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A Possession Obsession: David Rockwell

It's not every day you run into a visionary like the architect David Rockwell. For Rockwell, cities are less like locales and more like playgrounds. Responsible for a multitude of projects from the set of the Academy Awards and famed restaurant Nobu, to Broadway sets and so much more, Rockwell has a vision that's hard to match. He also creates spaces with narratives behind them, which is why we assumed he'd have an amazing possession obsession to share with us. Turns out, Rockwell's kaleidoscope collection is what he treasures most. We chatted with him on just why it's so special...

How did you come to own your heirloom?

I’ve been collecting kaleidoscopes for more than twenty years. I’ve amassed my collection from a variety of places and some were given to me as gifts. Kaleidoscopes are an interesting analogy to look at the world. At their core, they take objects that we’re familiar with and jumble them to create surprising new ideas. It’s kind of like the Busby Berkeley of toys.

How do you live with your heirloom?

I keep many of my kaleidoscopes in my office. They’re a great source of inspiration for my work. Rockwell Group is a mash up of some 150 designers from a diversity of disciplines, so my studio is quite kaleidoscopic!

Two of my favorites are the Slow Yo-Yo and the Tilt-a-Whirl kaleidoscopes. The Slow Yo-Yo’s body is covered in red leather with a wood trim. As you look into it, you reel a crank that sends colored ribbons up, and the ribbons spin out like a yo-yo to create a kaleidoscopic image.

I recently purchased the Tilt-a-Whirl, a kaleidoscope made from African Bubinga wood with a large glass object chamber over seven inches long and three inches wide, filled with silicone beads, dichroic glass and other objects. The chamber is filled with glycerin so the objects float at different rates and in different directions.

I love the fact that both the Slow Yo-Yo and the Tilt-a-Whirl are made by Tom and Carol Paretti, two master woodcrafters that have been creating imaginative, handcrafted kaleidoscopes for years.

Who in your life has most influenced your personal style and taste?

My mother Joanne probably influenced me the most. She ran a community theater in Deal, New Jersey. Those productions opened my eyes to the power of design to create compelling narratives and emotional connections between people and their environments. They also made me realize that something temporary could have as much impact and power as something permanent.

Fill in the blank: Whenever I look at a _______ I can’t help but smile.

A “pocket park.” New York City has a number of these mini parks. These urban public spaces have the quality of an oasis – they interrupt the pulse of the city, providing people with places for repose or play. Paley Park in midtown Manhattan is one of the best examples. Designed in 1967 by Zion & Breen, its dramatic waterfall drowns out the din of the city.

What’s the best part of your day? 

The end of the week when I go to my home in upstate New York with my family. It’s the perfect place to escape, relax, cook, and host friends.

Describe your ideal day.

Taking my kids to school, going to the gym, and walking across Union Square Park to my office. The rest of the day is a series of in-house design meetings with my staff about a range of current projects, including Andaz Maui, Nobu Doha, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, and a new rug collection for The Rug Company. Then I go home in time to have dinner with my wife and our kids, have a glass of wine, do some sketching, and go to bed around midnight.

What is your favorite place to shop for antique/vintage pieces?

Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks at 488 Greenwich Street in Manhattan is a one-of-a-kind shop. During my free time I cook for family and friends, so I love to explore their eccentric collection of antique cookbooks and cookware from around the world.

What was the most memorable gift you’ve ever given or received?

A set of Tom Otterness sculptures titled, “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil.” Tom and I share a love for public gathering spaces. He has created so many amazing public sculptures that bring a lot of joy to children and adults, and I was thrilled when he gave me these sculptures.

What was your last purchase that you believe will mean something to you ten years from now?

My desk. It’s an intersection of raw, natural and industrial aesthetics, with a live edge walnut top and a blackened steel base.

*Photographed by Monica Rich Kosann