INTERIOR DESIGNER DOUGLAS ROACH ON THE ART OF TRANSFORMING SPACES

AS THE DESIGN DIRECTOR AT DAVID SCOTT INTERIORS, DOUGLAS ROACH HAS CREATED SOME OF NEW YORK’S MOST FABULOUS HOMES.  SO, HOW DOES THE 30-YEAR-OLD MANAGE DIFFICULT CLIENTS WITH BIG EXPECTATIONS?  AND HOW DOES HIS OWN PLACE LOOK?  DIRTY GOT TIDY (FOR A CHANGE) WITH THE CLASSICALLY TRAINED MUSICIAN-TURNED-DESIGNER TO PEEP SOME OF HIS FAVORITE PROJECTS AND GET SOME SOUND DESIGN ADVICE.
TEXT Kirsten Matthew

 

 

DIRTY: WHAT WAS THE HOUSE YOU GREW UP IN LIKE?

DOUGLAS ROACH: I grew up in the D.C. metro area; northern Virginia. My mother and father were both avid antique collectors. Their obsession turned into a small business – an antique store – in the late ‘80s. So I grew up in a traditional suburban tract home decorated like a Victorian mansion out of an Edith Wharton novel. It’s not one of my favorite styles – I lean more toward a well-edited look. In their vocabulary, more is more, but I appreciate what they taught me. At an early age I learned the importance of design.

 

D: DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE AN INTERIOR DESIGNER?

DR: I started out as a classical musician. I trained as an opera singer and classical pianist. I spent two years at Eastman School of Music, but decided that was not the life for me. I wanted to enjoy it, rather than make it my livelihood. So I decided to move to New York and become a designer.

 

D: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST DESIGN PROJECT?

DR: While still in school, completing my BFA at the New York School of Interior Design, I opened my own firm and did small projects for friends. One of my early design projects was for Playboy Enterprises. I designed the interiors for a S.I.M.S. video game they were developing. As you acquired fame and fortune, you got to upgrade the décor of your Playboy mansion. I pulled together various looks – country cabin, over-the-top Vegas high-roller – and they were all recreated digitally. I have no idea whether the game was ever released.

 

 

D: TALK TO US ABOUT SOME OF THE DESIGNERS YOU LOOK UP TO.

DR: I always look back at the designers that I followed while I was in school. A couple come to mind: Alan Tanksley – he’s amazingly gifted and greatly influenced my interest in certain furniture designers and periods. He uses a lot of mid-century designers that I always admired, and now use in my own work. I greatly admire Steven Gambrel. His work is rooted in tradition, but has a very forward thinking and modern feel.  Another firm I love is B-Five Studio. Victoria Borus (coincidentally another classically trained singer) is one of the firm’s principals that i have always admired.

 

D: HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK FOR DAVID SCOTT?

DR: I started with David Scott Interiors in 2006. He was one of the jurors of my thesis project. Later that summer he offered me a position with the firm. We work really well as a team. People always say that we’re very different personality-wise, but I feel we compliment each other very well.

 

D: WHAT’S BEEN YOUR MOST CHALLENGING PROJECT?

DR: There are so many different challenges in design: the client, budget, scale, deadline. We had a very challenging project that was completed for Memorial Day 2008. It was an ocean-front home in Southampton.  Working on a project of this scale was daunting at first, but an amazing challenge. We worked closely with a very prominent architect and it was truly a collaboration. It was unique in the fact that the client was SO involved resulting in a lot of cooks in the kitchen scenario. Part of the challenge of my profession is balancing personalities. Décor is one thing, but playing referee can be trying. The project came out beautifully (after a couple of “punches” thrown here and there.)

 

D: HOW MUCH MONEY ARE YOUR CLIENTS SPENDING?

DR: We have clients that question every shipping charge and we have ones that transfer money and say, ‘Just call me when it’s done.’ The houses we’re involved from the ground up can range between $30-$50 million, including construction. Typically though, our decorating budgets are $1-$5 million.

 

 

D: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

DR: We are building another Southampton ocean-front home. Our move in date is Memorial Day 2012. It’s an amazing, Modernist, glass, stone and steel home. It’s very cutting edge and we were worried about it getting approval from the town. We are collaborating with another prominent architect.  These clients want to be on the cutting edge of design. The house has a green roof, which we’ve never done before, and we’re working with some amazing innovative materials.

We’re also completing a large apartment on West End Avenue, a pied-a-terre in Trump Tower in Columbus Circle, and a new project, for existing clients, at the Setai in Miami. It’s beachy, very modern, but refined and yacht-like. The palette will be all whites, grays, and blues – inspired by the sand and sea.

 

D: WHAT’S YOUR OWN APARTMENT LIKE?

DR: It’s a reflection of my personal style. It’s a little more eclectic than my clients’. I don’t live in a vast mansion; it’s a one-bed apartment on the Upper East Side. The furniture is scaled appropriately, so when people come over they say it feels so big. I’m not a fan of a lot of color, so it has a camouflage palette – browns, khakis, greens. I use a lot of layering – There’s the dark brown wood flooring, a sisal carpet, a cowhide on top – all in the same color.

 

D: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING IN IT?

DR: You have to have humor in design. I have a pair of sterling silver chicken feet that sit on a stack of old books. They sit on a book called On Bullshit. They are a nice, little hidden moment.

 

D: WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING?

DR: I just joined the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. We rehearse every Monday night. It’s a complete departure from my everyday life, from a high-paced and stressful job. When I’m not singing Donna Summer medleys, I’m with my partner (now fiancee) Sidney and our rescue pit bull, Olive. She’s our misfit daughter. And being a singer I’m a big fan of the opera. I love Renée Fleming. She’s one of my favorites. I love the Met. It’s phenomenal, one of the most amazing “New York” evenings ever.

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DOUG’S TIPS TO UPDATE ANY ROOM:

1. The key to transforming a room is with art and color. You don’t have to own great pieces: I’m a big believer in art.com and found objects.  You can buy a modern print, frame it, and it looks like a million bucks and make a big impact in a space. Or use your own photography. Collage all of the above together and voila!

2. A house that has each room a different color can be a circus, so have a common color palette that unifies a sequence of spaces. As I say, an appropriate amount of fear is needed when choosing paint colors..

3. I always recommend something living — a plant, fresh flowers, something from the earth that is alive and adds life to the room. It’s worth the upkeep.

4. Design is about an appropriate amount of risk. It’s like building an outfit: put it all on and then take something off.

 

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