The interior design leader on living in one of his company's showrooms and the power of transience.
David Alhadeff, the founder of The Future Perfect, lives in one of his showrooms. Alhadeff believes in flexibility and that's important when your surroundings are outfitted with furnishings that can change at any time. The design leader spoke with Platform from his shoppable LA abode (that once belonged to Elvis!) about why he doesn't purchase art as a financial investment, how quarantine brought him closer to nature and what it is about reading books on a Kindle that makes it so difficult to remember the title.
Let’s talk about your concept store and the Future Perfect. It really has an interesting name. How did that come about?
The name is a multi-pronged association for what we're trying to do. The first one is actually the literal translation of the future perfect: it’s a tense and how creative people communicate about their projects. They often speak in the future perfect, like, “I will have done that then,” “It will be like this when it's done,” “It will be here.” You're talking about something that doesn't exist yet in the past tense. From a formal expression, that relates very directly to what we do. The second idea is because we started in 2003 as a location for emerging talent and the future perfect is another definition of emerging talent. Certainly, over the last 17 plus years, that's evolved. Some of the emerging talent that we originally started with has become very well established. We can't say that we're an emerging design platform only, but I still enjoy and suss out emerging talent.
How do you go about finding new designers?
There used to be traditional environments that you could go to to see talent. You could go to the Salone del Mobile fair in Milan, which is still the largest furniture and design fair. But it's really evolved. I don't think you need to go to a fair anymore to become aware of a talent at a curatorial level. I think social media has started to play a really important role in developing relationships with talent, or at least in developing introductions to talent. What's really evolved are these seasonal things that just don't take place anymore. Everything is very wabi-sabi. You don't find someone amazing that you're excited about for months and months and months, or you work on a group show and one artist has a piece that's intriguing. The next thing you know, you've got an evolved body of work that you've mentored with this person over the course of six months.
Do you prefer the way things have evolved? Are you perhaps seeing different things than you did before?
You certainly see different things and more unexpected things. The playing field is leveled. You don't have to pay for the booth and then, therefore, show blank. But that's also really changed because there was not the existence of design and art fairs 20 years ago in the way that there are now. I think the art fairs have come around and now what's really funny is, even in the art fair context, we've watched art be defined by very strict parameters and that seems to be ebbing and flowing now more with furniture. There are galleries that are definitely very fluid between design and art. There is an over-overarching appreciation of what would have traditionally been called craft or design, which is ceramics. There's definitely precedent for ceramic appreciation in fine art practice, but I don't think it's to the extent that it is right now. I'm not going to say that this is the first time ceramics have ever been included in a fine art context. But what I do think, is that as I walk around art fairs, every other booth has a giant table of ceramics. That feels very new. Then you go to a more traditional design fair, let's say Design Miami, and that fair has a giant table of ceramics. That's a place that I think is really starting to be a crossover point.
To that point, in your view, what's the difference between artists and designers?
I think that there are a couple of different kinds of designers and there are designers who are much more artists. An industrial designer, in a traditional sense, is a problem solver. An artist, in a very traditional sense, is communicating or evoking a sense of emotion or an idea. Those things can crossover. I think that's why there's such a blurry line here. Certainly, function is a component of design most of the time, but that's not the difference because I see functional art quite often in that context. Artists will produce a functional object in order to express an idea. I've seen artists do sofas, for example. I don't think that's the difference, it's not about the function of the thing, it really is about the way that you're approaching the creation of the thing.
You’ve lived in one of the Casa Perfect spaces [one of the company's showrooms located within an actual home] over the past couple of years. How do you make it your own considering that it’s also a part of your business?
You do and you don't. I think that my life in my spaces has become a lot more nomadic. It's a lot less precious in a strange way. I obviously love everything that we work around, so the concept that the sofa in the living room could change tomorrow is not scary, it's exciting.
Do you feel more freed up from attachment because of that?
I think that by working in this context for as long as I have, I have very little attachment to material objects. It's actually much easier for me to do this than, strangely, my husband. He's much more like, “Where did the sofa go?” Not because he's necessarily bothered, but he's just trying to kind of fix his reality around things. I think a lot of people live in static environments and really appreciate that. You have to let go of that to an extent. We do have private spaces though. We have our own apartment that's very private that's our own thing. But for Casa Perfect in LA and for New York, these are spaces that we share and for those shared spaces, we have to be much more fluid about how they are shared.
Considering the people coming and going through your space, are the social and the intimacy aspects what separate a house from a home?
I don’t know. That's an interesting question. Maybe that's what it is. How do you make your show house your home [laughs]? We don't curate them or think about them in the way that an interior designer would. We're much more curatorial and we're thinking about things through the lens of a curatorial vision. You can walk into very high-end furniture showrooms and things, and they've really painted a picture for you including the art on the wall and the sofa and the two chairs and the rug and that vase. Our clients are art collectors. They're interested in design and art and craft and they’re fluid about these things.
