Designer Friday: An Aspire Exclusive Interview With Gary Brewer

Over three decades have passed since Gary Brewer joined Robert A.M Stern Architects and became a leader in the architecture and design scene. You can find Brewer’s historical projects across the country from Florida, New York, and even into the most prestigious vacation spot; Martha’s Vineyard. What separates Brewer’s design from many others is “meticulous attention to detail and discriminating focus on craftsmanship and artistry.” This mindset has catapulted him to his position on the board for the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and the Co-Chair of The Classicist Committee. He has been featured in major publications such as Architectural Digest, The New York Times, and now aspire design and home. Introducing this week’s Designer Friday, Gary Brewer.

This Martha’s Vineyard home is 4,500 square feet and carries so much character from the flower-covered trellis to the painted wood shutters. Photography by Aaron Otto.

Andrew Joseph: Describe your design style as if you were explaining it to someone who cannot see.
Gary Brewer: I don’t think of style as a frivolous undertaking. I approach it rather as a search for meaning, an exploration of the work of great architects, interior designers, and landscape designers from the past. Understanding how they used design to solve problems of their day teaches us how to address today’s design commissions.

Andrew: What is the last book you read?
Gary: I’m almost done with Kurt Anderson’s Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America.

Andrew: What is something you hope to see trending in design in the future?
Gary: Appropriateness to location and urban environments.

Many American cities built before WWII have unique architectural characters and I’m hoping that as architects and developers add new buildings to those cities that their projects are sensitive and help to reinforce the unique regional character that these cities currently possess. For example, I’ve been designing five new buildings in Charleston, South Carolina, and our designs are empathetic to the city’s historic charm and architectural character.

A breathtaking Park Avenue apartment known as the Rosario Candela, received a gut renovation from Gary Brewer and team. The client wanted a streamlined and urban aesthetic that perfectly complemented the Manhattan streets it sits above. Interior Design by Steven Gambrel; Photography by Aaron Otto.

Andrew: If you could live in any home in a movie or television series, what would it be?
Gary: I could happily live in every scene from start to finish of the movie Days of Heaven, written and directed by Terrence Malick with cinematography by Nestor Almendros. It’s an intriguing story and a visually stunning film shot at the “blue hour” immediately after sunset, giving the film a magical quality. The movie’s visual identity is told mostly through its imagery, which draws inspiration from painters like Vermeer, Andrew Wyeth, and Edward Hopper.

Andrew: If you weren’t an architect, you’d be a …?
Gary: When I was in school I was petrified of the idea of choosing a profession, because I realized that at the age of eighteen I didn’t know with any degree of certainty what the actual experience of working in any field might be. First I studied art, then math, then business, and then sociology, before committing to architecture, which encompasses many different strains of thought that have continued to interest me throughout my adult life.

Andrew: What’s the weirdest thing a client has ever asked you?
Gary: When I was first out of school, I worked with a client on an Upper East Side apartment renovation who took me into every bathroom, where he sat on the toilet and asked me to hold the toilet paper roll against the wall to determine the perfect height. I wondered, “Is this what my life is going to be like?” Thankfully it’s never happened again.

The interior of this Martha’s Vineyard retreat reflects the rich history of the storied home. Interior Design by Kathryn Tate Interiors; Photography by Aaron Otto.

Andrew: What was your first job?
Gary: Having grown up around swimming pools as a high school and college competitive springboard diver, my first summer job at age sixteen was as a lifeguard and diving coach.

Andrew: What would your dream project or dream client be right now?
Gary: My dream client is passionate about architecture, landscape design, and interior design, someone who sees their project as a means to learn about the history of design, and to take what they and I learn together to realize a successful collaboration.

Andrew: What are three things you can’t live without?
Gary: There’s a lot that I can’t live without that I’m currently living without because of the pandemic. I miss the stimulation of New York City, commuting to the office, working alongside colleagues, meeting with clients, traveling to sites, traveling for research, attending lectures and dinners with friends—all the things that make for a rich and varied life in design.

This oceanfront villa shines light on the pure elegance of the 1930 Swedish Classicism. Photography by Aaron Otto.

Andrew: Favorite app?
Gary: I rely on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to make me think. As for apps per se, I use Instagram as a design resource: I follow people in the industry who are constantly posting examples of their work and their precedents—an army of people offering inspiration for future work.

Andrew: If you had one more hour in the day, what would you do with it?
Gary: I’d take all those extra hours from all those days and add them to when I was 21 years old.

Andrew: What’s inspiring you in life (in the industry) right now?
Gary: I’ve enjoyed walking around New York during the pandemic, with only the most interesting people still around. I disagree with those who say New York will never recover. Every time it seems threatened, New York remakes itself into a better and more interesting place. I’m eager to see how the city rebounds and what it will be like in five or ten years.

About The Designer | Gary L. Brewer joined Robert A.M Stern Architects in 1989. A classicist at heart, Brewer’s broad body of work includes private residences around the country, from Westport, Connecticut to Seaside, Florida. Gary’s work has been published in Architectural Digest, The New York Times, Architectural Record, Life magazine, and The Classicist. He is a Fellow Emeritus of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and Co-Chair of The Classicist Committee.

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for aspire design and home magazine. See more of his work here.

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