suffering from lack of money after the downturn. Although people could still pick up after their dogs …
You can see that things are different and you do get a sense of a lot of unemployment in Paris.
What has changed in your career since the last time we interviewed you?
Um … did I have a fabric collection then? Since then I’ve launched my second collection and I’ve just launched a wallpaper collection. We’re working on a furniture collection as well, and I’m working on a book. And just the business in general has picked up … there was the recession of course, and the worst of that was there was no sense of when it was going to end. Our business is back to where it was and I’m busier now because I guess I have more experience. The clients are back and housing is booming. But definitely the role of the interior designer is changing.
How is it changing?
So much is available now; there’s so much online – I mean you can Google “bunk bed images” and you get five thousand bunk bed designs. Pinterest has changed everything. I see the role of the designer now as advisor and facilitator. It’s still hard to pull everything together—how do you create a cohesive space? That’s where the designer fits in.
So here is a British question to finish off with: have you had a chip butty yet?
A chip what? Is it food?
It’s a sandwich made from white bread, margarine and then British chips, not French fries. French fries are made from extruded potato mass but British chips are thickly cut direct from peeled potatoes and then deep fried. And you put salt and vinegar on them.
[laughs] I didn’t know that! A chip butty? Okay … wait, so it’s white bread … margarine, not butter? And fries? Okay, I do want to say one thing on food in England … in London you can get everything and the food is so healthy. You can tell it’s healthy because the expiration dates are so short. It’s right off the farm and it’s all organic. The food is really good there!