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Publication Date: 2015-09-22


Designer Point of View: In Conversation with Oliver Furth

It doesn’t take a trained eye to tell that designer Oliver Furth is an LA native; every space he creates has a breathable, livable, and laid-back California vibe. Subtle nature inspiration, tones of the earth and sea, and a rich textural mix are frequent hallmarks of his work. But Furth’s knowledge of art and design is anything but casual: before establishing his firm in 2005, he worked in the 20th Century Decorative Arts department at esteemed auction house, Christie’s (no surprise, then, that he is Chair Emeritus on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Decorative Arts and Design Council having chaired the council for over six years!). We asked him about everything from his West Coast connection to his go-to hues.

Photography: Stephen Busken

What are some of the distinguishing facts, features and tenets of your design firm, Oliver M. Furth Design & Decoration? (And what are one or two notable current/recent projects you’re working on?)

My design projects range a great deal in style and palette and in approach. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a modern home in the Hollywood Hills for a young film producer and his wife, who’s a jewelry designer. These clients have been building an excellent collection of mid-20th-century furniture and decorative arts, which we’re highlighting with a rather specific palette of warm grey, taupe, lavender and eggplant. I’m also restoring a 1930s Neo-Georgian house in Holmby Hills, for a client with a more traditional taste. They were taken with the English Country House aesthetic, but we’re trimming it down for Los Angeles’ lifestyle and weather – sort of “Anglo Angeleno.” We’re using wonderful Georgian and Regency Antiques, strong colors on walls and upholstery. But lots of windows look onto the outdoors and lots of negative space, so things don’t feel too heavy-handed.

Above: Walls painted in Stone Blue by Farrow & Ball

Photography: Stephen Busken

In addition to my design projects, I do a lot in the Los Angeles design community, doing whatever I can to push the design dialogue here. I consult regularly with LACMA, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And I recently launched a non-profit platform for contemporary design in Los Angeles, called LA, ART, DESIGN.

How West Coast inspiration reflected in your design aesthetic? (And how would you describe that aesthetic, in general?)

I am an LA native; my family has been in Los Angeles for 100 years. There’s a certain vibe here in LA that can be hard to pin down if you don’t know it firsthand. The light and the weather are big factors. That idea (almost cliché) about the indoor/outdoor lifestyle is really true. Angelenos are surfing at the beach, hiking in the mountains, in the pool, on the courts, on a daily basis; people come to California in search of that freedom. That active yet also laid-back lifestyle influences the way we live, and in turn, the way we design rooms. Everything is a bit more casual, and people love to break the rules — it really is the ‘Wild West’ out here! Even at the most formal black tie dinners, folks are wearing jeans with their diamonds. So we need to keep that in mind when designing spaces. Different from rooms back east, or in Europe — or even San Francisco — Los Angeles spaces always need to have an ease to them. There was a time, not long ago, when that casualness was mistaken for sloppiness. We can mix things up, juxtapose influences, and keep things light, but still have them look beautiful. My challenge as a designer is finding that space occupied by elegance and ease.

Above: Ceiling painted in Brasica by Farrow & Ball

Photography: Stephen Busken

Being grounded in classical traditions, what are the top three elements that you take into consideration when embarking on a new commission?

I refer to my work as “visual biography.” When you walk into a space that I design, I want to you learn about the owners, and get a sense about where you are in the world. First and foremost, I study the clients. My firm does a lot of R + D when starting a new project. We ask a lot of questions, look at images, visit shops and galleries and museums together. I look in their closets. I consider how they live in their home. I want to get into their heads. How do they really live in their home? … And of course, how do they want to live? We should all have some element of fantasy in our fantasy space. But it should make sense, and it should function for the way we really live.

Above: Walls painted in Vert De Terre, Ceiling painted in Brasica.

Photography: Jonn Coolidge

Appropriateness is a big factor for me, so I also consider the setting and architecture. I want this home to feel right for where it’s located. No hacienda on the 28th floor. No Japanese teahouse in the middle of Beverly Hills. We can look at different cultures for influence and borrow some ideas, but it shouldn’t be an exact copy of some other era. I think that concept of “home as stage set” is very outdated. People want to come home at the end of the day to be embraced by their own narrative.

Above: Walls and Ceiling painted in Downpipe by Farrow & Ball.

Photography: Jonn Coolidge

Beyond color … how do you apply white in a room? Always on the ceiling? On doors? Trim? Or do you opt for another hue to coordinate with what else is present in the room?

I don’t believe in white as a neutral. I treat it like any other color. Sometimes it’s appropriate for walls…sometimes not. The idea (born in the late 1980s) of painting a whole house white is lazy to me. White reflects light, but it also shows every flaw and every ill-proportioned awkwardness in a space – like being naked. Most people’s bodies look better with Spanx and a push-up bra. Color can do that in a room.

Lately, I’ve been into a totally immersive color: using a single shade of grey, or green or lavender on all walls, ceiling, trim, etc. This makes corners disappear and spaces feel more expansive, allowing furniture, objects, and people to come to the forefront.

White or light ivory trim is appropriate in traditional architecture. It definitely speaks to colonial roots, so I enjoy using it in rooms with that kind of architectural history. But in spaces that are more urban I opt for charcoal grey or black-brown. In Spanish architectural, I’ve enjoyed a brick red on baseboards and door frames, keeping walls a light neutral ‘sourdough’ color.

I rarely paint doors white. I love to paint all the doors in a house in a strong color, or even high-gloss black. There’s a rhythm to painting all the doors one shade. It’s great way to unify different colors and patterns on walls in different rooms, and it’s a great way to inject color and interest into a space without competing with artwork or other furnishings.

Above: Walls and Ceiling painted in Dimity by Farrow & Ball

Photography: John Ellis

What are your “go-to” paint colours that you consistently use in your work, and why?

I believe each project is its own journey. I try to avoid a ‘go-to,’ and never select colors without being in the space.

How about your favorite Farrow & Ball colours, then? (Depending on the project?)

I love these colors especially: Pointing, Clunch, Dimity, Vert De Terre, Brassica, Stone Blue.

Above: Ceiling painted in Brasica by Farrow & Ball

Photography: Stephen Busken

How do you deal with every designer’s nightmare: oversize flat screen televisions? Relegate them to a specific room? Hang on wall? Camouflage in cabinet? Beg your clients to go Zen and skip TV?

I don’t mind a television. If that means you’ll use that room, then I’m all for it. I much prefer a well-loved living room with a flat screen on one wall, than a stiff, never-used space. I often hang TVs on the wall. I’ve also hidden them in cabinets, although I find the cabinet doors are usually left open anyway. I have built pop-up cabinets for televisions. Several times, I’ve bought artist easels to hold a TV, when a wall isn’t available.

Above: A Living Room in Hollywood

With special thanks to Stephen Milioti who wrote this article on behalf of The Chromologist


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