Color-Coordinating the Recession

Location: How’s business? Do uptown interior designers have their own recession?

Mr. Drake: I think the interior design industry, like every industry, has been affected—and affected majorly. … Projects that were in the middle, people have not stopped—but we’re all concerned about what will come down the road in six to nine months to a year, when projects that are currently in the works are completed.


But have clients stopped approving 10-foot George III Chippendale sofas, which you once got for your client, Mayor Bloomberg?

I do find that, yes, we do have some clients that are being more cautious with their purchases. … They’re willing to say, ‘You know what, I’d rather have something that’s less sky-high, and let’s look at something in a more reasonable price point.’


Are any in such a high league that you’re designing for them exactly the same way you would have before the recession?

I would say no. Everybody’s giving it more thought.


Have you found that your hedge fund and investment banker clients in particular, who used to be the $30 million condo buyers, have asked for recession-special design?

Well, I think the tastes had evolved even before last fall to be less O.T.T.—less over the top. I think people were looking for elegance, at least my clients were, that had a sense of intelligence about it. … That’s just the taste right now. It’s more accessible. It’s a little cooler. It’s a little pared back. … A client a year, year and a half ago, who was considering a high-six-figure desk—which did end up selling at that time, not to my client—we’re now looking at a desk in the low five figures.


Are six-figure desks even functional? Can you write on them?



You’re wearing a lime-green sweater and an oversized gold chain-link bracelet. And your work is famous for big, bright, zippy, massive colorfulness. Aren’t these times gray scale, too depressing for lavender and lemon?

I think people associate me with lavish amounts of color; in fact, if you look at my work, it’s often strong statements of color used in small dosages but very efficiently. … I don’t think this is a time to flee color. … I’ve been predicting a move away from fully saturated colors—the intense citrus orange, the intense chartreuse green—to more pastelized colors, to colors that are a little more springlike fresh. And I think that’s perfectly appropriate in a time when, you know what, you need a little optimism, and especially in your home. Let’s go in and close the door and at least have something that feels somewhat upbeat.


Your entry in Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame includes ‘faux-zebra rugs, Louis XV furniture, Persian rugs and fuchsia velvet.’ If the recession becomes a years-long depression, will it be hard to not tone down your tastes?

I think it will be hard that there just won’t be a lot of business out there. But I don’t think that, for the business that’s out there, people are going to want and go and live in a depressing hole. I think that if you’re going to do something, it may be done … with a more cautious budget, but certainly that just to think you’re going to want to go into a space that’s black or gray or brown … I mean, that would just bring everybody down further.


Your 2005 book New American Glamour says glamour is as affordable as ‘putting your lights on dimmers, lighting a few candles …’



‘… using a beautiful scent and setting out at least one perfect lily.’ But affordable glamour aside, what was the most decadent thing you did in the go-go era?

I’m not sure that decadence is something that ever really comes into play in my work. I think it’s essential indulgences—and if you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to live well, being in a capitalist society, living well means it helps filter down to other places. But I think that it was commissioning drawer pulls for a cabinet at Seaman Schepps the jeweler that were agate balls studded with coral, cabochon set in gold bezels.


You reportedly bought a place at 200 11th Avenue, the Annabelle Selldorf–designed building with a car elevator leading to apartments. How’s the building going?

It seems to be coming along. I have to say that I, in January, just last month, for the first time stood in the apartment, and was happy to see a beautiful—on a sunny day, cold and breezy, but a sunny day—Hudson River.


Doesn’t the car elevator and en suite parking count as decadence?

I don’t know if that’s decadence. You know what, are garage fees in New York decadent? They’re not decadent, they’re expensive. And I will not be having that garage fee.


You’re a fixture in the Hamptons. Is this summer going to be dreadful there?

Dreadful in what way? Is the weather going to be bad? Are the trees going to fall down? Are the locusts going to descend?


The locusts may descend. No, I mean that the recession will hurt.

I certainly would think that there will be less people out there, restaurants will be less full. … I certainly think that the Hamptons is going to be like every place in the world! There are some people who are still making money. There are some people who still have money. There are some people who see it as an opportunity—probably not that many.


I imagine that mega–real-estate brokers and mega-designers are in cahoots, sharing clients and matchmaking. Do any brokers in particular steer their big apartment buyers to you?

I have an enormous amount of friends who are brokers. Typically, I’m more the beneficiary of those friendships than the other way, because clients don’t tend to think about hiring the designer until after they’ve already found the apartment.

Color-Coordinating the Recession