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Elle Decor Italia

The secrets of a perfect project according to David Rockwell. And the importance of going to the theater

The founder of one of the most prominent design practices in the world unveils his sources of inspiration, the secrets of his success and all the mistakes one should never make


David Rockwell, founder of the Rockwell Group, illustrates his design vision, objectives, current and future projects. Photo credits © Brigitte Lacombe

David Rockwell owes everything to his insatiable curiosity that made him a true explorer of design since the day he established his studio. Inspiration for Rockwell can literally pop up from anywhere and he lets himself be influenced by everything he’s emotionally connected to – whether an artist’s work, a chef’s dish, a beautiful music piece or the guidelines of a new project. Above all, though, he says that the constant primary source from where his ideas come from is the theater. “A microcosm of unlimited worlds that help me interpret a constantly new narrative for each of my new projects, making me realize that working in line with one and only kind of style can be very limiting”, he says.  

Together with his Rockwell Group design practice, since 1984 he has been working on projects ranging from homes to hotels, restaurants, theaters, schools and cultural centers. We met him and asked him to unveil the backstage of his most successful projects. 

This year you have completed the Nobu restaurant in Downtown New York. How was working side to side with a chef?

It was awesome, without a doubt. With chef Nobu Matsuhisa there is a special relationship that began many years ago thanks to the special project of a small restaurant in Tribeca. Already from the beginning, we had fully grasped his avant-garde, innovative style so similar to that of his cuisine. Twenty-three years later, we have worked together on this project, housed within an old edifice in the Broadway district – celebrating not only the chef, but also the culture and art of Japanese calligraphy. 

READ ALSO → A New York apre Nobu Dowtown

The Nobu Downtown restaurant by Rockwell Group. Photo credits © Eric Laignel

In addition to this, you have newly opened The Anthem, an industrial-chic style multicultural space in Wasghington D.C.

Yes – a project that really enthused us. A place designed for live music concerts, but also conventions, art exhibitions, lectures and fashion runway shows. Our aim was to create a dynamic venue within The Wharf (a new, extraordinary district along the Potomac River, a brilliant destination for entertainment, connecting the city to the waterfront). The Anthem features the characteristically industrial style of its neighborhood. 

The Anthem DC, a new multicultural venue designed by Rockwell Group. Photo credits © Albert Vecerka Esto

I gather you work both by producing your own collections and in partnership with a series of brands in the design branch…

That is correct. Design product is part of our DNA, a natural extension to the design challenges we deal with each day. For over thirty years, we have been designing custom-made furniture and fixtures for our immersive settings including restaurants, hotels, residences and offices. Over the years, we have collaborated with prestigious companies such as Rich Brilliant Willing, a NY-based cutting-edge LED lighting design manufacturer, The Rug Company, Knoll and Bisazza, just to name a few. 

A project that you particularly cherish?

The Dream Hollywood Hotel, a stunning estate surrounded by hills. We wanted the project to pay homage to mid-century Modern architecture unique to Los Angeles, but with a Dream Hotels twist. Influenced by residences designed by John Lautner, Richard Neutra, and others, we created a contemporary framework visually connecting the hotel’s inside and outside spaces. The walls of the airy, double-height lobby, for example, open up to a landscaped pedestrian alley. A path in the garden leads guests from the entrance to the check-in area and reception desk. At night, special light effects imitate the shadows cast by the sun through the trees during the day, and further projected on the path. 

The Dream Hollywood Hotel by Rockwell Group. Photo credits © Emily Andrews and Warren Jagger

Your projects range from hotels to spas, restaurants, boutiques and schools. Which are today’s latest trends?

We do not identify ourselves with the word “trend”, because we do not believe that design should be something transitory, just like a fashion. Lately, especially in the hospitality industry, there is a tendency to connect with the local culture and context, anchoring projects to a specific place and time to make guests feel as if they were entering into a world of its own. Today hotels offer literally anything, from co-working spaces to wellness programs and local food, and in so doing they become highly sought-after places by both residents and travelers. Designers, therefore, have – today more than ever before – a crucial task: that of animate these places, recounting a story through their own work, being a part of a real, future-oriented cultural conversation. 

Speaking of the future, what do you envisage in the world of design ten years from now?

This is a rather ample subject and a few lines are not enough to give a proper answer. Technology makes information about the design world and its key figures more and more accessible. In our opinion, this is a good sign, one that opens many new opportunities for us, creating partnerships with emerging artists and artisans that we would have never had the possibility to discover only a few years ago. 

Would you like to unveil something relating your next projects?

Our most recent project is named The Shed, an 8-story building in Manhattan, on which we are working in collaboration with multidisciplinary studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It will be a new artistic and cultural hub due to open in 2019. 

A rendering of The Shed. Image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Rockwell Group


by Valentina Mariani / 27 November 2017


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