“My clients homes need to not only look beautiful, but function. How to achieve that goal is critical to ascertain at the beginning of the project, and constantly kept in mind through to the installation.”
Two weeks before Christmas our Design Editor Carl Lana and I were scurrying up Madison Ave in search of some last minute holiday gifts. We wandered down the sensational white staircase to the home furnishing shop at Calvin Klein. After we were finished admiring the ‘devoid of decoration’ spruce (classic CK), I noticed Neal Beckstedt eyeing some porcelain. Having seen him on design campus, I decided to introduce myself. I’m a fan of his work, so I asked him to join the ranks of ‘The New Guard’, and he graciously accepted.
We caught up for coffee last week, and chatted about his career, his aesthetic, and his favorite vendors.
How long have you been in interior design? You’re young to have such a sophisticated eye.
You are too kind for thinking I am young, and second that I have a sophisticated eye – thank you!
I have been designing since I was born. One of my first experiences realizing my creative mind was when I was around 5. I was convinced there was a need for a more efficient and secondary means of entry into my wooden toy box. I thought opening the entire lid seemed extremely silly and inefficient to dig out my small matchbox cars at the bottom. So I set out to devise a small hole at the bottom of the toy box for easy access. Carefully, I penciled out a perfectly proportioned rectangle and wisely convinced my older brother to work with me as my ‘contractor’ to execute my design by drilling through the wood front with his toy drill. Unfortunately, my first renovation ended prematurely once my father walked in and scolded my brother for ‘destroying’ the toy box. So set the stage for the story of my life of creating and making things – by myself and with the help of ‘contractors.’
Years later, my father caved in and finally got me a bandsaw – not a typical 12-year-old gift, but it changed my life. I would spend hours in a shop I created in our basement making things out of wood. By the time I was in junior high school I knew I wanted to be an architect and several years later graduated as such. I loved the interaction of interiors and architecture during my architectural studies, and after graduation I was lucky enough to work with firms in New York that integrated both. So I feel like I have been in this industry for my entire life.
When did you open your own firm?
I opened my own studio May 1st, 2010 – almost three years ago. I remember the day so well. I was extremely nervous yet beyond excited with the possibilities. I worked out of my apartment for the first month. By the second month I had my first employee. In the third month I found an office space and hired two more designers to keep up with new projects. The day I saw my name on the office building’s directory was surreal. It has been an amazing three years. I have an amazing team, I love what I do, and have fun doing it.
Who are the historical figures in design whose work influences yours?
I get inspired by so many things – from movies, nature, other designers, dreams, the list can go on forever. But if I had to narrow it down to my top influential historical figures, I would say Jean Michel Frank, Dupre Lafon, Jacques Adnet, Tadao Ando, Alvar Aalto, and Mies van der Rohe…..but taking inspiration from their amazing work and mixing it with the unexpected.
I think of your work as a hybrid of modern and contemporary, would you say that’s accurate?
I think that is a very fair assessment. I love modernism’s emphasis on simplicity and function, made famous by the German Bauhaus schools of design and the Scandinavian designers. However, I think a space has to be more layered so I incorporate adding pops of color or mixing styles into the scheme typical of the contemporary style.
It’s clear you have an affinity for white. Why is it so important to the rooms you design?
White has unfortunately taken on a bad reputation over the years. I think this is due to the fact that a white room is hard to pull off – many white rooms look and feel sterile. With white, you have to layer in a lot of textures and other cream and beige tones in the space to make white look interesting. When you do this you can achieve an overwhelmingly rich room but still light and bright. White gives that crispness and freshness in a room similar to a freshly cleaned set of sheets to a bed.
The projects I completed when I first opened my studio definitely explored how to use white creatively so I can see why you think I have an affinity for this color. However, my more recent work has been exploring all other colors and also the complete opposite – the color black. My apartment has become a study in how to use black to expand a room – my kitchen and bathroom have transformed by lacquering these spaces black. What were small spaces now seem to go on forever with a dark color. Using black, white or another color, I would say my affinity is more with how to make the proper contrasts in a space to give emphasis.
When you’re engaged by a new client, how does your design process begin? and evolve?
My design process begins by getting to know my client. It is very important to me to capture my client’s personality and taste in their home. Their home needs to reflect their tastes, color preferences, art collection, and their collection of personal items from their travels. It is their home after all. This sounds so obvious, but I see so many spaces that don’t capture the client and are void of any personality.
To get to know my client I often take clues from how they dress and how they pull themselves together with their wardrobe. One’s tastes for clothing very often has a strong connection to how they would like their home to be furnished. If one loves particular textiles and colors in clothing this easily transfers to their taste for their home furnishings. Examining their mix of clothing also is a good indication of how eclectic their tastes are for their home. So I pull from my client what I examine, but of course talk with them on how they wish to use the space and how they live now. My clients’ homes need to not only look beautiful, but function. How to achieve that goal is critical to ascertain at the beginning of the project, and constantly kept in mind through to the installation.
Once I gather all this information and see their existing home, I start with a meeting showing how we can creatively maximize their space to do what they want through various floor plan options. I also present general material directions. I learn even more about my client in this meeting as I get to know what exactly they respond to in fabrics, wood finishes and colors. From there, we agree to a furniture plan direction and start selecting pieces. We also start refining the fabric options. This refinement continues through meetings and shopping with clients discussing everything from architectural items to their toothbrush holder.
Finish this sentence. “I consider a project finishes when…”
…..when I am no longer on planet earth.”
My interiors keep evolving for my clients. All projects continue to be layered and modified as my client’s living situations change. Whether due to changing family needs as their children grow up or helping clients add more art or restyling, homes evolve and I am there helping them throughout this process. Of course, my office is very diligent about making any renovation or redecoration go quickly and setting a firm install date. However, once this major install happens I love being involved with my client’s homes as they continue to live in the space. A home is organic and I become an extension of my client’s family by helping them maintain the aesthetics of their home over the years.
What are your top 10 ‘Go-To’ resources?
It’s difficult to narrow the field down to 10, but in no particular order, here they are;
1. Art & Interiors – Fab art consultant with an online library perfect for our digital age
2. Christian Liaigre – for EVERYTHING!
4. Galerie Shabab – my go to vintage rug source. Amazing selection of vintage oushaks and kilims
5. Phoenix Day – for my go-to reading lamp, 5120 tubular floor lamp
6. Frette – Amazing selection of great bedding – and most importantly I love the owners and employees – fab company to work with
7. Calypso Home – for accessories. Great mixture of modern and glam!
8. Noguchi – the go-to source for a ceiling pendant. A glowing paper lantern has a calming effect, much like the moon
9. Mondo Cane – amazing eye for vintage pieces. And they have a fab custom table easel.
10. Metaphores velvet, represented by Holly Hunt – love their cotton velvet line in all their fab colors. (Here’s a caveat. I spoke to the textile manager at HH today, and Metaphors fabrics are NOT on the website. Make the trip into the showrooms, they are sensational)
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
I hope to be lucky enough to keep doing what I am doing now – helping client’s transform their homes to reflect their personalities and lifestyles. I would also love to develop product lines, create a furniture collection or two, and open a lifestyle store over the next few years. Hey, I love designing and can’t get enough!
135 West 26th Street Suite 3A New York City 10001 212-924-0700