July 8, 2013

10 Questions with… Christine Gachot

Sterling Mason condos in New York.Sterling Mason condos in New York.

Established in 2012, New York’s Gachot is a collaborative studio offering design solutions, art direction, and real estate development to discerning corporate, retail, and residential clients. The firm brings together design savvy from husband and wife team Christine and John Gachot, who met in the 90s as colleagues at Studio Sofield. Christine spent a decade as VP of Design Development for Andre Balasz Properties, while John created beautiful work for Thad Hayes and David Easton. A design team once again, Christine and John have become a firm to watch, with work that includes projects for Marc Jacobs, Tribeca’s Sterling Mason condominiums, Noho’s Acme restaurant, and residential projects up and down the eastern seaboard.

Here, Christine Gachot offers insight into today’s savvy client, the joys of a residential build, and how it feels to be in business with her husband once more.

INTERIOR DESIGN: Christine, though Gachot Studios is still in its salad days, you and your husband each have several decades of accomplishments behind you. How have you assembled the right team for your eponymous agency?


CHRISTINE GACHOT: While we have a relatively new team of ten people, it’s made up of a lot of the usual suspects. John and I met almost twenty years ago at Studio Sofield—Bill Sofield is a huge mentor for us—and many of the people in our office have worked with us for years. John left Bill’s to run various firms such as David Easton’s while I took a different turn—heading up development for Andre Balasz for ten years. Each of us managed to produce some fantastic stuff within high-pressure situations, and we’re now excited to apply that spirit to our own design firm. Fortunately, a few key people we met along the way have been able to come and join us.

ID: Coming off of that high-profile position with Balasz, how are things changing for you with Gachot Studios?


CG: It was always like we were carnival folk—finishing one huge thing one day, then picking up and doing something monumental the next. Now it’s all about trying to be proactive instead of reactive. I’m coming from a rollercoaster ride to problem solving; instead of playing a fast game of craps, it’s Rubik’s Cube. I find it so interesting—coming full-circle, back to my hands-on career in design from being a conductor of development. There are those small skill sets that I’m so glad to be practicing again—math meeting art. I get to flex some great muscles.

ID: While there’s pressure, there’s a lot of promise with starting your own firm. What are the principles you would like to be known for?


CG: The firm we’re trying to create is extremely collaborative. We were kids at Bill Sofield’s, and his environment was all about everyone speaking up and throwing their ideas on the table. We want our studio to be that way—getting everyone involved in each other’s projects and learning from each other. I like a real old-school, collaborative studio environment where you leave the ego at the door.

ID: What is your collaboration process with John?


CG: That’s so interesting, because we were a design team so long ago. John’s skillset is in drawing, the technical, millwork, building, interior architecture. He’s so passionate about how things are made, every little detail and quarter-inch. Meanwhile, I’m a conductor, focusing on the big picture. What makes it interesting for our clients, it seems, is that we can approach a project with an artistic design set of eyes, but also stay on top of schedules and pace, and remain very budget-driven. I think my development point of view gives us a bit of a niche in the market.

ID: What are the biggest joys and challenges of your client relationships?


CG: It’s such a different ball game now. I was last with a firm ten years ago, and clients are so knowledgeable now. They come to us with a look book, ideas, magazines, sofas in mind… I had someone recently wanting to talk about acoustical engineering. It’s so wonderful that the conversation of design has become mainstream.

ID: Some designers might find a hyper-informed client to be off-putting. You and John welcome it?


CG: We love it. It’s one thing to come in and put your DNA on a project, but another to draw out the DNA of a client and let that come to life. We often work with developers, who tend to be savvy and have wonderful taste, and it’s our job to work with them. I see myself as an editor, guiding someone through the journey. This is particularly true with commercial work—which involve brands, marketing groups, and all of these savvy experts. We welcome that sort of teamwork, because design is about a group coming together to solve a problem.

ID: How do you prod that creative dialogue along?


CG: It starts with getting to know people. In a commercial setting, I like to participate in the big picture planning, and help everyone become passionate about the development process. I like to be at the table for marketing and construction meetings. In my mind, it’s a matter of continuity. When it comes to residential, you really have to know people. It’s a given that a space has to look good… Hopefully it’s going to look great. How it functions and how naturally a person will enjoy a space is the real accomplishment.

ID: What are some of the projects on your plate, helping you hone Gachot Studio’s vision?


CG: I think what makes a good studio is when there’s a little bit of everything going on, and that’s the case for us at the moment. I love doing commercial residential projects, and we currently have one on Laight Street in Tribeca, another on Irving Place. They present a nice challenge, because we have to ask, “How do we take a building, make it appeal to many different residents, have it be accessible everyone, and offer design so many families feel connected enough that they could live there?”

We’re also doing a super-fun project in Gowanus [Brooklyn]—a shuffleboard club. The design is fantastic, and the clients are so passionate about their project. There’s no big fundraising effort behind them, so they’re extremely invested and into it. It’s amazing to watch people be so passionate. Meanwhile, we are doing lots of private residential work–which is fun because we get to know people and make new friends.

ID: What are some business trends that are clear to you in this post-recession environment?


CG: Commercial residential projects were not financed for a long while, and now that’s really happening again. People are going back to the idea that quality is the way to go. I think developers should be mindful that the audience is savvy. They know about kitchen manufacturers, millwork, and fixtures, so you can’t get tricky. Everything has to be thoughtful and well crafted.

ID: What structures or locales stand out to you as an enduring source of inspiration?


CG: The minute I walked in and saw the gallery at Aero Studios on Spring Street, I just said to myself, “This is it… Design is something I just have to do.” What came out of that studio was genius, and so many significant artisans and metalworkers announced themselves there. As a team, they tapped into the New York community like I’ve never seen anyone do. And then, of course, Bill Sofield is my design mentor. I owe any creative thought to him. I absolutely fell in love with his pleasure for designing.

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