Self-taught architect and designer Tom Givone began his foray into design with a series of personal DIY projects in a Victorian-style row house in his native New York City. Today, his innovative work has appeared in Dwell magazine and Architectural Digest, and his studio specializes in the design and development of both city and country properties—marrying modern elements with period grandeur. Read on to discover Givone's early inspirations, his route into architecture, and his design ethos.
Tell us about your earliest encounters with architecture and design…
As a very young boy growing up in The Bronx in New York City, I remember riding the train with my grandfather and pressing my face to the window every time we crossed over Harlem on the elevated tracks, mesmerized by the rows of blighted townhouses around 125th Street: the decaying millwork, shattered glass, the play of sunlight across all those majestic, crumbling façades. Those images were etched deep in my psyche and still affect the work I do today. In fact, my first home and project—a Victorian row house on a cobblestone street—is just a few blocks away.
What was your childhood ambition?
I was always artistically inclined, and also obsessed with exotic sports cars: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis—no doubt the little Italian in me. I never had an ambition to design cars per se, but that childhood fascination certainly sparked a love for materials, sculpture, and form, and a primal need to express it in some way.
I work until something deeper emerges, an emotional thread that ties all the architectural elements together
You didn’t follow the usual route into architecture. Tell us about this…
It began in 1998 with the purchase of the row house in Harlem. I was a freelance copywriter at the time, writing TV scripts and such for advertising agencies, but I couldn’t wait to get back to demolishing walls, scraping floors, and bagging mountains of debris at the end of the day. From there I ventured north, purchasing the first of several abandoned farmhouses in the Catskill Mountains. Initially I was a one-man band, designing and building, but as the work grew I became more of a conductor, calling in architects, engineers, anyone with the expertise to help bring my compositions to life. For a torqued-volume extension to the Twist Farmhouse, a rollercoaster manufacturer forged the enormous curling columns that made its undulating walls possible.
Related: Meet Architect Kengo Kuma
How do you describe what you do to friends?
I don’t call myself an architect, I’m more of an artist working in the architectural space. I usually share a few images and leave it at that.
Melding historic and modern materials and forms allows me to embrace cutting-edge technology while honoring the simplicity of craft
Is there a Tom Givone style and way of working?
Well, it’s not terribly formal, and I primarily work alone, sketching out various designs and researching different materials, until something deeper emerges, an emotional thread that ties all the architectural elements together. From there it’s about assembling the right team to help actualize it.
What unites your works?
I’ve always been deeply drawn to both early American and late-modern architecture. To resolve this split creative impulse, I started combining them. In the process, I discovered how doing so highlights the innate beauty of each by virtue of its contrast with the other. Melding historic and modern materials and forms also allows me to embrace cutting-edge technology while honoring the simplicity of craft, as well as to fold in a number of found objects and materials. Using these items is another cornerstone of my work.
How do you define good design?
I think good design is simple, and driven by honesty in materials and approach.
What does “home” mean to you?
It means cultivating a space in which to feel safe, be still, and sustain a sense of wonder as life’s daily tasks roll on.
If you could live in any building around the world, which would you choose?
An abandoned villa by the sea, once I got my hands on it.