David Netto’s projects have been widely published and feature in many books. In addition to designing bespoke interiors, creating NettoCollection – his line of modernist luxury children’s furniture – running his studio out of Los Angeles and just being a dad, he also writes and maintains a role as contributing design editor for a number of publications including T, the New York Times Style Magazine and Town & Country. His book about the work of French designer Francois Catroux came out last year. Clearly not an easy feat, we managed to get a moment with the man to discuss his penchant for style and design.
Observing Netto, it’s apparent that he’s someone clued-up on aesthetics. Upon viewing his Long Island holiday home, it becomes certain that he’s more than just educated on design – the space is a demonstration of faultless skill. When speaking with him, we bear witness to a rich and keen knowledge of history – one that effortlessly wows and entertains.
In his own words, “I’m a designer with two voices. I’m a designer of interiors and I’m a writer about the history of interiors and architecture.”
“I’m a designer with two voices. I’m a designer of interiors and I’m a writer about the history of interiors and architecture.”
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Netto is a success. He is also an architecture school dropout. In fact he cites being self-taught as the very reason for his extensive knowledge and expertise. Rather than a lack of education, all he was ever short on were more books and magazines. Netto has an eye and a taste for an artful balance of the classic with what’s contemporary – it’s clear in his work and it carries into his look. Remembering that we’re on the clock, we settle in and get him talking.
“Best design is something on which you have a strong opinion.
I think it’s very important to have a “voice” in design.”
“Best design is something on which you have a strong opinion. I think it’s very important to have a “voice” in design. And one of the things that takes the longest to develop is the sense of confidence that your voice is really who you want to be as a designer. When I was young I used to go to nightclubs like Area. I thought I wanted to be, you know, hanging out in Gaultier suits with big shoulder pads. And that was a moment that was completely fantastic and legit in the 80’s, but it was not who I was as a designer for more than a couple of years. It took me a while to figure out that my natural sensibility was a momentum actually worth going with.”
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“I love the things in New York that don’t change, or resist change,
because they’re better than change. You know, above it.”
Netto is the child of ‘much older parents’ and reckons that had a lot to do with his sensibility as a designer. “My parents were born in the 1920’s, and from the earliest age I was watching black and white movies on TV with them – and I actually thought that the world was still like that out there. It just wasn’t clear to me that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ movies weren’t set in a world that I would encounter when I grew up and went out on my own. And I never quite shed that. I still try to make it look that way (LAUGHS) in my work on some level. I think it’s one reason I love the Carlyle so much – I love the things in New York that don’t change, or resist change, because they’re better than change. You know, above it. You’re never going to top some of those places on the Upper East Side, like the Carlyle and certain restaurants like Le Veau d’Or or The Monkey Bar. When you go downtown you see these cool places like Le Coucou and such are trying to conjure and reinvent that sense of heritage, but if you know where to look in New York, there’s still plenty of it.”
Netto spends a few minutes naming a myriad of the exclusive venues he used to frequent, uptown and down, but in doing so, we’re also offered further insight to what it is that turns him on. We arrive at a point of pondering New York as being home to many of the world’s best examples of modern architecture – we spotlight The Met Breuer, and through David’s eyes, we get a glimpse of all its glory.
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“The Met Breuer, as we now call it, was The Whitney for most of my life. I think it’s one of the real jewels not just of modernism in New York but of American Architecture, because it’s always been an “object” building and it’s very hard to do that in cities. You know, cities usually defeat the impact of these kind of radical, sculptural – in this case, Brutalist – object designs. But the Met Breuer has very human aspects too--I love the ceiling in the lobby – the circular suspended lights – and the kind of intimacy of that concrete drawbridge as you walk in and cross a moat. It’s like a medieval castle but it’s modern and it’s in the last city in the world where you’d expect to find that.”
Netto reveals a firm fondness of ‘the handmade’ – those elements within modern design that bear authentic craftsmanship. “I think The Met Breuer is really something I feel personally connected to and admire because it’s handmade modernism. You see the pebbles in the concrete. You see the seams of the different pour stages of the concrete.” Through David’s critique we are made aware of Marcel Breuer’s interest in art, and we recognise that when building, he was in fact trying to create sculptures.
“When I made NettoCollection, I really wanted the modern furniture to be playful and to have that character of ‘the handmade.”
Alongside cities, art and architecture, cars are another of Netto’s fascinations. He currently has a column called ‘Case Studies’ in Town & Country, and recently wrote an article highlighting the fact that the ‘matte black trend’ actually extends way before the time of rappers riding Range Rovers. Validating his wealth of knowledge, he delivers a riveting fact and elaborates on his appreciation for subtle signs of craftsmanship.
“You know the Bugatti – the famous Bugatti owned by Ralph Lauren with the rivets on the spine? The black Atlantic Coupé? The reason for those rivets was because they used a light alloy to build the prototype that could not be welded, and they had to make the shell out of two pieces and rivet them together. And then when it came time to make the real car out of aluminium, they didn’t need to retain that – they could’ve made it a smooth back – but everybody liked the style of it so much, with that little fin and that sense of ‘the handmade’, so that’s how they made the real car, even when they didn’t have to. I think about that over and over again when I’m designing. That example. When I made NettoCollection, I really wanted the modern furniture to be playful and to have that character of ‘the handmade’. That’s one of the hardest things to retain as you make things look sleek, and I don’t think many people are very good at it right now.”
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David credits car design as an indispensable source of style and inspiration – one of those categories of design that is full of fresh ideas if you know where to look. He is of the belief that knowing the history of cars, and understanding how the decisions that go into their design reflect both the practical and the passionate, is invaluable theory that will benefit any designer.
“You know, craftsmanship is also ‘authorship’. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “The hardest thing to achieve is an ‘interesting plainness,’’
and I think there’s a lot of truth to that.”
Our conversation concludes with an honest moment of self-reflection – one through which David handsomely summarises his design ideals and his personal interpretation of the perfect look. “You know, craftsmanship is also ‘authorship’. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “The hardest thing to achieve is an ‘interesting plainness,’’ and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. So, I’m not a necessarily flamboyant designer today – with interiors nor with my personal style – but I do try to achieve an interesting plainness. And one of the ways you can do that in fashion is with combinations, and with detail. You can wear a very classical, tailored jacket with sneakers – which I like to do.
And one of the ways you can achieve that with a house, is to take a classical house--or an iconic modern house--and live in it with children, because they are constantly sabotaging and humiliating your best intentions to live in some incredibly stylish way. And I think that’s actually healthy – you know, a pile of Legos on the floor of a Neutra house is a great picture. Trust me, I’ve seen it.”