Greg Natale: A famous designer continues his tour de force
Australian native Greg Natale's design aesthetic can be bold or subtle, but color, often in tandem with pattern, always catches the eye. It's telling when you consider the titles of his two books: The most recent, "The Patterned Interior" (Rizzoli), and the previous, "The Tailored Interior" (Hardie Grant). There's not a dichotomy. The styles coexist seamlessly in his interiors.
With an international design following, a range of products -- furniture, rugs, bed linens, tile, wallcoverings, towels, cushions -- and a home accessories collection launched in the spring at Bergdorf Goodman (with a second group debuting in November), the 45-year old Australian is a rock star.
Natale has what "Happy Chic" guru Jonathan Adler describes as "it," along with luminaries such as Kate Moss, Adele and Ellsworth Kelly.
Whatever it is, it's working. His design business is thriving, he continues to earn accolades everywhere. He was honored in 2016 as International designer of the year by the High Point (North Carolina) Market Authority, and is contemplating a further extension of his product offerings ("I would love to add fabrics and dinnerware," he states.). And this month, he'll open his first retail shop in Sydney, Australia, with an eye on a chic spot in Los Angeles.
Part of what has grabbed attention in publications from AD to Elle Decoration and Vogue Living to the Robb Report, is his mastery of pattern. It's a signature consistent in his work -- sometimes in-your-face, but never overpowering, and even subtle. Page through the new book and you become aware of pattern as perhaps you had not considered it before. How the fluting on a glass shower door interacts with the grain of a cerused wood vanity, geometric marble tiles on the wall and a green terrazzo floor. Consider Art Deco-style paneling on a seafoam green entry door, inspired by arches of gold wallpaper nestled against it inside.
His own pattern designs, as in mosaics for Bisazza, include swirling malachite, an alluring watery moire, along with undulating or graphic linears. But what sets his look apart from others equally ebullient about pattern is that it's tempered with crisp tailoring, such as a rustic Oklahoma property furnished in sophisticated Navajo and plaid motifs with bluestone fireplace.
His "crazy dream" began in a home custom-built by his Italian immigrant parents in 1978. They apparently embraced their heritage with decorative tiling everywhere, for which he then confessed an "inherent dislike." Now he appreciates it.
"Pattern has always been in me," he says. Influenced profoundly by the '80s TV series "Dynasty," which he devotedly watched with his four older sisters, he "loved the sets -- the Carrington home, Alexis' office. "It's totally one of the reasons I became an interior designer," he states.
Embracing that decade's Memphis Movement, he then wanted to paint everything pink and turquoise. He went to design school, studied architecture, and worked for three different modernist architecture firms. When he decided to go out on his own, he thought long and hard about who he wanted to be as a designer.
"I was inspired by David Chipperfield and John Pawson, amazing (British) architects," known for their minimalist aesthetic. "But everything in Sydney looked like that. Minimalist white boxes dominated interior design. If I kept doing what everyone else was doing, I wouldn't stand out." So he did his homework, researching mid-century design, and was drawn to the works of Italian Gio Ponti, the late English designer David Nightingale Hicks and Danish designer Verner Panton. His aha moment was the idea of laying pattern over '90s minimalism.
His first "lucky break" -- a bedroom he designed for his oldest sister -- generated a lot of buzz. Inspired by fellow Australian and pattern pioneer Florence Broadhurst, he went for it: with a Broadhurst wallpaper that he tinkered with, custom-colored, "turned upside down and pulled out one of the (printing) screens to make it feel very current." He covered nearly every surface with the pattern -- walls, window shades, bedding and framed art. It was published in Belle, an Australian magazine, and then Wallpaper magazine.
"Look, for me, design has to be a statement, spark conversation," Natale says. "I like it to be provocative."
Unafraid of big notes, as he puts it, Natale often sets the tone at the front door. In a home whose interiors he crafted with strong Spanish Revival influence in a western suburb of Sydney, he punctuated the staircase for maximum impact, paving the treads with black granite and lending character to the risers with alternating patterns black and white cement tiles that he designed, and finishing if off with a black iron hand rail and graphic spindles.
Describing himself as "never one to shy away from a bold design gesture," that goes for Natale's personal style as well. While he is crazy for tailored clean lines of photographer Hedi Slimane and declares, "Tom Ford is a genius," Natale totally can rock a boldly patterned Versace jacket. He doesn't love jewelry, but his gold Rolex Date Just is de rigueur. When he travels, black jeans (Ksubi, a cult Australian brand) are a staple, as are trainers by Saint Laurent. And he's a huge fan of American artists -- Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and L.A. graffiti artist Retna.
Natale realizes that pattern can be intimidating and polarizing, but that it can impact how we feel about a space. His own fearless approach sounds simple.
"It's about balance. I may start with a geometric pattern, then use an organic pattern, then a plain texture or wall color. It's a magic trilogy. And I love the way pattern plays with architecture." He often introduces pattern in a more architectural way. In his own apartment in Sydney, he created a 3D effect on the doors of a walk-in closet in the foyer.
"I wanted it to feel like a piece of art," Natale explains.
When he designed a mosaic tile collection for Bisazza, he wanted to explore "how motifs that are so wild, uneven and random, could be reinterpreted" within a linear, unvarying medium.
Organic expression is important, not only in pattern, but in the natural materials he uses, like shells and stone. His bowls and boxes celebrate form and pattern with modern lines in a classic way. Upcoming accessories will include more color, ceramics from Italy and resin.
Natale uses a lot of gold for warmth, and he likes it both shiny, matte and burnished, sometimes intentionally luxe.
"Glam to me is about all the layering, with metals, texture and pattern," he says. "I like an interior to look glamorous and feel rich."
It's that layering that Martyn Lawrence Bullard of Bravo's "Million Dollar Decorators" applauds: "I am particularly fond of his layering -- a difficult skill to master -- with which he brings personality to each space; whether eclectic or minimal."
"Pattern can bring a space to life," writes Natale. "It introduces a vital layer to the design of a house, delivering a dynamic buzz, adding contrast and balance, injecting warmth, detail and interest. And I couldn't live without it."
There are plenty of tips to glean from Natale's book:
-- Choose light, bright tones to maximize proportions. In Natale's own apartment, white dominates, but pattern defines it.
-- Use wallpaper to effectively and elegantly tie spaces together and create an impact at first sight. Even on the ceiling.
-- Pare down the palette. Natale mainly uses blues and greens, with one bolder hue, such as fuchsia or mustard, for punch. Pink is his latest go-to, often paired with green, like emerald and even olive.
-- Incorporate metallic touches -- Natale loves gold -- to deliver warmth throughout a home.
-- Consider a piece of art as an important element of design. Colorful, bold -- even on a bold wallpaper backdrop.
-- And, of course, play with pattern. Abstract, linear, graphic, floral, plaid, geometric -- whatever you choose can be a cohesive link throughout a home.
-- Pop patterned cushions on a sofa. Natale says it's an attractive, easy way to add color, pattern and texture, especially to sofas and beds.
-- Greg Natale Design, www.gregnatale.com