Jeff King Talks With

San Francisco Interior Design Crush: Gary Hutton



Every holiday season, we receive a “Sculpture in a Box” from Gary Hutton Design. Whether it’s an origami-like paper fold or abstract message set in wax, each piece is as unique and creative as Gary himself. He has been a maven of the San Francisco interior design scene for over thirty years and produces the renowned collection Gary Hutton Furniture. We had a blast chatting with Gary about the difference between art and design, how to bring together past and future, and what homeowners need to know about creating the perfect interior. Keep reading to get to know this one-of-a-kind designer.



Q&A: Gary Hutton, San Francisco Interior Design Professional

Jeff King & Company: You are quoted as saying, “There are only two kinds of people in the world. The ones that love sparkly things, and the ones that won’t admit it.” Your work is filled with bold colors and textures (and even some graffiti). Other rooms are filled with white. When is the time to be sparkly and loud versus clean and modern?

Gary Hutton: That question assumes that these things are mutually exclusive! I don’t feel that way at all. When I say “sparkly things” that doesn’t necessarily mean something encrusted with crystals but could be the sunset over the ocean or candlelight reflecting off a beautiful crystal wine glass. We all respond to light. It is one of our most basic impulses and since sparkle is the reflection of light it stands to reason that on a really visceral level it is something that we all relate to. My job as a designer is to understand where the client is coming from and to bring the light into their home in a way that speaks to them personally.




Do you see your work as art, craft, service, relationship, technical execution, entrepreneurship, or all of the above? Which is number one?

This is an “all of the above” answer. As my initial education was in Fine Arts, I hesitate to apply the “A” word to Design as they are two distinctly differing forms of expression. Art is a personal expression, Design is essentially problem solving. At its best Design is artful, but by definition if Art is useful it is no longer Art. Design is such a complex mix of craft, service, relationship and technical execution, that all parts must be in concert to really be successful. There are few other art forms that rely on such a large team to execute a final product. That is why it is so important to work with a team that understands the final goals and is willing to work together to accomplish them. That is one of the reasons that working with Jeff King & Company is such a pleasure.




What is your definition of home?

The Design business is a very social one. There are so many events, parties, lectures, etc. that it can be exhausting. For me, home is where one can be utterly one’s self, with no reason or motivation to impress. It is a place where one is surrounded by good memories and the kindness of friends and family, whatever the composition of that family.




I love that your office is filled with books and your team regularly references classic design. How do you stay ahead of new trends while honoring lessons from the past?

One could say that I am a bookaholic! There is always a new title arriving from somewhere. I think it very important that we educate ourselves in the principles of classic design. A big mistake that so many young designers make is not to study design history. The principles are the same regardless of the style. Line, proportion, and scale are the most important things followed closely by materiality. Trendiness isn’t something that I am particularly interested in as it doesn’t have staying power. Don’t get me wrong, I like the hottest “new” thing as much as the next person, but one should always understand that there isn’t anything that springs fully formed from nothing. If one really digs there is always an antecedent.




You are the first designer I’ve seen with an “Extracurricular” portfolio. Why is it important to invest in “just for fun” projects and what rewards have you seen?

Every job has its challenges and stresses. My firm is very small so it is most important to me that we all get along and work as a team. Doing a project that has nothing to do with making money gives everyone a voice. The whole team’s contribution is important. It gives me great pleasure to know that in some small way we have given back to our community and contributed to the common good. The library at the Pilgrim School is a good example. It was a place that was shunned by the students as old and dingy. Once our creativity was unleashed it became the hottest place to be on campus! That warmed this old bookaholic’s soul!


Gary Hutton Design


You cite artists like Frank Stella and Donald Judd as inspiration and have even dabbled in sculpture yourself. As a leader in San Francisco interior design, how do you bring together principles of fine art and practical design for a residential interior?

As I said earlier, the classic principles of line, scale and proportion are the most important things. If that is right everything else falls into place. It is often difficult to get a client to understand that they need to get the background right, and that this is THE most important thing. There can be the most beautiful pillows in the world in an interior but if the doors and windows are wrong the pillows are meaningless.




What’s missing from the furniture marketplace today – and what do you seek to add with your line?

This is a tough question! I don’t know that there is much of anything that is missing from the market place today. I have never seen the plethora of product there is now. It seems that there really is something for everyone, and that is a good thing. With my line of furniture I am trying to put out a product that is the best that I can make, of the highest craftsmanship, and made of materials that will last for hundreds of years, and then can be recycled. Take a look at the “How We Do It” video on my website to get an idea of the tremendous energy that goes into these pieces.




What is your greatest creative challenge of the moment, client project or otherwise?

Getting my own apartment done!




Do you have any advice for homeowners to get the most out of the interior design process?

YES I do! Educate yourself! We live in the so called “information age” where anyone can find any information that they want about absolutely anything. But let me be perfectly clear, information is NOT knowledge. Just because someone accumulates hundreds of pictures from design websites does not mean they have knowledge. It just means they are computer savvy, nothing more. Talk to professionals, go to lectures, read books, and listen to your design professionals. They have the knowledge (and if they don’t, find one who does).




What’s the most exciting part of San Francisco interior design at this time in history? What do we need more (or less) of?

We can use a lot less hype!

For me, the most exciting thing right now is the application of technology to design. From 3-D printing to other applications, this will open up areas that we don’t even know exist. This is very exciting to me.




You can find Gary’s full portfolio at Gary Hutton Design. 

Get to know more of our favorite San Francisco interior design professionals in the Industry Q&A series.