Profile: Glenn Gissler, Glenn Gissler Design, Inc.

By Sallie Moffat
February 24, 2010

A native of Milwaukee now living in New York City, Glenn Gissler began studying art at the age of 11. Later, numerous self-guided tours of Chicago museums and art galleries marked the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of experiencing art firsthand—a passion that Gissler turned into profession. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design with degrees in fine arts and architecture, he worked with interior designer Juan Montoya and architect Rafael Viñoly before founding Glenn Gissler Design, Inc., a Manhattan-based interior design firm where Gissler—known for his understated, elegant designs—creates unobtrusive and personalized spaces by establishing an “organizational strategy that brings a luxurious ease to movement in the space.” In addition to having his work covered in publications such as Elle Decor, InStyle, House and Garden and The New York Times, as well as in several books, Gissler has been included on House Beautiful and New York Magazine’s “100 Top Designers” lists and, in 2009, was a visiting critic for the students’ final reviews at Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology and his alma mater. Included in his long list of upscale projects are the showrooms and home of fashion designer (and Project Runway judge) Michael Kors and his own Greenwich Village apartment, which he shares with his wife and daughter.

Do you derive any ideas from nature or other disciplines? Music? Theater? Literature?
I consider that one of my jobs as a designer is to feed my subconscious by any means necessary! I listen to music a lot and love to see live music of almost any sort! I love art museums and art galleries! I enjoy theater, but not generally Broadway. Movies, fashion magazines, travel, food and tasting red wine. I have many, many more red wines to taste before I go!

Who are your role models?
Albert Hadley, for his commitment to educating the next generation and the restraint and practicality and charm of his design work; Joe D’Urso, for his brilliance in the placement of furniture and objects, and for his incredible editing; and Juan Montoya—his was the first real design office that I worked in in New York City. When I witnessed what he did, and how he did it, it empowered me to think that I too could do this on my own!

And my first real client some 22 years ago—Michael Kors. He has always had a commitment to quality, worked hard to understand his customers and makes his clothing to make his customers look good. He has stayed true to his vision, holding a steady course through lots of wacky trends and through thick and thin—these approaches translate perfectly to interior design.

What is your favorite color?
I gravitate toward colors that are found in nature, and I don’t mean English gardens! I generally shy away from bright “pure” colors—rather, I find that I prefer earth tones, so even a red that I would likely use would have some “earth” in it. With that said, I never say never. If need be, I can find a reason to break stride!

What are some of the proudest experiences in your career?
I would say that whenever my work has appeared in publications, especially national publications and books, I am very proud. Most of my work is private residential work, so for me it means that I have not only pleased my client and myself, but I have passed through all of the tastemaker gates of the design media to have my design work exist in the public domain.

Tell us about your favorite/ideal customer?
Nice, educated, trusting, considerate, conscientious and appreciative. And if I am really fortunate, they have a great budget!

Do you have any professional pet peeves?
Don’t get me started! However, I would say one of my biggest pet peeves is pretense of any sort. It is a direct route to creating a soulless project!

What is your most annoying weakness as a designer?
Most certainly it would be technological challenges. I am probably from the last generation who didn’t grow up with laptops in their backpacks. I am grateful for the patience and assistance that my staff has with my challenges!

What’s the one thing that keeps you up at night?
There is very little that keeps me up at night. I give my best during my waking hours, and when I go to sleep, I am typically out like a light in preparation to start it all over again the next day!

What’s the coolest thing you ever put in one of your projects?
As a designer, my biggest thrills come from placing great art in projects. Do I really have to pick just one?!

Last year I placed a fabulous 17th-century Italian table—period Renaissance!—into a very large country home in upper Westchester. It is a strong piece, albeit understated, with an incredible patina. It is not in a showy location, and not everyone can recognize what it is, but I know, and that is all that matters!

Another highlight would be placing a very large and dramatic Auguste Rodin bronze of a headless male torso in the foyer of a fantastic duplex apartment in New York City—it looks like it belongs there!

What is your favorite place on earth?
I still have a lot of the earth to discover, but I would say that one of my favorite experiences has been the water taxi from the airport in Venice into the Grand Canal. It is a thrilling and transformative experience into another world!

What was your most difficult design challenge? How did you resolve it?
Trying to work with a client who turned out to be truly psychotic. How did I resolve it? I fired her!

The second biggest challenge was working with an unappreciative and underhanded banker in New York City. How did I resolve it? I fired him!

What learning experience has had the most impact on you?
Attending the Rhode Island School of Design, hands down! I had heard of the school when I was in a high school art class in Wisconsin at the age of 15. I went through a circuitous process of getting there that included two years at a big ten university and two years at a work-study program in Architecture in Boston, but when I finally found myself in Providence (at that point only the second person to attend the school from Wisconsin) going to school with incredibly talented and motivated students, in a gorgeous New England city, I truly thought that I had died and gone to heaven! I remain very involved with RISD to this day and am always trying to find new ways to give back to the school that gave me so much!

How long is your typical workday?
9am until 6:30 or 7pm. I like to start my day with a double espresso, exercising at the gym, having a good breakfast and jumping into the fire! I typically take a short lunch—mostly for sustenance—and go full tilt until I run out of the office to be with my family. I don’t work weekends except on very, very rare occasions. I need to replenish myself!
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