Recently on the ELLE Decor World Tour, our recurring Instagram Live interview show hosted by editor in chief Whitney Robinson, interior designer and historian David Netto logged in from his office in Highland Park, California, to discuss his new line of ceramic lamps, created with the Los Angeles ceramics artist Jennifer Nocon. He also talked about what’s keeping him inspired while he’s sheltering in place. (Hint: It involves a lot of design history and how he thinks it’s making a comeback in the design world.)
While he was working on a project in Chicago for an art collector, Netto asked Nocon, known for her abstract art, to make lamps for the home; he loved the results so much that it led to an ongoing collaboration. While the first lamps Nocon produced were notable for the patterns she created, on the more recent lamps she is experimenting with crackle glazes and other textural effects.
A recurring theme for Netto these days is how the history of design is informing designers today. Just as we see in fashion, Netto says, trends are often inspired by what came before; he notes that designers in the past had a “neurotic compulsion to be hip and modern in decorating.” He says he agrees with fellow interior designer Miles Redd, whom he quotes: “I think every 50 to 75 years everybody forgets everything, and then the same thing starts all over again.”
But where does Netto look for his own sources of inspiration? Wes Anderson films, Cabana magazine, and ocean liners such as the RMS Lusitania and the SS Normandie—just to name a few. Sometimes an old photograph will strike his fancy, like a 1935 photo of the children’s dining hall aboard the Normandie; the murals on the walls were created by the illustrator of the Babar children’s books, Laurent de Brunhoff.
My mother spent much of WWII at @westoverschool in Middlebury, CT. She had many moving and surprising stories of how a community of women banded together during that time. It wasn’t the Blitz, but girls would get terrible news about brothers, boyfriends, neighbors they were secretly in love with, and so forth. They were very much in the war. One time a soldier visited with his fiancee before shipping out, and the headmistress gathered the girls of all ages to swear them to secrecy because she was allowing the couple time alone in her room together. “He might never come back,” she told them. And not one of those young ladies ever broke the silence. Even the architect of @westoverschool’s extraordinary building was a woman, and you can feel the secrets in these pictures my mother took
A post shared by David Netto (@davidnettosays) on Apr 18, 2020 at 9:48am PDT
When he isn’t designing or writing, Netto can often be found in the midst of a deep-dive research project. A recent one was spent poring over photos his mother took of her alma mater, the Westover School in Connecticut, which was designed by one of America’s first licensed female architects, Theodate Pope Riddle; this led Netto to discover another of her Connecticut designs, the Avon Old Farm School for boys. Much to Netto’s surprise, when he posts these grainy black-and-white photos on Instagram, they prove to be just as popular as any of his other photos of his interiors or portraits of himself with friends and family.
@avon.old.farms, the Connecticut boarding school founded and designed by Theodate Pope Riddle in 1927. This complex and the main building of @westoverschool (a monumental courtyard structure that amounts to a whole village in one building, really) are two of the quietest masterpieces of American architecture. Now you know they are by a woman, and let it be understood this person knew how to make a roof
A post shared by David Netto (@davidnettosays) on Apr 19, 2020 at 11:43am PDT
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