i+D - July/August 2021 - 47

i+D: How did you make your way in the industry?
VW: Being in the right place at the right time. I tried many different
things: merchandising, advertising, fashion, acting. I was a model.
None of them were right. By chance, I met someone in the design
industry, and that's how it started. My family in Cuba was in the
construction business so I had a knowledge of building, reading plans,
things like that.
i+D: You get ideas from travel, especially to remote locales.
What's next?
VW: I'm sitting here right now going over plans for Egypt, where
I've been four times. Going back, I want to camp in the middle of the
desert. There's a monastery on the Sinai Peninsula from the 6th century,
where I'll go. Then I'm going to northern Sudan to look at pyramids
built by Nubian pharaohs.
i+D: When you travel, do you have an idea of what
you'll find?
VW: It's about looking at things, about seeing tonality, lines, very
rarely anything really specific. It's a sense. Traveling seeds your soul.
i+D: Your reputation is for spaces as modern as the day
before yesterday but steeped in history. How do you
accomplish this?
VW: I have no idea. My whole career, my life, has been instinctual.
The only thing I've really studied is different eras of photography. It's
always been: Does it look right? I never question my choices when
I like something.
i+D: You believe design should provide a sense of
escape. How do you achieve that in a commercial space
or a residence?
VW: A restaurant, for example, is all about escape. They're easy to do
once you find a theme-whether it's a Japanese restaurant or a noodle
shop or a pizza place. Right now, I'm doing a lounge for the Encore
Boston Harbor Resort. It's evolved into one of those 1960s-lounge
glamorous places, a place to escape, where the idea is to look wonderful.
i+D: You've worked with many celebrities in the arts and
boldface names from the business world, designing their
residences. Are they more high-maintenance than those not
in the public eye?
VW: In the times we live in, everyone is high-maintenance.
i+D: How do you tell a client, for example...
VW: To shut up?
i+D: (laughing) Is there a way of massaging them around
to your point of view?
VW: As you can tell, I say what I think. Working with talented people,
successful people in business, acting, whatever, you have a connection
about creativity, a gene we're sharing. You have to take ego into
account. But with someone who has no vision but is amazingly
financially successful, you have to really be confident of your own
worth on every level. You have to understand that if you're a mogul,
everyone is kissing your ass, so as a designer you have to have that
sense of confidence to work with them.
i+D: First job as a kid?
VW: Helping people with packages to get a dime. Being a messenger.
Working in kitchens, being a busboy. I ended high school very early.
School usually gives people a hanger to hang a future on. But I was
trying to survive during those years, trying to see what fit. It was a
struggle until I became a designer.
i+D: Did all that work help in what you do now?
VW: It gave me the message that, " You have the strength. " If you're
never tested, you never know your caliber. If you don't have money to
buy food, and you get it and eat and survive, then there's a real feeling
of progression. I discovered my worth. It took a long time, but that
was my education.
i+D: Who is or was the most important person in your life?
VW: Bob Patino, my personal and business partner for 20 years,
who has passed away. When we came together, he opened doors that
allowed me to discover my creativity.
i+D: What are you reading?
VW: The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell, and Plunder:
Napoleon's Theft of Veronese's Feast, by Cynthia Saltzman, about
Napoleon's invasion of Italy and the thefts of art.
i+D: Paper or screen?
VW: Paper. I want to know when the book is over, how many pages
are left, to see pictures on paper. There's a sense of accomplishment.
I'm dyslectic, so reading can be problematic, since it takes me a long
time. It's partly why I didn't continue in school. I never passed a grade.
I just kept getting bigger, so they kept passing me to the next grade.
i+D: What do you always have with you, that if you leave
your house without it you have to go back and get it?
VW: Pants?
i+D: That would be important to have with you.
VW: I like dates, and I chew on a date seed all day long. It's like a
pacifier. It's a little weird, especially if I'm talking to a client and it flies
out of my mouth.
i+D: When you wake up, how long is it before you think
about work?
VW: Sometimes what wakes me up is work, which is a word I dislike,
because I like to play. Design is something I'm thinking about all the
time-from the moment I wake up and sometimes it puts me to sleep.
I'm always thinking about aesthetic situations and possibilities.
is the editor of the Shelter Island Reporter
and a novelist, nonfiction author, and
journalist. His work has appeared in GQ,
The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.
i+D - July/August 2021
Image: Amanda Mocci

i+D - July/August 2021

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