“Beauty meets quality of life” may be the mantra of interior designer David Kleinberg. He is a major figure in the interior design industry, claiming clients in New York and the East End alike. Kleinberg is adept at mixing unique pieces with antiques, quirky finds, reproductions, and a range of art from Old Masters to modern to very contemporary. Whitewall caught up with the designer to discuss incorporating an art collection, and blending indoor and outdoor this summer in the Hamptons.
WHITEWALL: A question I like asking designers is where does your interest in design stem from?
DAVID KLEINBERG: I grew up in a most ordinary suburban house on the north shore of Long Island. So it didn’t come from that at all. But I was always interested in houses. I lived next door to a builder on Long Island, and in the sixties when people were really building communities. He used to give me his builders’ magazines, and I used to pore through them. I would ride my bicycle around to go look at houses. And I guess one thing led to the other. It’s as simple as that.
WW: What is the starting point, typically, for you for an interior project?
DK: Well, for instance, in Water Mill, this year we’re finishing a renovation of a project. It was a shingle-style house the clients had bought that had been furnished. The interiors looked like a bit of a French hunting lodge from the previous owner. There was a disconnect. Our goal was really to open it up to the air and the light and view as much as possible, to take a house that had a certain formality due to its scale and make it a very relaxed, friendly beach house. We wanted to fill it with color and furnishings from simple modern things to quirky things we find in the shops.
Another project is going to be ground-up construction that we’re working on with clients who hired the local architects Bates Masi, who do a lot of work out on the East End. He has a collection of very contemporary art. So there is going to be a modern, geometric architectural statement to the house with open spaces and a real vista through the house, manipulating the view in a very deliberate way. We’re really starting from scratch. So we’re working on making careful selections of materials and surfaces, which is going to be the background for what we know is already a collection of art that is colorful and bold. They’ve got two grown children, and so the focus there is on the future, a multigenerational house.
WW: How would a client with a very contemporary art collection, as you mentioned, typically affect design choices like surfaces and material?
DK: It’s going to be about natural materials and textures, whereas the Water Mill house is infused with a lot of bold, clear color in fabrics and furnishings. They’re just now starting to find things to put on the walls. But this Bates Masi house will have massive windows and these people have tons of art already. So we’re trying to balance, and create enough wall space for the collection.
WW: You started your design firm in 1997. It’s been almost 20 years since then. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the culture of interior design?
DK: One of the big changes in the whole industry has been clients are so informed with the Internet and information available. In a way, it’s improved the dialogue; they open up their iPad and they click on their Pinterest board. So even if you don’t have the language to discuss design, now there are ways to show the goal you want.
One of the things that sadly has changed is people don’t buy books the way they used to, because they read in a different way. I’m old-fashioned—I grew up where I like to be surrounded by books, so that’s changed. One doesn’t build libraries the way we used to, which is heartbreaking.
And I think certainly the sense of how people live has become even less formal, less rigid, less structured.
WW: I saw an editorial spread on both of your homes, in East Hampton and your Manhattan home. Is art a key aspect of your own space?
DK: I’m sitting in my living room, which I never get to do, and the last thing I installed in my house was an Antony Gormley sculpture. Over the many years I’ve installed Gormleys for clients. And I buy mine after years and years and years of storing away my nuts and nickels. So now I live with a wonderful tall standing man of Mr. Gormley’s. And it makes me enormously happy every time I come into the room. So yeah, all right, it’s always been an important part of my own spaces.
WW: In the Hamptons the blending of indoor and outdoor spaces is such a huge consideration. For that, what are the design considerations?
DK: Well, it always is. It’s the whole point of being out there. You’re outside as much as you can. My house isn’t that big, so the outside becomes more important, in a way. You can do less with the interior out there because you do hope to spend so much of the time outside. I built a terrace behind my house. I added a fireplace and there’s a whole seating area and a dining area, and it’s where we live all summer long. I certainly encourage that in almost all the houses we work on. Otherwise, why sit through all that traffic?
This article is published in Whitewall‘s summer 2016 Design Issue.