This winter, we caught a train to New York City to visit and interview our client Scott Salvator. His office-loft is in a booming section of the Upper East Side, and when my coworker and I walked in the doors and escaped the chill of New York in winter, we met a tall, well-dressed man carrying a small travel bag. He welcomed us, asked if we were here to see Scott, and then turned his bag to introduce the endearing Yorkie that occupied it.
After meeting Butch (the Yorkie) and Scott’s business partner Michael Zabriskie, we were led upstairs to Scott’s loft. Scott Salvator’s office was eclectic, colorful, and gorgeous. With many intriguing and dynamic focal points, it was difficult for us to stop gazing around at different elements.
Scott walked into the room wearing a bowtie and slacks. He was at once arresting and impressive, while making us both feel like we had known him for years. He introduced himself, picked up Butch, and sat down at the artfully worn table. Butch was brought a glass of water. She popped her beribboned head over the tabletop to take a drink and the interview began.
How do you define your style?
Scott Salvator: it’s defined by my client’s style.
Has your style changed over the years?
Scott: it changes with the project. And we’ve done multiple projects for the same client, but it changes with the project. Because every house isn’t the same, it’s the different locations. [My clients] have houses all over the world. What’s in New York is not in London. What’s in Connecticut is not in Paris.
Do you try to go with the trends of the day or do you go with a timeless feel?
Scott: I think the common thread [is] that there is always an element of glamour—more than an element. It’s also what my clients need, because they come to me, because I’m going to give them what they want. But the common thread is that they want glamour; they want really high quality; they want one-of-a-kind. Everything’s custom. There’s rarely a budget. The whole thing is, it’s just very hard work. It’s really time-consuming, so we’ve had projects that have gone on for 8 years. You know, there’s minutiae.
Of the projects you’ve worked on over the years is there a favorite or a standout?
Scott: One would hope over time that you get better projects, that you continue to get more interesting work. One of my favorites is a Park Avenue apartment we just completed, a Park Avenue penthouse.
How do you see yourself: more as an artist or as a successful businessman?
Scott: Definitely artist—I mean, I don’t have a big office. But as an artist, I’m very good at running a business. I’m a lawyer: so I practice law. I’m an accountant: I worked for Price Waterhouse. What I have found working for other people…is that people are well-intentioned in design, but it’s a very right brain group of people, and it’s very hard for them to [manage a business]. It’s really ninety percent left brain all day. So, if you can find ten percent of your time to sit there and dream or design, that’s good. But a lot of the time you are dealing with procedural and administrative things.
Knowing what you know now, is there any advice that you’d give yourself if you were just starting out today?
Scott: Oh, that’s a loaded question. You know, run. And people did tell me that. My first employer was Mario Buatta, whose office was a royal typewriter with carbon paper.
Everything is generational, I find. Prejudices go away generationally. The actual mindset [that you need to have] is the generation that has the black friend, that has the gay friend, that has the black husband—as opposed to older people who weren’t taught that, may tolerate it but are not living it. And so with computers, it’s [the same]. There weren’t computers in college. There weren’t computers in high school. I was on the cusp, but because I was starting my own business with no employees, without this administrative office attached to me, I did everything. I had to learn.
How has technology shaped the way you run your business?
Scott: It’s enabled me to be a much bigger business with a very small group of people. I mean, I deal with an incredible volume, not only of the actual product that’s delivered, but monetarily. And that would have never happened without [the internet], your software, computers, or smartphones.
What have you been doing recently?
Scott: We have good projects. The reason that I’ve stayed small and considered myself an artist is so that I can do really good work. I wanted to do quality. To really design. To have that kind of dialogue with a client where a project develops. A lot of people don’t like that and that’s fine, and they don’t use me. It’s like making clothes. [They say], “I don’t care I’m going to get it off the rack.” So fine, go get it off the rack. But I like [connecting with clients]. It’s better; it’s a better project. I find it’s more interesting.
We have certain trends in our work, but I find that it’s more about the client’s style than about the trend. It’s not about their taste really; it’s about picking out something that looks like them.
What needs to change in interior design?
Scott: This business needs to be licensed. It should be licensed, and it should require “x” amount of school and passing a test; because it would help designers. Because designers are always being pushed around for a million things, because they have no voice. And this would give them a voice. It would give them a foundation.
Scott Salvator is recognized as one of the country’s premier designers. From its inception in 1992, Salvator’s New York-based full-service firm has specialized in custom residential and commercial interiors for an elite international clientele from Los Angeles to Athens.To learn more about Scott and his business, visit: www.scottsalvator.com/.