Make It Fabulous with William Georgis

By Steve Kroeter November 6, 2013
William T. Georgis, Architect and Interior Designer (New York)
View William Georgis’s Book List

Architect and interior designer William T. Georgis, known for his work on high-style private residences, art galleries, and a restaurant for the landmarked Lever House in New York City, brings “a bit of magic” to everything he does. In this conversation with Designers & Books, he talks about the first book that influenced him (Georgis was one of our original book list contributors), collaboration with artists, what he thinks about fashion, and the monograph of his work published this summer aptly titled Make It Fabulous (The Monacelli Press).


Designers & Books: In their introductory essay to Make It Fabulous, Donald Albrecht and Natalie Shivers say your work is characterized by “provocative juxtapositions.” And Penelope Green in the New York Times has called your environments both “glamorous and naughty.” What is it about your approach that elicits these sorts of responses?
William Georgis: I’m a bit mystified by these descriptions. For the most part (with the exception of the show house interiors) my work is a response to clients and context. Perhaps my clients and I are naughty provocateurs?

Guest bedroom of Georgis-Marshall townhouse (2001) designed by William T. Georgis, with 19th-century gilt and Fortuny-upholstered Venetian bed and Jack Pierson wall sculpture. Georgis says, “The interior decoration is about juxtaposition, about dialogue between past and present.”

D&B: You frequently invite artists and other designers—like Nancy Lorenz, Michele Oka Doner, and Peter Lane—to collaborate with you on your projects, embracing the idea “to hear someone else’s voice.” How do you keep all your collaborators in step with your overall vision?

WG: I don’t keep my collaborators in step, rather I depend on them to contribute their vision, while riffing on my foundation.

Living room with painting by Cy Twombly of Manhattan East Side townhouse designed by William T. Georgis (2004). Georgis says, “With design there are various pails to pick from to create an inspired mix. . . . You pull something from each of those pails and you make magic.”

D&B: One of the dedications in your book is to the memory of your mother, Mitzie. Did she have anything to do with pointing you in the direction of design?
WG: My mother, Mitzie, was a wildly visual woman with a great sense of style, who taught me the importance of perceivable and transcendent beauty.

William T. Georgis, Make it Fabulous, 2013 (The Monacelli Press)  

D&B: What about that word “fabulous”? Was it a favorite of your mother’s?
WG: Absolutely!

D&BWhat was the first book about architecture that made an important impression on you?
WG: Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (otherwise known as the Wasmuth Portfolio)

D&B: What about other types of books that were formative for you: Art books? Novels?
WG: The work of Joan Didion and Yukio Mishima are my guiding stars.

D&B: You grew up in Oak Park, Illinois where there is a large concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright houses. You got to know many of these very well, since when you were in high school you gave tours of them. Has anything from Wright remained with you?
WG: The concept of gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art—whereby the architecture, landscape, interior design, and all details of a project are coordinated.

D&B: Can you tell us about your library? How many books? What type of books?
WG: My office library consists of architecture, landscape, design, art and fashion monographs, 18th- and 19th-century architecture treatises, architecture and urban histories, decorative arts histories, and auction catalogues.

D&B: Do you have a favorite place or places you go to buy rare and out-of-print books?
WG: Ursus Books, (New York), Argosy Book Store (New York), Daniel Crouch Rare Books (London).

D&B: You were one of the original contributors to Designers & Books and one of the titles on the book list you submitted was Japanese Houses Today. Have you visited Japan often? What about the sense of Japanese aesthetics resonates with you most?
WG: I have visited Japan many times and am always visually astonished by the commitment to tradition and modernity and the appreciation of the imperfect.

Cedar-clad entry facade with ivy-covered wall, entry ramp, and garden (by Paula Hayes) of summer residence, Watermill, New York, designed by William T. Georgis (2005).

D&B: Albrecht and Shivers make a point of mentioning the value to you of your broad liberal arts education at Stanford. Would you recommend to students interested in architecture today that they follow that same academic path? Or do you think the landscape today has changed and a professional focus sooner is better?
WG: I strongly believe that a liberal arts education will always be of paramount importance, particularly to those in pursuit of careers in architecture and design.

D&B: From your book, it’s easy to see the broad range of your art and design interests—from architecture, interior design, graphic design, landscape architecture, and product design—to painting, sculpture, and photography. What about fashion? Are you interested in it? Do you have a uniform you dress in for client meetings?
WG: I’m very interested in fashion—particularly on others. For myself, I stick to a uniform of suits and jackets.

Palm Beach, Florida, apartment designed by William T. Georgis (2006). Cabana with Martinique wallpaper (originally designed for the Beverly Hills Hotel), monkey collection. John Stewart X-frame desk and zebra-skin-clad Milo Baughman chrome chair. Georgis says, “Think of Chantilly’s Grande Singerie, which is decorated with paintings of monekys. It’s screwball, it’s sudden—it’s a fabulous moment.”
Montana residence, Big Sky, Montana, designed by William T. Georgis (2010), View of the great room from pool room balcony. Georgis says, “The interior riffs on the idea of place—it’s a New Yorker’s interpretation of what he thinks this place should be. It also tells the story of people moving to new parts of the world and taking their possessions with them. Using the inherent qualities of something from a completely different culture and place and putting it in another context  to create a kind of frisson—that’s what’s fascinating.”

All photos are from Make It Fabulous, courtesy of The Monacelli Press.

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