David Dalton Inc.
I got a chance to have a chat with the famous Mr. David Dalton, at his design firm in West Hollywood, aptly called David Dalton Inc. If you’re into design, (and I know you are), then you recognize him from his many television appearances, and his media coverage in all of the top design magazines. On his website, he writes that he believes his job: “is to set the stage for meaningful lives to play out on,” so we talked for a while about his design philosophy, advice for new designers, and the extravagance of water!
Eric: So you started in 1987 and since then, you’ve been in lots of different magazines, you’ve been on TV, you’ve been very successful. What about your creative vision do you think really resonates with people?
David: Well, I’m never exactly sure that my creative vision is resonating in the right way. I just do the work and try to do the best work possible. Things change constantly, and the vision changes constantly, and the way the world is and what seems appropriate also changes constantly. So it’s not like you can just hone a vision and then move forward and that lasts you for your entire life. It’s something that is constantly changing. So as business has changed and the demands of the design world have changed, I tried to change the vision and to keep it relevant. Things are much simpler today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Things are simpler and less layered and much less complicated than they were.
You know that was that was the vision 20 years ago, people wanted it layered, and heavier, and more custom. And today, it's actually just the opposite. So maybe to answer your question it's being flexible and adaptable as things are always constantly changing.
E: What do you think led to people looking for something simpler and less layered?
D: I think it had a lot to do with finances really. The pivotal moment might have been 2008 when the economy fell apart, and as people recovered from that, they came back in thinking that they were able to live in a way that was leaner and simpler, and that works. I think people liked it and realized they didn't have to spend as much money on creating interiors, so things got simpler and they've kind of stayed that way.
E: Do you think the style will go back to being more textured soon, or do you think that might be farther down the road, or maybe never again?
D: Well, it always goes back. The pendulum swings back and forth eventually, so whether it will be tomorrow or 10 years from now, that's hard to say. I think we'll have a period that will be simpler right now. There are a lot of other effects on that too, I think Instagram has a big effect, and social media has a big effect on that. People see design that's accessible to them, and then that becomes the norm, and that sort of becomes what everybody accepts as the standard. And so I think, in general, things have gotten simpler because it's sort of the zeitgeist at the moment, and that will eventually change as finances change.
E: How would you begin the process of starting to design for a new client?
D: So that's something that's never changed in all these years, it's always a similar process. We collect as much information as possible from people first, so that we kind of get the criterion that we're going to be working with. We need to figure out how do you want to live, what do you want to accomplish, what are the restrictions and guidelines that are going to influence our design process, and then we take all that information back and figure out how to turn that into a physical environment.
E: interesting do you ever take into account, and I'm just kind of thinking off the top of my head, what kind of museum someone likes? Because I could imagine someone whose favorite museum is the Getty Villa would be a different person than someone who likes the Museum of Modern Art.
D: Yeah, good question! I usually spin a story about somebody: some of it might be fictional, because I'll take the information that they give me, and then I fill in the blanks with some other things I might imagine. For instance, where they like to eat, what restaurants they might go, what museums they might go to. Then I try to fill the story in so that the physical environment that we create for them reflects their personality in every way, not just what they said, but perhaps also what they didn't say.
E: What would be your personal dream entryway to a house? What would it look like if you could just create it from scratch?
D: I want to build a house on a body of water! Like floating. You’re not necessarily next to a body of water but on a body of water in a lake, and so you would you would enter the house by stepping over water and constantly being surrounded by water.
E: what is it about water that rally appeals to you?
D: Well, in Los Angeles where I was born and have spent my whole life, water is a kind of an interesting element. It's precious because you know it isn't here naturally, so there's some kind of extravagance in having it. You know if you went to the Maldives, everybody lives on the water, it's not that big a deal. Here, there's something kind of extravagant about the use of water.
E: that's a really interesting I've never heard that one before.
D: Some of the houses in Trousdale that were built in the 60s had water surrounding the entrance, and I have worked on some of those houses. And we’re building a couple of houses in Trousdale now, and we're including a water feature at the entrance. But, it's not quite the same thing as actually surrounding the entire house with water.
E: Like a moat!
D: Oh yeah, yeah.
E: I assume a lot of customers come to you, but do you also have a process where you reach out to potential clients?
D: Yeah, that's kind of changed a lot the last few years, social media plays a bigger role than it did before. We used to get a lot of things published and go through television, and those things were the way that we reached out to do marketing to other people. Sometimes it was showcase houses, but in Los Angeles right now, we don't really have a preeminent showcase house - and magazines are becoming less and less popular. So social media really is the way to sort of spread the word. So you do it through Facebook posts, or Instagram advertisement, or you reach out one-on-one. We don't necessarily do it through Instagram advertising, but just in having an Instagram presence, and we post work for the projects that we're doing to let the people who do follow me know what's going on within my office.
E: What advice or thoughts would you give to a new designer who might be coming up in the world right now?
D: It's funny you say that, because I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I just went through a round of hiring, and I interviewed a lot of people who were just starting in this world. It was interesting to see what their expectations were on what working life was going to be like, and what they might expect to earn and to do, and it's a very different business today than it was when I started about 30 years ago. The primary difference is technology - really the way that people communicate now is completely technology driven. The way that you communicate design has historically, for centuries, been done through drawing, and now drawing and drafting is almost obsolete. Most of the people that I've interviewed recently haven't the slightest idea how to actually draw by hand. They draw by CAD or Sketchup or so many other different ways, but they don't necessarily know how to sketch.
E: That seems strange to me because what if you need to draw something up real quick on a jobsite, or something. Even just having a basic foundation on perspective and how to draw something in perspective would be huge skill to have.
D: It is! It's critical to understanding the design process, how things are built and made. Yeah, it's so important to understand that. My brain works through drawing, that's how I learned how to do all that. I guess if I had a CAD drafting brain I would have figured the same thing out through a slightly different method, but I think technology's the main difference between how things get communicated now and how they used to.
E: What about any potential clients who might come to you, is there something they should know before coming to you?