As interior designers and seasoned art collectors, the husband-and-wife team Christine and John Gachot know how to make their décor sing operatic visual ballads or else diminish to a whisper, allowing fine art to take center stage in a room. This positions them well to meet the wide range of their clients’ needs, some of whom return from Art Basel with blue-chip artworks, and others who wouldn’t know a John Baldessari from a Matthew Barney.
Since starting their own studio two years ago, their portfolio has also caught the eye of stars of the design world. They have worked on the West Village townhouse of fashion designer Marc Jacobs and the Brooklyn home of Tumblr founder David Karp. Commercial projects have included the mid-century modern NoHo restaurant Acme and a soon-to-be opened shuffleboard club at TheRoyal Palm in Brooklyn. In their light-flooded SoHo office, surrounded by a sea of carpet and fabric samples, the duo talked about the intersection of art and design, how the Internet has changed interior design, and the challenge of making the perfect lampshade.
You met in the studio of the legendary interior designer Bill Sofield in SoHo. What did you learn from Sofield about the field and the intersection of art and design?
John: When I moved back to New York, I realized how spatially obsessed people were. I had done a lot of drafting and furniture design in college, but had not really considered it as a career. But when I saw Bill Sofield’s studio in SoHo, I discovered a new connection between art and design as it related to craftsmanship. The light bulb went off. I was looking for a mentor to show me how to translate fine art into design, and Bill was it.
Christine: Bill is a great lover of art. He did some very interesting things by working with a young art community at Aero Studios and really sought out artists to give them a new arena—interior design—to make and sell art. Take [abstract painter] Nancy Lorenz, who is an old friend of Bill’s and ours, and has gone on to do incredible installations for Chanel and Gucci. Matthew Benedict is another artist who we met through Bill and now incorporate into our own design work.
How would you describe your design sensibility?
Christine: It is practical first.
John: At the end of the day, you are producing something physical. When you interact with it, it needs to function. It seems like a very mundane quality, but there is a beauty to that, too. And part of that is making the space flow really well. When Christine and I sit down to a project we start with the plan.
And how do you begin the conversation with clients?
Christine: These days, everyone is comfortable speaking ‘design.’ They’re savvy because information is not locked away in rare books. There’s Tumblr, Pinterest, and Houzz. All of these social media outlets allow clients to have a voice. That’s really changed our process. Back in the day, you would present to clients. But now clients come with lookbooks, fabrics, and material samples. Not only that, they get how it’s all going to function: air flow, acoustical engineering, AV, sound proofing. It makes our job so much cooler. We really consider the client as part of the design team.
But you also work with designers who have a strong personal aesthetic—Marc Jacobs, for example. What is it like working with people in creative fields?
John: Designers definitely understand the creative process. Our work is teaching them to translate it to architectural space. Even working with Marc Jacobs, who is very capable of expressing what it is he wants, he is asking questions about how certain things apply themselves to upholstery or walls. It’s a different vocabulary. But for them, it’s like picking up a new language and being fluent in it immediately.
For your clients who aren’t collectors, where do you source your art?
John: It depends. Some clients come in with art advisors; others need help. We start by sending the client out to the galleries and auction previews to get a sense of what they like. From there, it becomes a conversation. We look to cultivate confidence in our clients to select art that moves them personally. After all, it is their home. For a recent Jane Street project, we selected edition prints by Vik Muniz, Lawrence Weiner, John Baldessari, and Walton Ford.
Christine: Some clients, who are more established collectors, come back from venues like Basel with the most incredible purchases. One client recently returned with great pieces by George Condo, Cecily Brown, and Ryan McGinley. We get phone calls asking, “How big is that wall of mine? I’m sending you this image, will this fit?” Technology allows us to render the art in a drawing while they are on the phone, so they can see it in their space before they make the purchase.
Is an artwork ever the inspiration for a room?
Christine: Absolutely. It is interesting when the design takes a completely secondary role. One client has an exquisite art collection, and I question how much we really need to design. The art is it.
John: How do you create an elegant backdrop? You want the design to fade away and let the art live in a proportioned space that feels right.
What are the common hurtles you encounter working with clients?
Christine: Making sure that everybody understands the process. It’s easy to oversimplify. It’s like somebody who doesn’t paint seeing an Ellsworth Kelly, and saying that’s so simple, I could do that. If you don’t intimately understand the many facets, it's difficult to know what it takes to furnish a room or build a building. There are so many different components and so many different people involved. Bill Sofield used to say, “It takes just as long to make a good lampshade as it does to build a building.” And he was right. The perfect lampshade takes a lot of consideration and coordination.
How would you describe your own home décor?
John: It’s very edited. I know I’ve been edited.
Christine: By me? It’s so difficult. I’m a designer, but can’t afford all of the furniture I would like because, well, I’m a designer. We have two sons and live in a loft, where they skateboard and shoot Nerf guns. So we try to have things that are accessible and fun for them. I love pop culture. The boys and I can always be found at Kidrobot—we love Dunnys. We just bought Chris Burden’s piece What Is a Family for them and curated an Ugly Doll collection underneath it. They read the piece out loud often and laugh. It’s amazing.
John: It’s outside of my design comfort zone, but we treat ourselves as clients, being like, “Okay look, here's your budget, and you have these two guys skateboarding and climbing up the walls. How do we create something comfortable and functional for you?”
Do you collect art?
Christine: We do. Anything from found Henry Dreyfuss posters to a Walton Ford print that I bought for John for Christmas. The boys love artists like KAWS and Anthony Lister. Our son was hoping we could afford to buy the slide installation by Carsten Höller at the New Museum. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. We do have work by Lawrence Weiner, Catherine Abbey, Robert Loughlin, Harmony Korine, and Raymond Pettibon. And, Matthew Benedict—we have six pieces of his work that we were so blessed to have acquired when we were all very young. One of my favorite pieces is a sculpture of Uncle Sam by John’s father, the artist Richard Gachot.