Designer Sketch: David Howell

When he is not finishing Manhattan loft spaces for Facebook and Google executives, designing the newest Coach flagship shop or working at a boutique hotel in Brooklyn with walls swathed in graffiti and antiques, architect and New Zealand native David Howell continues his silent mission of creating the world more interesting and unique, one job at a time. Howell takes a personal approach to the company that bears his name. It is not uncommon for him to have an informal meeting with clients in his house, in Manhattan’s Gramercy area. Housed in a building he and his team designed and constructed from the ground up, he shares the house with his wife and twin daughters.

David Howell Design

What are some of the interesting projects you’re working on today?
There’s a ski home in Alta, Utah, known as the”Tube and Crystal” — a totally concrete poured-in-place home for clients who live in New York City. The home is in two kinds. We’ve also just started designing a flagship retail space from the Meat Packing District for a Swiss romantic apparel business. And we are finishing up two German bakery/bars which feature authentic German bread and baked goods, ales and wines. At any one time, we are always designing or renovating a few New York City apartments.

What motivates your work and designs?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I work with enormously talented and inspiring people on a daily basis.

When did you understand you wanted to be an architect?
When I was 14 and friends of my parents visited our property, I had been building something at the garage and someone floated the idea [of becoming an architect] to people. I always loved to sketch, and it looked like a good match. That summer I worked for a local [New Zealand] architect, Paris Magdalinos, who had been really inspirational. I recall being intimidated with his domain.

David Howell Design

Is everything in your process digital nowadays, or do you draw sketches by hand?
Almost everything is digital except for the messy first area of the design process. All documents are on CAD, but we are looking to transition into Revit by the end of 2013. A member of our team is a fantastic sketcher, so he does these wonderful evocative pencil drawings.

Which professionals within your business do you admire most?
Tom Kundig, because I really like his devotion to the craft and everything in his job gets designed. Also, nearly all of his designs he actually gets to build. I enjoy Glenn Murcutt, who will speak so eloquently about the Australian bush and always tries to have his structures”touch the floor lightly,” which I admire. And William Van Alen. I get to look out my office and stare at the Chrysler Building daily; [the Chrysler Building] makes New York a better city.

David Howell Design

Can you speak about this lavish house in Mexico?
It’s easy to miss all the details in this film, but that is actually a bathroom image within a massive master bedroom at a hacienda [located in] San Miguel de Allende [Mexico]. The proprietor and I immediately fell in love with its stunning boveda ceilings. We decided to make this toilet into a sofa so two people can really hang out at the space: One can be reading while the other soaks in the tub. The bathroom even has a see-through gas fireplace because it gets cold at night in those sections of Mexico.

Your perfect client is?
Annie Lennox or Tom Richardson. Actually, my existing clients are pretty perfect.

David Howell Design

What is the most comfortable piece of furniture that you have in your property?
Your Body Raft by David Trubridge.

Do you seek out architectural and design inspiration elsewhere?
We travel a lot, and it is always inspirational to see new cities, but I really like my native New Zealand landscape; it is a mix of density and openness. The bush is so thick and pungent and full of tiny plants blended in with giant kauri trees. And then we have the rolling hills, [which are] endless and open and inspire a feeling of independence. It is an infinity that is not confused with the concept of ownership.

Where in the world do you wish to go to next?
I want to experience Antarctica on my own, go to Alaska with a friend and traveling to Japan with my family.

David Howell Design

If you could change one thing about architecture, what could it be?
I’d make kitchens seem less like kitchens.

Do you own a signature style?
I don’t think so. I try not to, but some people say they recognize our job.

More Designer Sketches:
Noel Cross | Jean Dufresne

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