Nobu Designer David Rockwell on the Perils of Pursuing Timeless Design

Welcome back for part two of my Special Sauce interview with designer and architect David Rockwell. In this week’s episode, David talks about what the initial design process for projects is like, and about some of the challenges he faces when talking to his clients: “One of the catchphrases for clients to say is, ‘You know, I’d really like a timeless design.’ Well, who would not like a timeless design? Timeless design has to be a result, not an intention. I think if you’re afraid to go through timely to get to timeless, you end up with petrified.”   As someone who was a consultant for many years before I started Serious Eats, I laughed really hard when he said that. And I asked him how he deals with the inevitable ego clashes in his line of work. He quoted Jack O’Brien, one of his favorite theater directors, in response: “‘Don’t put a hat on a hat.’ From a design perspective I take that to mean, you don’t want to engage in a project where everyone’s going to do the same thing. If you have a client that feels like they know what they want visually, that’s a little constricting. I’d rather work with a client who knows what they want emotionally, knows where they want to land.”   I also got to ask David which person, living or dead, he’d most like to have lunch with (other than Frank Lloyd Wright). His answer was deceptively obvious: “I think Picasso would be more fun to sit and talk with and get him to scribble on a napkin. God, can you imagine?”