Do you personally collect art? What draws you to the art you tend to collect?
Yes. I used to be really interested if I could look at a piece and think that this person's hand must have just tired so intensely, like something that felt so obsessive-compulsive. But it's loosened up a bit and that's not really my interest anymore. I've gotten into figurative, gestural work, primarily contemporary and just fun and all over the place. I think you might see a through line that I can't even see because I don't have to be super thoughtful about the art in the way that I have to think about my work, which is the design. Art is fun for me and I just buy what I like.
Was there anything in particular that you think sparked that change between liking the more controlled works to the things you're interested in more recently?
Figurative, gestural figurative work just became more prominent, and I’ve fallen in love with a number of artists who do that kind of work. I've bought some pieces, I passed on some pieces. I remember these moments that I've had in my art buying, and we all have those if you buy art, when you walked by the gallery and you saw something and were like, “That's amazing.” But, then you say, “I don't know, I never heard of him before.” Now, some of those things are completely unfindable and very valuable. But you have to have those experiences because then when you go to a show and you're totally enchanted by something, you buy it. That's what's fun about art too, that you can make that exciting, good purchase. But I should make this very clear: I do not buy art as an investment. I don't treat it as I do a financial diversification strategy. I buy it because I love it. So, that is the pull quote from this [laughs]. It can be really fun to have bought a piece of art and see it rise in value, or not rise in value.
We’ve been talking with both artists and collectors about the idea of obsessions and things that people keep returning to over and over again for whatever reason. Is there anything you feel you keep returning to?
Over the last ten years, we've really been drawn, materially, toward ceramics and now work with them. We work with incredible ceramicists who do really different things, like Floris Wubben, who works entirely in industrial production methodologies of extrusions. He's turned industrial extruding into a craft. These pieces are very functional and sometimes very imprecise, but beautiful, sculptural forms. We work with Eric Roinestad who's the opposite of all the trends right now. All the trends are about gloopy and glazy and all that, and he's very inspired by Oskar Schlemmer and the mid-century. And then we have Barry Zipperstein, who is a female ceramicist here in Los Angeles, who just dropped off a body of work that's amazing. Roger Cole is a new artist we’re working with who does these really beautiful ceramic coils. I could go on and on about the ceramics because we have a lot of that, it just goes on and on. I think that obsession, on a personal level, starts to translate into the business and then the collection becomes a program. Obsession becomes a collection becomes a program. I love it, that doesn’t sound pretensions at all [laughs].
Escape and travel are really on people's minds as the pandemic lingers. Do you have a favorite escape or any place you're looking to go to once things open up more?
During quarantine, I’ve been jumping in my Jeep and getting outdoors a lot more, even in LA. Way more hiking, way more mountain biking, just being outside, engaging with nature. I’m really finding myself just super connected to the mountains and just wanting to be there more and more: the desert, the high desert, Joshua tree, the mountains, Arizona, southern Utah, you name it. I'm not saying anything that people haven't discovered. But I think that, for me, there was always this sense that it had to be Italy to be amazing, or it had to be Thailand to be exotic, and I've just gotten way more into what's out my back door.
Speaking of being in your own backyard: what are some of your top things to do in LA? What are some of your favorite art spaces or outdoorsy spots or restaurants?
LA has done this really great thing in the last couple of years–which I think has been really solidified with Frieze–but there's been an amazing gallery community that's developed in LA. Going out to the desert is amazing. There’s never a bad moment, in my opinion, even when it's 120 degrees in August I'm still super into it. It's just really cool to be out there probably because it's the opposite of New York in a lot of ways and I've spent so much time in New York that there's something really refreshing about the desert.
Would you say all of those outdoor activities, are the hobbies you're most passionate about outside of design?
Yeah, and it's picked up. Going to the gym has always been important to me for both vanity and for health, just to be very honest.
A little vanity is good. Tell me, what are you listening to or reading lately in your spare time?
I have a whole host of podcasts that I listen to weekly, like The Daily. I listen to music on Spotify, so I don't even know what I'm listening to anymore. There are channels on and I'm like, “Oh, great put that channel back on.” My husband's a little more in charge of that curation. I'm reading the most incredible book right now, but because of Kindle, I never know what I'm reading and then I can never remember the name of my books. I never see the cover anymore, so it's just the book on the Kindle. Same thing with music. I don't have that experience of holding a CD and obsessing and learning about the artists and all that. It's just become more like “This is great! Thumbs up.” So, I'm not so sure who it is.
Is there something that makes you feel optimistic right now?
Oh, so much, so much. The vaccine. People, in general. I'm very optimistic always. I think even how people have handled the conversations surrounding diversity. I have utter optimism. There's no going backward.