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Q & A: Andrew Flesher

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Q & A by Erin Ryder
Portrait by Tom Ackerman
Interior Photography by Susan Gilmore

LOFTLIFE: We loved your space at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Tell us about the vision you had, to keep it cohesive.  Were you trying to keep the flow between the other designers in the house or did you have your own singular vision?

ANDREW FLESHER: I just had my own vision. That’s one of the great things about a show house. It’s similar to doing your own house in that you just don’t have any limitations. Nobody’s going to say, “You can’t do that.” When I designed the space for Kips Bay, the His master bathroom, the way I thought about it was: How would I like that space for myself. And basically that’s what I did; I created a bathroom that I would like.

LL: Your firm, Gunkelman Flesher, now has offices in New York and Minneapolis. Do you see a change in the taste of your clients from city to city?

ANDREW: Yeah, I think that people in Minneapolis are more conservative than people in New York. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do some work in New York, because I felt creatively I needed a change, I needed to push myself a little further. And I didn’t feel like I was doing that so much in Minneapolis.

LL: How long ago was that?

ANDREW: That was just a year ago.

LL: Have you done any commercial spaces in New York yet?

ANDREW: I’ve been mostly residential. And you know, I would say probably 95% of my business is residential . I’d love to do restaurants, or a hotel!

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LL: As you know, your gorgeous white loft back in Minneapolis got a lot of attention when we first posted pictures of it on our website. What was your thought process?

ANDREW: Well, I love white. I always wanted to do a place that had white floors, like a gallery space that shows objects really well. I was living in a conversion loft: brick walls, raw. There was a building going up down the street, so I checked it out. I found the floor plan really great, with 60 feet of glass across the front, floor to ceiling. I found the challenge of dividing the space and creating something in a glass cube very interesting. It was also part of my love of architecture, Mies’ Farnsworth House, Philip Johnson’s Glass House, that kind of thing. I always wanted to try it. So I did.

LL: Aside from the idea of mirroring a gallery space, tell us more about why white is your palette of choice.

ANDREW: It’s so pure. It’s a place for your eye to rest, I think. Your eye doesn’t have to break anything apart in a white space, it gives you this great backdrop to put pieces in that act as sculpture. Furniture in a white space is almost like art and that was my concept. I wanted a place to showcase the things I had collected over the years.

LL: Besides the obvious space challenge in New York, how was your experience transitioning to your home in Tribeca?

ANDREW: I think the great thing about New York is that there’s such a vast supply of resources—there’s really no reason why your place has to look like anybody else’s place! You can personalize your home so easily because there’s so much available.

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LL: How did you get into interior design?

ANDREW: When I was a kid I always thought I would be an architect. I used to love to study house plans, and I’d always ask my mom and dad to buy me magazines. Then, I got into college and studied architecture for three years: It was more engineering, calculus, and physics .  So, I switched; I just felt like interior design was much more for me, more creative and less about science and just more about creativity.

LL: What are the biggest challenges with keeping to a minimalist aesthetic, while also keeping a space functional for years to come?

ANDREW: Two things: You have to listen to your clients and observe how they live. I think sometimes clients don’t realize they need something to function. When I meet with clients, I like to ask them, “how do you live?” Rather than, “how tall do you want this vanity to be?” Or “How much storage space do you need in your kitchen?” Instead I ask, “How do you want your house to feel?” (They can generally) explain how they want it to feel, but they don’t know how they want it to look and that’s why they’ve hired me. So, you know, you want to be practical. You want to listen to how they use their house and how they live.

I always like to challenge my clients a little bit, but not beyond their comfort level. Because at the end of the day, it’s really my client’s house. It’s not mine; I’m not going to live there. But I want to really guide them to make the right decisions, so, that they are pleased with how it looks and how it functions when we’re done.

LL: Who, what, or where are your greatest sources of inspiration?

ANDREW: The way I design is I put a collection of pieces together. I love individual pieces for their own beauty, things that are classic and stand on their own. And then I love the combination of things so that there’s some surprise, some tension, some juxtaposition between materials, styles, and level of formality. I think it’s so important to know what’s happened in the past, to take that, and then use it in a new way. So it’s not that you want to copy anything or that you want to recreate something that’s done before, but you can’t really go forward unless you know what’s happened in the past. And I do think that all design, and all new design, is really an evolution of what’s happened in the past.

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LL: Generally speaking, have you found that design sensibility is changing during this difficult financial environment?

ANDREW: I think that people are wanting good pieces that are going to last. The state of the world today is really influencing everybody. I think that people are just more thoughtful consumers then they used to be because (of this). One of the things that is interesting, I think, is what happened in the financial world last year, it has taken the pressure off of people to have to have the latest, the newest object.

LL: With the growth of LEED-certified buildings, and the quickly growing sustainable products (from fabric to paint) available to consumers, do you feel the need to incorporate more “green”?

ANDREW: Yes. People are definitely interested in it and in fact, we just won an award for a Gold LEED certified building that we did in Minneapolis. It was actually a beautiful, classical building, originally built as a library, and turned into a family foundation office. My thought about the whole “green” movement and the need to be thoughtful of the environment is very important to me. Yet, there’s also a balance between the environment being green and it also being beautiful, because I don’t believe  in throwing away good design just at the cost of, or just for the sake of, being “green.” I’m looking forward to the future when we have really great products that we can use without compromising.

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LL: So, let’s run through some of you “favorites” of the moment. How about color?

ANDREW: Always white.

LL: Store?

ANDREW: I think I have to say Duane Antiques. They have a great eye, I think.

LL: Flower?

ANDREW: You know, I love white peonies, not pink, but white peonies.

LL: Paint?

ANDREW: I love American Clay’s color  I used in the room at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse. Their sugarloaf white that was used on the walls has a really nice warm color, and it has such nice depth and dimension. I’m going to say that’s probably my new favorite. I am going to use it in a 12,000-sq-ft ski in/ski out project I’m doing in Deer Valley, Utah. We’re going to use it everywhere.

LL: Stationary?

ANDREW: I love our stationary that we have for Gunkelmen Flescher because it’s very classic. It’s white, it’s embossed, and it has a shiny silver foil on the edge. Very clean. I use it all the time.

LL: Wallpaper?

ANDREW: Wallpaper.  I’m using a lot of grass cloths.  I like grass cloths like Donghia. They make the most beautiful paper with back linens that’s very coarse.  And I use it all the time.  When you use it in your house, it’s almost like being in a gallery.  And it makes a perfect backdrop for art and everything else.

LL: Accent piece?

ANDREW: An accent piece, how about a table I designed?  It’s a little chrome, glass, and linen-wrapped drinks table that I use a lot with my clients.
LL: Artist?

ANDREW: Oh Mark Rothko is my all-time favorite. Mark Rothko and Joseph Albert.

LL: Is there any other news or projects you’d like to update us on?

ANDREW: I’ve been working on a furniture line that I’d like to shop around to see if somebody would like to manufacture it.  So that’s sort of in the front of my head a lot.  I think I’d like to get into some product design.

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