Frank de Biasi began his career at Christie’s 30 years ago this year. Since then, he has traveled the globe—both for work and for pleasure. In 2006, he set up his eponymous design practice in New York. The unique interiors he now designs are the perfect mix of antique finds and contemporary motifs—earning him many fans. De Biasi talks exclusively to Luxury Defined about his professional journey and what working at Christie’s taught him about design.
You have an interesting resume that includes time in Spain, time at Christie’s, and time with architect Peter Marino. Tell us about your professional trajectory.
I have always been interested in art history and especially architecture, having grown up in Richmond, Virginia, a city that has a deep history of great Colonial buildings. Later in Spain, I worked at a bank, then Christie’s for six years, and Peter Marino for 12 years—all great experiences.
What did you do at each of these places, and what were they like?
I worked in the Estates, Appraisals & Valuations Department of Stephen Lash [Chairman Emeritus of Christie’s Americas and Vice Chairman of Christie’s American Advisory Board] and Marc Porter [former Chairman, Christie’s America] for six years, and it was there that I further developed my love of antiques and fine art. Christie’s really was a game changer for me. I got to see incredible estates and living plans (for insurance appraisals) and was able to see every single style of estate you could imagine—many were homes that hadn’t been touched since the 1920s, '30s, or '40s. I felt like Howard Carter going into Tutankhamun’s tomb. I saw wonderful, interesting things that hadn’t seen the light of day for a long time.
Christie’s really was a game changer for me. I got to see every single style of estate you could imagine
At the same time, after five or six years of that I thought, well this is great and I’m enjoying meeting the people and the travel, and working with the experts, but I want to do more and create something on my own. I’d always wanted to be a designer and by chance I met Peter Marino, and he immediately brought me on board because he knew my background. I didn’t know anything about fabric or design per se, but I learned on the job and worked my way through the ranks until I was head of design. With that job I got to see unbelievable projects and meet great clients, many with spectacular art collections. It was an excellent learning curve. Peter is a brilliant architect.
You studied at the Sorbonne—what influence did Paris have on you?
I’ve always been somewhat of a Francophile, and the wonderful opportunity I had to study at the Sorbonne only deepened that love. I’ve had an apartment in the city for 10 years, and been working with artisans and craftsmen there for 25 years.
In Shanghai, I felt like I’d seen the future—a growing megacity of 24 million people
Tell us about some of the favorite places you’ve visited and why they made an impact.
Two recent trips come to mind: Cuba and Shanghai. Cuba was fascinating—I was so fortunate to see the incredible architecture, and understand the importance of preservation. In Shanghai, I felt like I’d seen the future—a growing megacity of 24 million people that has expanded, and actually saved some of its history, but in a modern way. It was very exciting to be there and I can’t wait to return.
How do you like to approach a commission?
My style of working starts with getting the architecture and general layout or flow right for the client. Does it work for them and their lifestyle? Then I start with the decorating, always trying to mix in at least one good piece, preferably an antique, in each room. The rest follows. I offer a worldwide team of the best craftsmen and artists you can find anywhere. For 25 years I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with them and understand who does what best.
In what way do you like to work with clients?
Usually it comes quite organically. We’ll have a room or space that either is challenging or we want to make a statement with it, so I’ll throw around artists’ names and come up with a plan. Usually we give clients quite a bit of free rein in their design. I often work with high-net-worth art collectors who have a vision and, because of my curatorial approach, I create a background for their collection. I am able to go into a client’s home and really visualize how a space can be used, how the clients are going to live their lives there.
I’ll throw out artists’ names and come up with a plan. Usually we give clients quite a bit of free rein
Unlike realtors, I’m not selling an investment; I’m selling a lifestyle, a home. Whether it’s a second, third, fourth, fifth home. It’s all about performance and client services, which I learned both at Christie’s and with Peter Marino. You have to really listen to people and give them what they haven’t seen but also what they ask for. For younger clients who are just starting out, I’m happy to be a part of art fairs, to guide and educate them.
Why is design important?
If done right, design can be many things, from making life easier (function) to making it beautiful (form). Both are important and relative to the project and the designer.
What is the Frank de Biasi look, and what materials do you regularly come back to?
A love of place: Where are we? Does this home/room feel appropriate to the location? Does it give a sense of who lives here and who they are? Those are the questions I want someone to ask when they think about what my style is. I love textiles, especially antique ones, and I’m always trying to incorporate them in my projects.
Please share some of your favorite projects.
They are always the ones I’m working on right now. Especially the ones I’ve done years ago and am updating and restoring to suit the homeowner’s lifestyle. A lot of my work is repeat business, so I’m like part of the family.
I love textiles, especially antique ones, and I’m always trying to incorporate them in my projects
And what are you currently working on?
A townhouse and garden in London, a house on the Mediterranean coast in the South of France, two very contemporary projects in Florida, and of course my little den in Morocco. I’m building a house in Tangier for my partner and myself. Even though it’s only decorating; it takes me out of the day-to-day client thing.
You also have homes in New York and Paris. Are they very "de Biasi"?
I’d say they are pretty similar and always changing as I buy and sell pieces. Again a mix of antiques and contemporary is the key here.