From hotels to homes, restaurants to retail, the design visionary who imagined Wall Street’s Gild Hall and the Lower East Side’s Thompson LES – holds forth on Arabic doors, radio nurses, the Coca-Cola bottle, and why Elaine’s is more than just that literary drinking hole.
What is the most “perfect” building designed in the world to you and why? “Perfect,” meaning, perfect marriage of function and form?
In my opinion, the “perfect” building is the Arab World Institute in Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel. I like it because the structure is an ideal marriage between modernity and antiquity; the building is a unique example of how beautifully the two styles may work together. Nouvel explored the form of Arabic doors, and incorporated them into the structure using the most advanced of technologies, thereby redefining the language of what modern building is.
What is your favorite commercial packaging? One of our favorites: the Old Bay seasoning can. Explain why. In short, what’s your Campbell’s Soup Can?
The Coca-Cola bottle, re-designed by Raymond Loewy in 1954, is the greatest example of packaging to me. It was meant to be recycled, and most of these original glass bottles were and are still in use throughout the world. It was shatter-proof, and simply looked really, really cool. As Andy Warhol said, “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”
How does your own look translate to the objects and things you design?
Hopefully it doesn’t.
What is your favorite restaurant design, and why?
My favorite restaurant design is Elaine’s in New York. It is a simple, crappy-looking Italian restaurant that could be in Newark, or Ohio. But the second that you drop George Plimpton, rest in peace, or Jackie Onassis, in the room, it becomes the most glamorous place in the world.
What word in “design” terms do you think is over-used? Such as “eclectic.”
They are all bad, but today I am especially hating “personal style.”
If there is one object you could buy for your home (be it
furniture, art, object), what would it be?
An Isamu Noguchi radio nurse. It was a baby monitor invented after the Lindbergh baby kidnapping hysteria in 1930. I like it because it was the first American product to incorporate the idea of modern art in its design (Noguchi was a sculptor), and the radio nurse remains a stunning object in-and-of-itself today.