La Dolce Vita
By Joseph Lucier
Gary Hutton's atelier along the bustle of Polk Street is an oasis of filtered light and elegant balance emitting an aura of omnipotent stability rooted in decades of experience and creative talent. As a self described "elder of design," Gary offers clients a creative experience distilled from a time when interiors were assembled with artistic craft and measured patience. In addition, Gary Hutton Design produces furnishings that whisper luxury through a marriage of design prowess and partnerships with master fabricators and craftspeople. Most of all though, it is Gary's affable personality and enthusiasm for the journey that gives his clientele the courage to leap into the unknown with him to create uniquely individual residences, always with yearning for la dolce vita.
CaenLucier: How does the city of San Francisco influence and inspire you?
Gary Hutton: Having grown up only an hour south of the city, San Francisco was always accessible and part of my family’s regular outings. So, the City was always part of my consciousness. What struck me most when I actually moved here in 1973 was the openness and acceptance of all sorts of crazy lives and points of view. The freedom to be one’s authentic self is an inspiration every day.
CL: Describe the lasting impact of studying under Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arnison, and Bill Wiley during your undergraduate years at UC Davis?
GH: The faculty at UC Davis instilled in me an intellectual curiosity that stays with me to this day. Each of these artists strove in their own way to find a new or better avenue to do the things they did. Parameters were to be questioned and re-evaluated, sometimes kept, and sometimes thrown out. These incredible artists taught me to always look deeper.
CL: How have your professional relationships helped your career?
GH: In design school one day a professor said, “Look around the room. The people here will be the most important assets in your career”. While that didn’t exactly turn out to be true, the general principle is such. It is most true that the job of an interior designer cannot be accomplished alone. There are so many moving parts, from the realtor to the builder to the curtain maker. Each and every one is vital in making a project a success. It is also paramount to let these professionals do their jobs, as they usually know more about their part than you!
CL: What has changed and what has stayed the same over your time as a designer?
GH: In the many long years that I’ve been in this industry, from sample boy at Scalamandre while in school to my current status as one of the elders of Design in San Francisco, I have witnessed interior design go from an artistic craft-based business to one of corporate conglomerates facilitating a very real commoditization of thought. One only needs to take a cursory look to see that there is a very real lack of individuality. These large conglomerates are selling a “look” and the public is thoughtlessly eating it up. What remains the same is the dedication of real design professionals who look beyond the online trends and do great work regardless of style.
CL: What advice would you offer the new crop of designers in San Francisco?
GH: Step away from the computer! There is no program or VR in the world that will give you the sensation of sitting on a down filled, mohair velvet covered sofa. Nor is there a monitor in the world that can convey the exquisite luster of a bi-colored silk taffeta. The computer can be a useful tool, but it cannot deliver a sensual experience. If our interiors do not produce a sensual experience, we have failed. And remember that information is NOT knowledge. Experience creates knowledge. Get out into the world and learn.
CL: What makes your satisfied with a project? How do you measure your success?
GH: Design is problem solving, unlike art which is self-expression. This nugget of truth was beaten into us as students at CCA. It is my yardstick to measure success and satisfaction. If the myriads of problems that make up a project are resolved then I can take some satisfaction in that. Of course, a happy client at the end is very important, but invariably if the problems are solved the client IS happy. Sometimes the problem is perfecting the furniture plan to work with the client’s particular situation. Sometimes the problem is divining what the client really wants versus what they ask for. When one “gets it right” that is success. That is what motivates me every day.
CL: Talk about the importance of your relationships with the fabricators that create your furniture designs?
GH: In some ways being an interior designer is like being Jeff Koons. There is a conceptual whole that must be made real by a team that understands the nuance that differentiates this design from someone else’s. Designers, like Mr. Koons, seldom, if ever, actually do the physical work. I have been blessed to have developed a group of superior craftsmen and women who share that passion. To make something as minimal as my “A” Series tables requires craftsmanship that is extraordinary. I do believe that there is a Zen energy that lives in pieces that people have put their heart and soul into. This quiet energy of near perfection is what we strive for in every piece. It does take a village.
CL: Your four decade relationship with art collector Chara Schreyer culminated in the 2016 publication, ART HOUSE. What benefits have you enjoyed during these years of patronage? What has this collaboration taught you?
GH: How does one even begin to broach the subject of a 40 year collaboration? In a very real sense, we grew up together. Chara had not yet begun collecting in a serious way and I was just starting out on my own. We did many projects outside of those in the book. We explored together developing a mutual trust and a love of material invention. Most of the time it worked. Of course there were failures, but that trust never wavered. Understand please, that we didn’t always agree about specifics and to this day sometimes still don't, but we always agreed on the concept and what the final goals were. Chara has taught me that there is real value in trust as well as beauty.
ART HOUSE by Assouline
CL: Favorite weekend getaway?
GH: Going to my boyfriend’s house in Vallejo
CL: Favorite restaurants? Locally, nationally, globally.
GH: We are so lucky here in the Bay Area. We have choices that are the envy of the world, but I always go back to Zuni. I have been going there since the early 80’s when the kitchen was a Webber grill out in the alley behind the restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of eating at Upland in NYC. Wonderful food, beautiful place, and lively crowd. One felt immersed in New York City energy! In LA, I always go to Luques. It is exquisite food without being precious. I HATE tweezer food. It is a low-key environment that was actually one of Barbara Barry’s first restaurant interiors. In Paris, I love the newly re-done café at the Ritz. That room is my ideal of what Elegant French is all about and the food is good too!
CL: What are you reading?
GH: I am currently reading or have just finished four books that I am mad about!
Stoned, Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. This is a gorgeous read. The language is beautiful and it opens the door to a new view of world history. This is my second time reading it and it is even better than the first!
The Art Instinct Beauty Pleasure and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. Not exactly an easy read, but this book has changed the way I see the world and the aesthetic choices that we make every day.
The Gourmand’s Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy by Justin Spring. Wildly interesting read about the overlap of Americans in Paris after WWll. Some are familiar (Childs, MFK Fisher, Toklas, Olney) and some are not (Liebling and Lichine), but all with a major impact on American food today. Fun read with tons of information.
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. I admit that I bought it because an artist I admire, John Register, did the cover art, and Martin Muller of Modernism Gallery gifted me with a signed print of it many years ago. You can see it at Bix too! A classic down and dirty story of the underbelly of LA told as only Bukowski could. Keep it away from the kids!
CL: Secret guilty pleasure?
GH: Eating chocolate bars with almonds and sea salt while binge watching the Canadian PBS show “How it's Made.”
Thank you Gary for your work on this feature.