Designer Combines High-End Work with Earthy Showroom

(Another in an occasional series of conversations with L.A’s leading architects and designers)

(Photos by Gary Gibson & G. Bruce Smith)


Gary Gibson designed interiors for this beautiful Lake Tahoe home. (Photo by Gary Gibson)

Gary Gibson designed interiors for this beautiful Lake Tahoe home.

Gary Gibson is unusual among interior designers for combining high-end work for wealthy clients and a custom furniture and accessories studio with an eclectic – one could even say funky – showroom.

He blends all this with an inimitable style, huge talent, and a confident yet easygoing manner that serves him well with a clientele that can be demanding.

I count him as among my beloved friends, as a model for the profession, and as a designer who is firm with his clients. The latter quality is a crucial one for designers – particularly young ones – to emulate.

Gary Gibson in his Beverly Boulevard showroom. (Photo by G. Bruce Smith)

Gary Gibson in his Beverly Boulevard showroom.

I recently met with Gary, who started out as an artist and has been a designer for 35 years, in his playful and unconventional showroom on Beverly Boulevard. Filled from floor to high ceilings with a mélange of vintage furniture, art work, and decorative objects, the showroom beckons visitors to wander and enjoy at many levels. Mannequin legs are next to handcrafted wood items are next to mid-century lamps. His showroom attracts not only a wide range of customers, but also film and TV set decorators, as well as other designers who are staging or decorating homes.

“To me, it’s about wood, texture and patina,” he says. “I love to juxtaposition objects, I love things that are hand made that have a story. I don’t want to be specific in the items, I want them to be relatable to everyone. It’s organic and real and it works. Your eye tells you what’s right.”

A Gary Gibson-designed interior in a Holmby Hills home. (Photo by Gary Gibson)

A Gary Gibson-designed interior in a Holmby Hills home.

He adds, “The whole store is my studio, my inspiration.”

And yet, he rarely uses objects from his store for his wealthy clients. But if something works for the home, he will. He might create a unique coffee table from a cobbler’s table and mix it with something from Restoration Hardware, another designer’s showroom, and his own.

“You have to be relevant,” he says. “And you have to have a modern sensibility.”

An interior in Greenwich, Conn. (Photo by Gary Gibson)

An interior in Greenwich, Conn.

To see him in his showroom, dressed casually and relaxed, it might be hard to imagine that he could get a call any minute from one of his clients, asking him to fly to Aspen on a private jet for lunch and tour a home that the client is considering buying. Or hop on board another private jet for a shopping expedition in Paris. (I’m not making these up.)

Take a look at some of the homes he’s worked on, and they will take your breath away.

Which brings us to the owners of said homes – and how to establish the right relationship.

“At first you have to engender trust,” Gary says. “But you have to let them know, ‘I’m in charge of your house until I’m done.’”

Lake Tahoe interior. (Photo by Gary Gibson)

Lake Tahoe interior.

Does that mean he’s a design dictator? Yes and no.

Designers do have to be a little vulnerable, he says. They have to be part entertainer, part designer and part therapist.

“Sometimes I have to talk clients off the ledge,” he says. “They’ll say to me, ‘You’re really pushing my aesthetic, Gary, why are you doing this?’ And that’s when you’re a little gentle because you want the whole experience to be fun, this is their environment and they should enjoy it. But at the end of the day, clients want you to stand up to them.”

It’s a lesson that all designers would do well to heed.


Eleanor Schrader is an award winning architectural and interior design historian, professor and consultant who lectures worldwide on the history of architecture, interiors, furniture, and decorative arts. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.