Monday, April 26

Profile: Malcolm James Kutner

It would be untruthful for me to suggest that I had not counted on meeting a few exceptional individuals at the Design Leadership Summit in Venice. Given the impressive roster, that most certainly would have been an impossible feat.

What I failed to consider were the friendships that would form over the course of three days. Take equal parts magical city and stellar company, and no doubt you have solid grounds upon which to build camaraderie. Toss in equal parts intellect, wit and passion and you have Malcolm James Kutner.

By happenstance Malcolm ended up at my table on the first day of the conference. When we should have been engaged in ‘serious’ conversation during breakout sessions, we were busy talking and laughing about life and design.

As I would soon learn, Malcolm is also a native Houstonian, and is as much an academic as he is an aesthete. An English and Humanities major from Kenyon College in Ohio and a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, Malcolm has rightfully blazed his own trail in the world of interior design.

After a two-month visit to England that ended in a 12-year stay, courses in landscape design, the founding of Landscape Design Group in London, and the restoration of two historical houses, one in London and one in Key West, he has more than earned his stripes.

Now living in New York City, with clients around the world, he still holds fast to his Southern upbringing, a deep respect for nature and a love of the written word. All traits that continue to endear him to an impressive clientele.

While some designers sketch ideas upon first meeting clients, Malcolm both draws and writes a short story in order to get a grip on the ‘characters’ and to get his ‘own ego’ out of the way. “My job is simply to edit, curate and focus. The lens must always be focused on my clients.” With such humility and dedication, it is easy to see why he has garnered loyal devotees from coast to coast—present company included.

How would you describe your personal style?
I was just reviewing some professional portrait shots of me and I am tempted to say: A sharp suit, good shoes, and a crooked tie. No, seriously now. I am a big believer that personal style comes from a point of view, a perspective, a mentality. With that in mind, I suppose I would need to answer that my personal style is a sort of edited, cleaned up classicism punctuated with a playful modern edge. It is like equal parts selective history, insistent presence, and optimistic future, underscored always with a nod to the natural.

What is your most prized possessio
I don’t know that I feel comfortable laying claim to the “possession” of anything. So I think I have to say that my most prized possession is my own history. It’s the only thing that is all mine, and it’s what allows me to prize my relationships with an infinite variety of other people, places, and things in the here and now. So actually, that's my answer: the here and now.

What is the one thing in life you cannot live without?
Quiet time with myself, preferably in Nature, but I’ll take it alone in my apartment, beach house, or hotel room, too.

Who are your style icons?
I have always been a bit weary of icons and idols, maybe because I am fearful of being too impressionable. But there is definitely a stable of stylish people that I repeatedly refer to for inspiration and sometimes guidance.

The list changes all the time depending on what I am thinking about or designing, and these names appear for different style sub-categories and in no particular order, but for now they include:

William Pahlmann, Emile Jacques Ruhlman, Elsie MacNeill (she being the Contessa Gozzi of Fortuny), Cole Porter, Peggy Guggenheim, Babe Paley, Madeline Castaing, Van Day Truex, Frances Elkins, Syrie Maugham, Rose Tarlow, Cary Grant, Axel Vervoordt, Billy Haines, John F. Staub, Andrew Palladio, Le Notre and Sir John Soane.

But let me also say that probably the most consistent, constant, and accessible style icons to me: Lloyd Clark Byrd and Marilyn Tillery Kutner, my grandmothers.

Who would you most like to collaborate with on a project?
There are too many to name. I think collaboration is crucial. We’re all doing it all the time, and we need more of it. I get to collaborate with the most amazing architects, contractors, engineers, lighting designers, landscape designers, artisans, craftspeople, and on and on. It is one of my key statements—there is no good design without creative synergy. The more the better.

The key for me is never thinking that my work is about me in the final analysis. I am a channel, a participant, between a client and a place, between the place and Nature, bringing people and their environments into harmonious, natural, and essential relationships with each other.

There has to be a lot of collaboration to make that happen. My dream is to have a design version of Warhol’s Factory. Having said all that - sure, I have design crushes on lots of people, but that wasn’t your question!

What books are currently on your bedside table?
I love to read and I love this question! There is a permanent collection and a rotating one (granted this requires some floor space under the bed).

I am preparing for a three week trip trip Asia, so the rotating collection features a bit about that: Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey Into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa; Angkor and Cambodia’s Wondrous Temples by Dawn Rooney; The Blessings of Bhutan by Russ and Blyth Carpenter; Bangkok Day by Day by Frommer’s; Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge (my writing professor at Kenyon!); Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart; Eros the Bittersweet by Ann Carson; Jane Goodall’s Hope for Animals, and The Art of Embroidery by Ianto Synge.

And the permanent collection, those that are always there and with which I often travel, comprises: Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letter’s to a Young Poet, inscribed and given to me by a best friend in college on my 19th birthday; The Dhamapada, Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield, Rose Tarlow’s The Private House, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. And my own book, a notebook with jottings and sketches, reflections and perceptions. You can see why I recently bought a Kindle!

What is your favorite luxury in life?
Good hotels. And I mean, really good hotels. Of which I have found very, very few in my travels. It is a dream of mine to do a really good boutique hotel. I think that has to be part of the syllabus for the next phase of my design career.

What is your idea of earthly happiness
Enjoyment without attachment. All of the people I love in one place at one time. Note the inner conflict!

Past or present who has most influenced your direction in life?
I think that absolutely has to be my mother, Liza Byrd Kutner. Hats off, Mom!

