Steven Hempel. Produced by Michelle Aviña. Photography Jenny Antill.
- January 06, 2014
With a burgeoning art collection and some exquisitely crafted works serving as a foundation, Hunter’s residence, much like his architectural design practice, is a treasury of taste and style. PaperCity sits down with the talented designer to discuss recent projects, his wandering eye (for design) and the evolution of his personal tastes.
On recently perusing Art Basel Miami and Design Miami …
Favorites? Art: A Nate Lowman Bullet Hole and an Aaron Young paint-by-motorcycle piece. Design piece: Jean Prouvé’s Maison Démontable at Galerie Patrick Seguin. Fair: This year, it was Design Miami. The French modernism killed it. Event: Kathy Grayson of The Hole Gallery is a complete genius. This year, she had artist Matthew Stone produce a hybrid opera on a Lucite slab over the pool at The Shore Club, with a performance by Michele Lamy and singer Kelela.
Meet anyone famous? This year’s most memorable celeb scene for me was Dennis Rodman dancing on a table at a much-too-late dinner with an entourage of Houstonians. Other than that, I geeked out for seeing Lorde while walking with Houston artist Shane Tolbert.
The local design community and design in general …
Groups you support and work with. I’ve been on the Design Fair Advisory Committee of Lawndale Art Center for several years and curated the Fair in 2012. I’ve also been involved in the MAK Center in Los Angeles and I’m a member of MFAH Design Council.
Designers whose work you admire. François Catroux, Jacques Grange, Paul Fortune, Rafael de Cardenas and David Adjaye. All very different, but experts at what they do.
Other voices in the design and architecture field that have influenced you. Past designers and architects like Robert Mallet-Stevens, John Lautner, Andrée Putman. I also look at people in fashion; Rick Owens and Martin Margiela both influence my design aesthetic.
Mentors and collaborators. I’m fortunate that my studio is in a shared building with two architects, Karen Lantz and Michael Landrum; we’re constantly bouncing ideas off one another, and they are both extremely talented. I also frequently charette with designer Cathy Echols, who is wonderful about addressing the big picture with her characteristic wit and style.
About your work …
Local projects. My work ranges from a minimal/op-art inspired shop called Saint Cloud to a French colonial residence with repurposed paneled walls from an 18th-century château.
How many projects do you work on at any one time? A limited amount so that each receives the attention it deserves.
Describe yourself as a designer. I consider myself uniquely responsive to each project; I would be bored if I worked in only one aesthetic, and frankly it would be irresponsible of me. My process is an equal blend of architectural involvement and a curatorial response to the client’s interests.
How do you see the work being done in Houston, as contrasted with what we see in Austin or L.A.?
Houston is thriving, as is Austin — most of my work is in these two cities. My experience is that none of my clients want the same thing; they come to me because I tend to look at what is going on in the design community on both local and global fronts.
An eye for art…
Your first — and second artwork purchases: Why did you choose them … How you feel about them now. The first painting I bought was by Kelli Vance from McClain Gallery, and I still love it. It is a beautiful, if not slightly naughty, painting of a woman, called Whipped. The second was a small George Condo piece, because who can resist Condo?
If you were beginning a collection now, what would be your first work? I would have tuned into Aaron Young earlier in his career.
You mentioned being interested in different design styles and incorporating them into areas of your place. Can you revisit this. I am not a person who likes just one look, and I am not a purist. I certainly respect context; don’t get me wrong. But I think that two beautiful, disparate objects
can live happily together if they create the right amount of friction.
Your home and work as a designer …
What is your favorite artwork or design piece in your home. The one you were most excited about for a client. My favorite piece in my home is actually an entire room. My living room looks like a suite at the Chateau Marmont that has been long-term inhabited by someone who hauled in their own vibrant art and who picks up a piece of modern furniture every time they go to the Rose Bowl. I’m most excited about a commission for a dining room that I’m doing with the Haas Brothers. We also commissioned Rick Owens throne chairs for the same project through Salon 94 NYC.
How has your approach changed, with respect to your job — as opposed to your aesthetic. Any lessons you’ve learned dealing with clients and projects? My approach has never changed. I always want to discover something about my client, whether it be readily apparent or newly revealed. My biggest lesson, which took some time to work up the bravery to express, is to make sure that I encourage my clients to think about themselves and what works for them, as opposed to what they perceive other people want.
Goals for the future. Finding a balance between developing a brand but at the same time keeping it on a human scale.
Your dream project for a client. A jet or a yacht.
Your dream place. If I could live anywhere, I would live in the Segel house by John Lautner in Malibu. I‘m a complete Angelenophile, and I’d love to experience what it’s like to live on the beach in a modern cave, even if only for a summer.
PaperCity staples …
Inspiring design books. I lean towards volumes by Angelika Taschen. Also a book called Dealers Choice, which examines the homes of some of the world’s leading design shopkeepers. My work tends to be curatorial, so I relate to the book.
Go-to design websites. I tend to skip design blogs because everything looks the same. My online design spots are usually auction websites, along with 1stDibs and eBay.
Design sources in town. Kirby & Company, Carol Piper Rugs, Reeves Antiques and
Design sources in L.A. Blackman Cruz, JF Chen and Just One Eye; NYC: Lobel Modern, Salon 94 and John Salibello.
And elsewhere? Carpenters Workshop Gallery in London. Galerie Patrick Seguin in Paris. Futur Anterieur in Brussels.
How to entertain. Small, intimate dinners of 10 or less at home, though we frequently have parties at the studio for 30 to 40 people. Starting around 8 pm until everyone runs out of energy from laughing.
Who’s on the guest list? The funniest combination that I can come up with for the evening, ranging in age from 25 to 80 years old. I want people at my house with whom I can constantly ask questions and who will ask each other questions.
Menu. At home, my cooking ability is limited and usually involves parsley salad with porcetta, and puttanesca or some simple pasta. For larger groups, Dan Fergus at Brasil is on speed dial and is always superb.
Libations. Always Mezcal with ginger beer, micheladas and Veuve Clicquot.
Play list. Very ADD compilations, from Stevie Nicks to Kanye West.