Studio Visit

Holly Hunt's Hands-On Approach

The self-described “editor-in-chief” discusses how she’s able to oversee every detail of her bustling design business.

The self-described “editor-in-chief” discusses how she’s able to oversee every detail of her bustling design business.

What is the Holly Hunt look?

Warm, casually elegant, modern, clean.

What material would you never use?

Plastic.

What’s the first piece of furniture that mattered to you?

Long before entering this business, I bought a chair, a John Widdicomb piece. The chair had thick Lucite sides arm to floor, with leather strapping back and seat on chrome frame, with leather cushions. Very modern!

Describe your design process.

I like the work of touching materials, touching the stone. I don’t think I’m too different than any other designer in that way. But I can’t do a project if it’s just coming in and putting in furniture. It doesn’t make any sense. If the interior architecture is not right, then the project is not right. For that I partner with Neil Zuleta, the Holly Hunt Director of Interior Architecture and Design.,I get to do the fun part. I get to go in and criticize.

I think the use of email so often is unhealthy for creativity because you don’t talk to people. Whether it’s business creativity or design creativity, it’s easier to solve problems when you meet at the water cooler.

What are you working on now?

We’re working with a developer for the first time, on L’Atelier, a 20-story building in Miami. The location is superb because it’s on 69th and Collins, one of the last pieces of property available for redo or construction, but it’s not in the cacophony of South Beach. We’re doing the architecture, design, furnishing, and building the lobby, the amenities spaces in granular detail, on the beach and its two pools, and a two-floor penthouse. The penthouse is all virtual, as we will not be doing a model apartment, so everything you see is a rendering. It was an interesting way to work. You can sort of dream it, you know?

Have the places you’ve lived impacted your design sensibility?

I’ve lived in New York, grew up in Texas, and also had a place in Florida. I intended to buy a house in Palm Beach and set up my office there, but we went off skiing and a banker bought the house. I opened my first showroom in Chicago in 1983 and started the business here. You’re always impacted by where you live, what you do, and what you see. You’re impacted by where you go, like to an art museum. You absorb.

Tell me about your art collection.

I started collecting abstract expressionism in the late 1970s. In my living room I have Louise Nevelson and Sean Scully; in my dining room, a Motherwell “Elegy.” In my living room I have a Frankenthaler from 1991; it’s gorgeous, really big, tall. I just bought a Serra at [David] Zwirner, a beautiful black Serra with a white background, but black, with texture in the blackness, the black is so deep. In the hall, I have several David Smith paintings that I love. He painted a nude or two and they’re beautiful. It’s Matisse-like. I also have two pieces by Olga de Amaral, who’s an 86-year-old Columbian woman. She does woven gold textiles. She’s been big in South America. I loved them so I bought a couple of those from a gallery in Paris.

You also work with contemporary artists.

Yes, for our limited editions. I just finished a couple of tables with Paula Crown, an artist from Chicago I’ve known for nearly 30 years. The idea was to not just make art, but do an art and design collaboration. So we met in her studio, and I saw Paula was working with fractal designs cast in metal, which was perfect because we just started working with a company in Slovenia that can inset metal into stone. So we made a tall table and then a small one, rectangular with a metal base.

Any design advice for our readers?

Most great design jobs need contrast. Of course, an all-white apartment can be quite beautiful, but I think one really needs contrasts with darks and lights on different planes.  Jobs can be rather boring when everything is mid-tone or monotone.

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