Q&A: Meyer Davis

(Meyer Davis founders (above left) Gray Davis (left) and Will Meyer)Names: Will Meyer and Gray Davis
: Founders of design boutique Meyer Davis
Reside in
: New York City
Best known for:
A modern aesthetic that favors statement lighting, neutral palettes with a splash of primary color, and industrial accents. "The goal is always to have an immediate and lasting impact," they say. 
Working on:
Residential projects in Manhattan; a new Oscar de la Renta store in Jeddah; the redesign of W Chicago Lakeshore, the W Kanai Retreat in Riviera Maya, Mexico, and the renovation of the Four Seasons, Atlanta and Doha.

1. Antique or modern
Both because they need each other to look right—to contrast and create energy. It's kind of what we're all about; the beauty is in the tension between the two. 
2. City or country?
Both. You can't have one without the other. You need the energy of the city and to escape from it to recharge.
3. Which colors do you use most?
Grays. We are starting to use a lot of blues and we always add a background or “punch” of white to crisp things up a little bit.
4. Favorite materials or textures?
At the moment we like gouged oak. It’s a retro 1920s French finish in the style of Jean-Michel Frank. We're also getting into parchments and shagreen, a material that’s similar to shark skin, to give things texture.
5. What is your favorite interior design-related word?
Tactile, because it conveys the integrity of a material.

(The dramatic yet minimal kitchen and dining area in a home in Copake, New York)
6. Does your current home look like the one you grew up in, and how so?
WM: No. The house I grew up in was extremely traditional with lots of antiques, but my home is a lot more clean, airy, and minimalist.
GD: Well, it looks nothing like the home I grew up in. I just moved out of a modern glass house on a lake in upstate New York, and I grew up in a small town in Tennessee on a subdued cul de sac. That house was more in the style of a typical ranch, with nice, comfortable details. The modern house is a big statement with soaring ceilings and retractable glass walls. 
7. Does a room need a view?
Obviously it would be best if a room has a view, but if not, you can create a great finish or texture. There needs to be something—some sort of major event of light in a room somehow. The view is about something that changes the outlook.
8. Favorite designer or architect?
WM: Currently I'm revisiting the work of French interior designer Andrée Putman. She was an '80s design icon who passed away last year. Her work is really timeless, especially in her use of grays, black and white, and gold. 
GD: I like Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Edwin Lutyens, Philip Johnson and many others. 

9. What qualities do you most admire in a room?
There has to be comfort, and there has to be something that's unusual, and anything else goes. If you sit down you need a chair, you need a table, you need a lamp — the basics to make you comfortable, but without a twist it's going to be boring. It’s the twist that makes it yours. It sounds easy, but it’s actually not.

(A collected feeling Brooklyn living room (above left) and a seating area in Atlanta, Georgia restaurant St. Cecilia)
10. Design rule you love to break?
In small spaces we tend to go big and over-scaled, with large spaces we tend to play around with under-scaling certain elements to exaggerate and heighten the experience.

11. What is your favorite room in the house?

WM: The dining room is always interesting because you can do different things in it. If you make a dining room comfortable it can be the center of the house; you can eat and read there, it can be a library, it can be a family room, and it can be where the kids do their artwork. 
GD: Since houses are being used differently now, I appreciate any room that is ripe for transformation—decks that are easily turned into an enclosed dining hall, kitchens used as parlors for entertaining. Since the main living spaces in houses have become venues for life events, we are tending to make those spaces more generous and keeping bedrooms on the smaller side—even master bedrooms. 
12. What is your most treasured possession?
WM: My Austin-Healey. I've had it for twenty years. It's sentimental. I got it as compensation for the very first interior design project I did on my own. 
GD: My 1947 Chris Craft boat. For one thing, it was a house warming present from our dear friend, the wildly talented architect from Birmingham Alabama, Bill Ingram. For another, it spent three years living in Lake Placid, New York, being lovingly restored; it is a thing of great beauty and is truly irreplaceable.

13. How does West Coast design differ from East Coast design? Does it?
It's becoming harder and harder to discern the difference between the two. It’s an interesting time because the design styles are really mixing and mashing.
(Exposed bulbs emit a soft glow over the gray-green scene in New York City restaurant The Wayfarer)

14. What is your favorite thing about the East Coast—design-related or otherwise?
Obviously you get some really classic spaces to deal with—beautiful pre-War buildings with detailed wood work, paneling, and moldings that are authentic and original.

15. If you could live in one historical figure’s house, whose would it be?
: I would love to know what it was like to live in the [Le Corbusier-designed 1920s-era French historical monument] Villa Savoye. If I could go back in time, that would be the period I would most want to see and experience.
GD: If Georgia O’Keeffe counts as an historical figure, then Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, which is a haunting, very traditional adobe structure that looks and lives like a modern house.

16. On what movie set would you like to live?
WM: The set for Contempt. It’s a 1963 Jean-Luc Godard film with Brigitte Bardot in it that’s set in the Villa Malaparte. The house is amazing.
GD: I actually wouldn’t like to live there for the reason that it would probably give me nightmares, but the movie set I find most fascinating is the one from Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover for the reason that it is so clearly staged as a set, and isn’t intended for believability. The camera glides from street, to kitchen, to dining room, to restroom, and back, each with its own brilliant lighting scheme and decorative flourishes (utilitarian, Baroque, ultra-modern). The character’s costumes change as they enter and exit the rooms. The movie is brilliant, grotesque, and unnerving.
17. To which country would you move for the design?
WM: Sweden. I love the Scandinavian aesthetic.
GD: Italy. Because it is the best and everyone knows it.
18. If you were reborn as a piece of furniture or an object, what would it be?
Neither of us would like to be a piece of furniture or object. We’re happy to use furniture, but we wouldn’t want to be it.
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