x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Design is the backdrop to life'

Home in the life of William Sofield's design portfolio includes global boutiques for Gucci and Tiffany and residential commissions for Jackie Onassis and Ralph Lauren, as well as his own furnishing line for Baker. Sofield's work emphasises art and craft - as do his many houses.

William Sofield has four homes, including a lighthouse on its own island in Maine and a 'castle' on Long Island. 'I do have fantasies that one day I will just be a boy with a futon - but it's not likely.'
William Sofield has four homes, including a lighthouse on its own island in Maine and a 'castle' on Long Island. 'I do have fantasies that one day I will just be a boy with a futon - but it's not likely.'

I grew up in a house my parents built in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. It was a very minimal, Japanese-style house which, on reflection, was quite unusual in the post-war period. It was within a bird sanctuary and there was a great play of light and shadow - elements that still fascinate me. It also had large windows that had an immediate connection to nature; the carpets were woven with plant patterns that mirrored those outside so there was always a fluid connection between the two.

Undoubtedly. Apart from a slight hesitation when I was at Princeton, I never really wanted to do anything else but design and architecture. One of the greatest childhood gifts my mother gave me was to assign me 20 observation points in the woods around the house. I had to visit all these places daily and record their changes in a journal, which proved a creative challenge in winter when I was observing twigs. It is a discipline that has been invaluable in my career.

I have four homes at present. My main residence is High Ridge House, in Bedford Hills, New York, which is currently under restoration. There is also The Castle in Southampton, Long Island, which is modelled after an Irish castle, a lighthouse set on its own island on Maine, which is completely unspoilt, and an apartment in a Manhattan brownstone.

It is the sheer history and significance of it. It was designed in 1934 by Edward Durell Stone and Donald Deskey (significant architects on the Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall) and was one of the East Coast's first Modernist residential homes. In my work, my job is to create a perfect environment from scratch but at home, these historical environments force me to experience other things. My houses all have their own personalities, which is quite a relief for me. I do have fantasies that one day I will just be a boy with a futon - but it's not likely.

I like them all for different reasons. In my maturity, I guess there is something about the simplicity of High Ridge, which is closer than any of the others to my own tastes. I also have very strong feelings still for Laurel Canyon, my LA house that was sold a couple of years ago. It was the former home of [silent screen stars] Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr and it really was a piece of theatre; a fantasy really and everyone just fell in love with it. However, it was a fragile house that really needed to be lived in full time and I just didn't get to visit it enough.

Great design doesn't draw attention to itself. I always think that if no one guesses that I was there, then I have done my job well. Homes should be more about the people who inhabit them, the pets and the dinner parties - a house's design should simply be just a backdrop to life.

I am a collector with violent periods of de-cluttering. I like the spirit and memory of things, but don't especially covet the ownership of them and am far more likely to give things away as long as I know they are going to a good home.

Everything I do is based in craft. Despite the style - whether clean, modern or traditional, it is how things are made that unifies it all. I am also a firm believer in practicality. Like it or not, dogs end up on sofas and since I am in the habit of collecting strays my sofas are never going to be in white silk. I like my interiors to be wholly appropriate.

An alarm clock belonging to my grandmother that makes such a loud noise she always used to say she would know when she had died because everything would be the same but she wouldn't be able to hear that infernal clock ticking. I also have a cocktail shaker belonging to my grandpa - they both travel around with me to my various homes.

I love the dining room in High Ridge which the setting sun shines directly into at dinner time to create the most wonderful ambience. I have a highly polished table from my collection in there and when the glow from the sun enters the room it reflects beautifully.

That would probably be the gazebo in The Castle in Southampton. It is very much an indoor/outdoor room. It's the location for family gatherings and celebrations so there are lots of great fun memories in it; it's one of those rooms that people gravitate to but rarely leave.

Although all my homes have a strong identity of their own, that does tend to fall into the background when they are filled with people - a vital ingredient to make a home. A home is also place of calm, a place that is restorative, a place where you close the door behind you and be entirely yourself. Bill Sofield for Baker designs are available at Obegi Home, Dubai.