Only by Design

As an architect, interior designer, and proprietor of vintage furniture and antiques showroom Porter & Plunk, John Gilmer gets around.

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With a firm in Palm Springs and an office in New York, John Gilmer’s work spans many styles, and his clients’ preferences run the gamut. At the moment, his to-do list includes construction on an Edwardian country home, renovations to a midcentury home in Indian Wells and a ’70s Palm Springs ranch house, and complete redesigns of a NYC duplex and an apartment on Central Park West. Yet he still found time to show a selection of furniture by Edmond J. Spence (“a great midcentury designer who is being rediscovered,” says Gilmer) at the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale this past February.

“Spence’s pieces exemplify what I strive to show — unique, sculptural furniture that makes you look twice. He was a fascinating figure who grew up in a family business of furniture manufacturing. His first line, from 1951, was for a group of Swedish furniture makers who were trying to break into the American market. These pieces had refined, fluid lines and were made of the finest veneers and craftsmanship. A few years later, Spence designed the ‘Continental–American Collection’ for Industria Mueblera, a Mexican furniture manufacturer. These pieces epitomize ‘Mexican Modern,’ which is really coming into vogue as we all search for the ‘new.’ It’s gutsy, bold, and sculptural. I had a set of amazing dining chairs that sold on opening night; I could have sold them four times over. Spence also designed the furniture used on the I Love Lucy sets. His pieces are highly desirable — I think he is about to be the next hot discovery.”

Motto He Works By

“I do clean, edited, ‘American’ work. Style is secondary; good design is paramount. Taste regardless of style!”

Motto He Lives By

“There is value in mining the past for modern solutions. I’m constantly looking at new materials and technologies, for ways to create better buildings and environments, and ways to use our resources wisely for a more sustainable future.”

What Defines His Work?

“A person should walk into one of our projects and feel good, not by being hit over the head with décor that screams but by a quiet sense of comfort and style. This can only be achieved by a thorough knowledge of style, rigorous editing, and the proper use of proportion. Vitruvius, the Roman architect, wrote in 15 B.C., ‘Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight.’ A modern interpretation might read: ‘The ideal building has three elements: It is sturdy, useful, and beautiful.’”

Wish For Palm Springs?

“Having served on the city’s historic site board for five years, I appreciate that Palm Springs has both a vibrant preservation community and great architects and developers who want to reimagine the city and push it forward with new projects. I’d like to see it grow and develop while still preserving the history of its past.”

John Gilmer Shares His Wish List

1) Clients who love the beauty of what I have created, are comfortable in it, and tell me it makes them smile every time they come home.

2) True Grace candles from Grace & Favor in Brooklyn. Made in England, they are so evocative! My favorite is the Library candle, a heady aroma of old leather and the peaty smell of single-malt scotch. Who else has candles like Vine Tomato or Wild Mint?

3) A “light sculpture” by Niamh Barry, an Irish artist who is doing amazing things with LED technology.

4) An English aesthetic movement sideboard by E.W. Godwin, circa 1867. I’m fascinated by the amazing sculptural qualities of his pieces, and would love to mix it with the Biedermeier pieces in my New York apartment.

5) Dinner with friends at the Wolseley in London, followed by a weekend at Hartwell House, a lovely English country house hotel run by The National Trust.

6) A memorable piece of art such as Jana’s Maharaja, a photograph by the artist Alexandra Penney, which I showed at the modernism show this year.

7) Recognition that good design is not an accident; it is the culmination of a deliberate, thoughtful process involving collaboration between designer and client.

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