What inspires your creativity and designs?
Nature. I could say any number of other things and they would be true: sun rising or setting over water or mountains, the first ski run of the morning or the last beach swim of the afternoon, Turkish mosaics and Venetian fabrics, Buddhist temples at Borobodur and Catholic churches in Chartres, rice paddies in Bali and salt ponds in the Yucatan, great ballgowns and good jewelry, art, music, food. But it always goes back to Nature for me. The good news is I never have to look far to get inspired. My problem is not so much finding inspiration, but finding enough ways to put the all inspiration to use!

Profile by Ronda Carman
Photo (1) Alexandra Rowley; Photo (2) Chris Baker; Photo (3) Chris Baker; Photo (4) Barry FItzgerald; Photo (5) Jan Baldwin; Photo (6) Barry Fitzgerald; Photo (7) Malcolm James Kutner


The-Countrypolitan said...

That was an excellent interview. I am very impressed with his way of thinking and how he views his relationship with his work and his world.

Design Therapy said...

We just adore that Malcom James Kutner...Keep up the good work and safe travels!

Karena said...

Ronda, one of your best interview yet!! Kutners comments are really insightful and very honest!

Art by Karena

One of my Hobby Blogs said...

lovin that black kitchen!

pve design said...

We met last fall and I told him about you - I knew that he would soon be apart of "All the Best" because he and his designs so elegant. He is a doll.

Jeanne Henriques said...

Just want to say how much I enjoyed this post. He was spot on in everything he said. Much to think about as well. It also helps that he is equally as good looking as his design :)

Great reading for my monday morning coffee break!

Thanks :)

Sally@DivineDistractions said...

I can see why he was a favorite on your trip. I'm sure the conversations were intellectual and inspiring....not a bad designer either! LOL I'm struck by his elegance and simplicity "matchy-matchy"...edited down to perfection. Beautiful. Great interview.

Unknown said...

I have collaborated with Malcolm in a few projects in Key West, one of the first he started working on this capacity. I have seen the evolution of his work and I feel that he deserves all the credit for his dedication!!

Guillermo orozco, Key West

Mona Thompson Providence Ltd. said...

Really enjoyed this interview. What an amazing man, and so humble. Would love, love to be in Houston on the 27th for the panel discussion. Hopefully you will fill us in with lots of interesting tidbits. Thanks!

Jay said...

Wow, wow, wow. Why did I not know about Malcolm?! Easy to see why he is All the Best!

Anne said...

Just when I think your profiles can't get any better Ronda. I love everything about Malcolm. I wish him all the success in the world!

ALL THE BEST said...

Thanks everyone for all of the kind comments. Malcolm really is the best. He is a great mix of talent, intellect and humility. I think we are going to be seeing much more from him in the very near future!

batwoman said...

Malcom Kutner is one of impeccable design and impeccable taste. His intellect and point of view on life and work come are loaded with integrity. Well Done.

Unknown said...

I love so many people you have profiled but Malcolm's name is new to me...and I'm so happy to have met him through you. I will keep my eye open for his first boutique hotel - which I hope will be a first of many.

Michelle said...

What a breath of fresh air. And that bedroom is simply stunning - so sublime.

Unknown said...

A wonderful interview! You have a new admirer and reader ~ very well done!

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Marvelous man to respect and admire. I respect his approach to design in that his object is "bringing people and their environments into harmonious, natural, and essential relationships with each other".

The remark that he made about "enjoyment w/o attachment" (in regards to earthy happiness) is much to be revered; most certainly for a designer.

Plus the fact that his 'mother' was a huge influence in his life, what not to love? Not to forget he is easy to look at : D

Great interview Ronda ~ Deb

sophiedahydesigns said...

What a fascinating interview, and how I envy your trip to Venice.

Recessionista LA said...

Speaking of design crushes, I've added him to the list because he seems so down to earth.

Francine Gardner said...

Hi Ronda
A great interview! I so enjoyed learning about Malcolm James Kutner. I feel that if I were to meet him, we could talk for hours about design, nature and Asia. I notice he is reading all about Bhutan where i am going hiking in the early fall...
As always thank you for bringing such wonderful creative inspirational people to us.
When are you planning to visit New York??

Lenore/Lascaux Tile said...

Malcolm's Orchestrates Pattern Beautifully in His Projects. Simple, Restful and Tantalizing!

Jackie said...

Love it all!

Kathy Root said...

Wow, what a soulful, interesting interview. Malcolm manages to to sound smart, fun, and serious all at the same time. Working with him to select photography to propose to his clients is a dream!
kathy root, kmr arts, washington depot, ct

Bumby Scott said...

Thanks for the insight into this great designer. Says a lot about a man when he gives a shout out to Mom.

Always Bumby

Andrew said...

Ronda we can always count on you to deliver the BEST. Your profiles just keep getting better. Thank you for this introduction to Malcolm. I agree, this is not the last we will hear this name.

He must to be happy to have met you as well.

Malcolm James Kutner said...

Well, how psyched am I?? Thank you Ronda, and everyone who took the time to read the post and comment. I love this business and this way of living, and all of you have only reinforced that here today. Thank you ad infinitum!! Malcolm

Alison said...

What a guy! Talent, intelligence and charm. Plus he's cute, too!

Unknown said...

I am so excited for Malcolm. Not surprisingly, he is still inspires me after having known him for 20 years. The best part is watching others discover his amazing and diverse talents while always being refreshingly genuine.


Thank You For Asking said...

What a fun interview this must have been! Interesting and favorite combination.

Anonymous said...


What an interview!! He is so delightful. And as a mother, I love that he credits so much to his. And to his grandmothers. So sorry I missed you in Houston. Hope you had a wonderful stay.


melissalee said...


HE IS SO CUTE.......