I first met the interior architectural designer Eric Cohler in London. Months later I found myself in New York City where I visited his office, a remarkable location on 5th Ave, downtown Manhattan. We had a delightful conversation and I realized once again that if you love something passionately enough, you do whatever it takes to pursue it. Especially when you have a natural-born talent.
Eric Cohler is an A-List of the top U.S. designers and world top designers. He holds an M.S. in Historic Preservation from Columbia University’s School of Architecture and a certificate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. In late 2010, he was named an Ambassador to the G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea, where he spoke about empowerment in the arts and he is also a professor at Hobart College. In recent years, Cohler’s work has expanded to include product design like furniture, rugs, lighting, and fabric; and his Lee Jofa Tyler Crewel fabric was selected for the White House family dining room.
ERIC COHLER: “Feel enveloped by luxurious surroundings. And luxury doesn’t mean money.”
People are paying more attention to interior design than a decade ago, as I see it. What do you think about this trend?
It’s absolutely true. And that’s because of Reality TV and interior design shows on television. Plus online shopping. People are aspirational. They want to have a better lifestyle and they became much more interested in their homes.
You were described as one of the fourteen “Best of the Best in the “next wave of designers in American. How does it feel?
At that time it was a great honour. It was really exciting for me to have that kind of publicity, which I didn’t really seek, but editors started to recognize my work and I won every single award you can win in the industry. At this point, I think it’s nice but I don’t really care about awards anymore. I did, but now I only care about the quality of my work and the passion I impart and making my clients happy.
How do you choose your clients?
They choose me. (laugh) And a few I won’t work for because they are very difficult people. I felt like at a hiring interview and I fired some of my clients. I fire horrible people. I don’t want at this point the toxicity and frankly, I don’t need it. I am at a point in my life when I don’t have to take a client. Only if I want to do it.
I pray a lot, I am trying to be the best person I can and the best designer my clients can hire. Because I know I am truly gifted. I am very modest with everything, but when it comes to design I know that I have the education, the background, the family tradition and the acumen to present the finest interiors and advise that I can give my clients, in the world. I am not number one, for sure, but I’m out there in the top. How do I feel about myself socially? Shy. Definitely. I’m hiding behind the chair at parties, I don’t want anybody to see me, but not when it comes to speaking publicly, which I do a lot. I teach at a college. I am a professor at Hobart College upstate New York. I teach Interior Design one on one and Architecture.
Who can afford you?
You can afford me! If I am interested enough to get your project. You see, if you have a very unique point of view and I am excited about it, and you have £10,000 to spend and I want to create something for you, of course, I would do it.
I walk into a room and I feel what the colour should be. I’m inspired by nature a lot.
Colours, how do you choose them in design?
The colours are chosen by the fabrics. I usually start with the fabrics. This is how I plan a room. I start with the rug, which is the foundation, and then I put the fabrics in. And once I know the fabrics I know what the furniture is. But to the colour point, I look at the fabrics, and what would be a good background. Or other time I just walk into a room and I feel what the colour should be. I’m inspired by nature a lot: ocean, leaves, I also love shadows. I can see a shadow on the ground and I can create a new textile in my mind. Or I can create a whole room based on black and white. But I also look at the colours. I’m looking at the leafs, the changing leafs every season. I love seasons, and the colours and shadows are always changing. This represents the life cycle. From birth to death is just the trees regenerates. It’s like a Phoenix bird that cyclically regenerates after a fire. And I think the design is cyclic too.
Interior design for me is about mixing high and low, inexpensive with an expensive piece of furniture.
How would look a timeless room in your opinion?
What makes a timeless room would be cool clear colours and very simple forms of furniture with a wonderful piece of a chair or Viennese Modernism Furniture from 1909 or something. But regardless a room sometimes should be turned apart after five years, ten years. Interior design for me is about mixing high and low, inexpensive with an expensive piece of furniture. Even in my own London flat, I have habitat furniture but I mix it with very expensive pieces.
What is the most expensive piece of furniture you have?
Currently, the most expensive piece of furniture I have is art. I never pay more the £2,000 – £3,000 on a piece of furniture. My money is in my arts (paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs). I collected arts since I was a teenager and I must say I have a very good eye. The most expensive piece of art I have is probably about £173,000 ($250.000) and it’s the cubist portrait of a woman made by a very well known – I don’t want to say the name – American painter. But I don’t keep it in my house, I lend it to museums.
The good interior design makes you feel good about your space.
How do you feel interior design will change the world?
The good interior design makes you feel good about your space. When you come home at the end of the day, after a rough business trip or if somebody screamed at you at work or you had a fight with your partner, you kind of get in good mood pretty quickly because you feel enveloped by luxurious surroundings. And luxury doesn’t mean money. Luxury means style, and taste and the ability to cocoon yourself in security. The greatest luxury is security. I like to create secure spaces for people.
Eric became an architectural designer after his father said he was going to fail
Eric Cohler moved to New York when he was six from the state of Massachusetts, somewhere close to Boston. At that point, his mother, herself an interior designer, had a lot of friends in big city. His father is a psychiatrist. “He did interiors but with the head”, jokes the interior architectural designer. And here is the rest of the story revealed by the artist.
I can draw almost any space I have ever been in my entire life. from an early young age until today
Eric Cohler – “I always wanted to become an architect, a master builder. I didn’t want to become an interior designer. My mother was one but I didn’t really understand what she did. So that just came later because once I learned how to manipulate spaces, and because happy I have a photographic memory – I can draw almost any space I have ever been in my entire life from an early young age until today. I can still draw the house we were living in when I was four years old, as a floor plan. So, it’s a gift and I took that gift. I consider myself an architectural designer. But I also design fabrics, furniture, lightning, I have a contract with a company and I create rugs.
I established my firm Eric Cohler Design while I was still in school. I graduated in 1994 from Columbia University, I started school in 1991. And to make extra money on a side, I started a little design business. So I worked mostly for my mother’s friends or friends of friends and it was enough to help me pay my expenses at school. This allowed me to keep my freedom and to build my business, here in New York, from a young age. I think I always was entrepreneurial and I was passionate about design.
I wanted to be an architect, but my father didn’t want to pay for the school because he said I was going to fail. Funny enough I was accepted at Harvard Architecture School, but I had trouble with math, because I am dyslexic, and I have a feeling that I wouldn’t have passed the math courses. So I didn’t go to Harvard Graduate School of Designers even if I have a certificate in Architecture there. Anyways, I got scared and I went to Columbia instead and I specialized in Historic Preservation. Restoring structures and bringing them back to original or adding things that will not compromise the integrity of the original.”
Photo credits: Eric Cohler archive, Corina Stoicescu (The essence of it blog)