Interior Designer Spotlight with Benjamin Dhong
Founder-owner Benjamin Dhong Interiors, San Francisco, CA
Benjamin Dhong has been featured numerous times in House Beautiful as well as in Elle Decor, The Wall Street Journal, NBC Open House, San Francisco Cottages & Gardens and internationally in Architectural Digest/Russia, Elle Decoration/ Germany, House Beautiful/Australia and House Beautiful/Turkey. Benjamin’s passion for interior design and innovation is second to none. His popularity in Silicon Valley has landed him such prized commissions as the heads of Sony and 20th Century Fox.
Join me as Benjamin shares his insights on interior design, changes brought about by technology, online antiques and designer rug shopping and more…
What’s Holding Back Some of Today’s Interior Designers?
“Interior designers these days are afraid to take risks. We are a little too homogeneous, I have to say. Whether you are a modernist, traditionalist, or lean towards transitional, the work is more homogeneous than it should be. And if you look back at design in the past, even to the 70’s and 80’s, people were very quirky. They took risks and they made things very personal. Everything didn’t have to be absolutely perfect. In our business, sometimes we make things a little too clean and perfect without something thrown in there to surprise you.”
“Libraries are like powder rooms, you can let yourself go and go a little crazy.” Ben told The Style Saloniste Blog.
How Did You Become an Interior Designer?
“I had a boutique payroll service that I operated myself. I’ve always liked design but was never formally trained. I was in Italy traveling with a group of friends. We were staying at a Palladian villa for about two weeks. One of my friends was a big designer from San Francisco and we were talking about how I was bored, and my business was really running itself. She said I should come work as an intern and work in her office one day a week. It never occurred to me to be an intern. I was way past the intern stage. But I thought it could be a fun field. So I did it. They gave me a lot of tough menial tasks. And I just loved it. I took to it naturally and within a very short period of time they gave me a client. In seven months I got myself published. I stayed there for about two years and then went off on my own. And the rest is history.”
Benjamin Dhong is an ELLE DÉCOR Featured Designer.
How Do You Mix Traditional Furniture with Modern Elements?
“I think it’s just my instinct, it is in my gut. It is kind of like when you are mixing foods and considering saltiness, heat, sweetness and texture. All of those things need to be in balance. There’s something in my mind that is always thinking balance, balance, balance. A room is never finished until we’ve brought the last item in. We might bring something new, and that could affect the balance of everything else. So I’m willing to remove things to make something else work. I love the play of velvet against rough linen. I love the play of gold and brass against distressed wood. Just like when you make strawberry shortcake, you play off the dry cake with sweet strawberries and whipped cream.”
“I wanted this kitchen to feel happy. If you remove the yellow and the industrial stools, it would still feel pretty and elegant, but it would now be more serious.”
What is it Like Being an Interior Designer in San Francisco?
“It is very exciting. Unlike the east coast we have fewer restrictions. People are more open to experimentation. We may not be as open as the people in Los Angeles. I think there is still a little bit of conservatism here. It’s the heart of technology with Silicon Valley. So there’s a lot of money, and we’ve had a boom over the past five years. San Francisco has always attracted individualists who are willing to experiment, and that is kind of nice.”
What Are the Dangers of Not Hiring an Interior Designer?
“The danger is making a lot of mistakes. The dangers are scale, mixing and matching. Anyone can say they like that rug, I like that sofa. But can you mix it all together? I get more clients who tell me they’ve spent too much money doing it themselves — they tried to save money but actually spent far more on mistakes.”
How Do You Present Your Design Ideas to Clients?
“We put together room schemes where each room has a page which shows the main elements. We show them this and get their response. If they like the direction we select more things. We deal with colors and fabrics and go from there. It’s pretty efficient I have to say. We even use GoToMeeting where we can all look at the room schemes on our computers remotely. My client this morning was in Boston and we were both looking at the same things on my computer. I was drawing and sketching on it. Technology really helps us these days.”
Where Do You Shop for Your Clients?
“We have the San Francisco Design Center out here, which is wonderful. But to be honest, you can search so much online and I’m a very good hunter gatherer on Google. I can find things buried away in European auction houses. As long as you are able to be smart about it. I have a great record of online purchases. Some things are difficult — like fabrics. Fabrics are hard because you want to touch and feel them. And sometimes they have really subtle finishes. I had one project where the client wanted a lot of character, and for it to be fun. I was in bed one morning and I shopped Chairish which is a vintage online resource and found about eight things that would fit perfectly. So before I jumped out of bed I had the foundation of a wonderful project. I like to shop on 1stdibs. It’s curated, really beautiful, and they make sure they only have the best. And I’m able to shop the world and get wonderful pieces.”
Which is Your Favorite Interior Design Magazine?
“It would be hard to pick a favorite. I love House Beautiful, Veranda, and Elle Decor. Then I love World of Interiors because it is almost like art. It’s less about interior design and more about the soul. I try to create interior design that has a little bit of soul.”
Shake up a traditional scheme by adding an unexpected modern item.
Are Today’s Auction Houses and Antique Stores in Jeopardy?
“There’s new technology and the economy is changing. The millennial generation has different taste then their parents and grandparents. Auction houses and antiques are sort of fading and closing their doors which is sad. So there’s a huge change. You will see old shops close and new shops open up. You will have to stay on top of things so you stay relevant to your audience.”
How Do You Educate Your Clients Around the Quality of Designer Rugs?
“Rugs are expensive. There are so many cheap rugs out there that look okay and it’s hard for clients to understand. In the old days you bought a rug, a piano, a sofa and it would last a lifetime. Well we live in a world now that is more disposable. So some people don’t necessarily want a house of lifetime furniture. So they are just trying to understand value which is why you bring up wear and tear. There are so many beautiful rugs, but they have viscose, art silk or bamboo silk in them. The client loves it until you tell them that it is horrible for wear and tear.”
A wool and silk designer rug with circular motifs complements a sculptural white Eames chair in the master bedroom of a San Francisco row house.
Why is It Hard to Shop for Designer Rugs In-Person?
“Shopping for rugs in person is not easy. It’s a lot of work. We supplement that by going online, or when we see things in person, we take pictures and we store them away for possible use in the future. You have a great website that has images of rugs and we buy a surprising amount of designer rugs online. As long as they have a good return policy and their images are clear. It’s easy breezy.”
For more on Benjamin Dhong visit: www.benjamindhong.com