Christopher Guy
Simplicity With Elegance

by Michele Elyzabeth
From Los Angeles to Tokyo, Shanghai to Macao or New York to London, chances are you have encountered a Christopher Guy piece. One of the most influential furniture designers in the world today, Christopher Guy Harrison is everywhere. Though he was born in Britain, he was raised in Spain and France where he drew most of his influence for his designs. Known for the detail he brings to each of his creations and his insatiable passion for esthetic beauty, he is the master at fusing classic and contemporary while retaining a distinctive signature. His Chris-X leg design is patented across the globe and can be seen throughout his collections. When asked how he came up with the idea, Guy recognized having been inspired by the corset of Scarlett O'Hara while watching “Gone with the Wind” and the crossed legs of a ballerina. “My aim was to design a chair that was simple, sophisticated and flexible enough to work with a variety of style categories.”
His career began in 1993 under the name Harrison & Gil, with the creation of a wide range of decorative mirrors which quickly expanded into upholstery. In 1999, Christopher built a one million square foot atelier in Java to accommodate the 1,400 carvers, woodcarvers and specialist finishers that craft his designs. However, it is in 2007 that he launched his brand Christopher Guy adding an extensive line of luxury furniture.
I met with Christopher Guy at the Beverly Hills Hotel as he just arrived from London.
What were you doing in London?
I’ve just finished relooking the main restaurant in Harrods, which was the Georgian restaurant, bringing it up to date. It does not feel as stuffy as it used to be and so that was a lot of fun.
What about your furnishings?
They liked the Mademoiselle collection which has a very feminine feel to it. They are using it exclusively in the restaurant.
What is the color scheme for this project?
It was limited to what was going to last 20 years (laughs). So you can imagine there were no whites. There was a lot of burgundy and gold — those were the two main colors of the fabrics which set the tone.
What fabric do you like to work with in particular?
Nowadays, the fabric selections have changed completely from what they were 10 years ago. Patterns are out unless they’re used for accent pieces, maybe a cushion.
It’s all about texture and what kind of textures you’re able to obtain. At Harrods, it was two fabrics we used. One was Alcantara, which is used in Ferraris and Aston Martins. It’s like a high-end ultrasuede and it’s from Italy and Mohair. They’re both very durable, but still have a luxurious feel to them.
Do you go shopping in Italy or Paris for the accents and such or do you make everything?
We have more than 2,000 employees in the workshop, so we can make anything. We can make anything out of copper. One of the statues that we made for Harrods was a Georgian lady. It was a contemporary take on an eighteenth-century ball gown, and we made it all from copper. It’s unusual that I would do such an interior design project like Harrods, because I do product design.
How did you get commissioned by Harrods for their restaurant?
It was just by chance, actually. I saw a request coming in from Harrods for a couple of pieces of my furniture. I knew that they were looking to redo their restaurant. So then I thought, ‘Let me have a look at the overall plan.’ I looked at the overall plan and figured that Harrods can do better. So, I asked for a meeting with them and decided to go with a total plan of the space. When I went down to show them the plan, they put their plan away, and they stuck with ours. The reason for that is simple. You can’t make these things in Europe anymore. The skills aren’t there. It sounds horrible to say that, but the skills aren’t there. They’re all working on CNC machines. It’s one of the reasons that the industry has gone contemporary — because with contemporary, you can still make a curve.
Anything with a curve is not only more complicated, it’s more expensive to make because you use more materials. When you get into a little bit of carving and forming and shaping — with all of these things you need to be in Asia. To give an example; if you want to see the finest hotels in the world today, it would have been built over — certainly — the last 15 years. I can’t think of one that has been made in the West. You’d have to go to Asia probably for every single one. Again, you have the extreme funding, plus you have all the craftsmanship and the skills.
So you have all your designers over there?
I design everything.
So you never sleep.
(laughs) No, I do. We are forever developing new ideas, but I have a project which I started three years ago, and now I also have a software company, and the software company was to resolve issues that we face in our industry and to create the only platform in our industry for the global interior design industry, which will launch September of next year. So that is my biggest project without a doubt, and the one that will revolutionize our industry.
What are the issues associated with being a furniture designer. How can you stay contemporary?
One of the issues for me was the look of the collection; I decided that if I just said ‘Oh look, it’s Christopher Guy,’ then people would say, ‘Who the hell is Christopher Guy?’ So I decided to create the collection around the brand that I most admired, which was Chanel.
The first question which came to mind was ‘if Coco Chanel was alive today, what would her house look like?’ the more I thought about it, the more I was realizing that a lot of my design work is very feminine, and it’s very much tied to France, yet with a very international feel.
You work with a lot of different woods mixing noble material with glass, etc... You also work with lacquer, something which has been taboo in the US for a long time and even labeled dangerous. What is the truth behind lacquer?
Well, I think it’s true when looking at different types of lacquers. Same with glass, if you look at the old Lalique — the Rene Lalique — the beautiful pieces way back then. They were using arsenic to get that color. Traditional materials were either carrying lead or a certain degree of arsenic which was also found in a lot of the wallpapers, especially the old historic wallpapers. People were dying in the nineteenth century without realizing why they were dying. It was from the amount of arsenic that was used in certain colors within the wallpapers, which were all the rage.
So nowadays, you don’t use arsenic and Lalique is now made out of a crystal, versus the old Lalique glass. There’s a big difference. It is the same for lacquers.
Since, the nineteenth, for almost a hundred years what was used at the time was a French polish, and then it went onto nitrocellulose. And nitrocellulose was originally developed for the canvas wings of biplanes because they tried to create something to waterproof the wings. And it ultimately came to substitute French Polish. In the 1950s, came the synthetic varnishes. So bit by bit, there are many different types which evolved on the market and it is not deadly any longer.
Coming back to your collections, how does it work?
The one collection, Mademoiselle, has to fit in each of those pieces. There are almost 800 pieces in that collection, and so each one of those has to fit in. They would all work well with each other. If they’re outside of that, then we fit them in another collection, which is called Galleria. Galleria’s more like a snapshot, a vignette.
Who do you create furniture for and how can you sustain the trends?
I’ve always done things that I love to do. I like simplicity in many ways. Simplicity with elegance, but elegance is simplicity. Elegance is not ostentatious. I know there was a period in which we really started making mirror frames and the mirror frame may have a little bit of gold, a little bit of this, and maybe different finishes.
And when I started doing the lifestyle collections, and they applied the lifestyle collections into the pieces, I found that mixing all the finishes onto a table or a chair do not always work. I would go into these houses even some of the dealers internationally that would add all these colors. I would shake my head and die, because I thought it just looked horrible. So two years ago I took all these finishes off, which were going to damage the overall feel of the product line to a cleaner look, so what has changed is in high end, the distressed is out; it’s no longer in fashion.
It’s all about the lacquers or solid wood colors, even the lighter wood colors. And the distressed finishes have gone, carving has died, if you’ve had a company which is dealing with classic furnishings, you would be out of business today — everywhere in the world. We now have a global look and the last global look to take place was furnishings.
Now even if they had one chair from Louis XIV everything else would be much more contemporary and have a cleaner look. And that is how the whole world has changed.
For my part, I couldn’t go to a clean contemporary because it is less about the design, and much more about the brand. Contemporary is a straight line.
We’re not about straight lines; we’re about curves. And it was very French — you could say Hollywood glamour to a degree, but it had to fit into the twenty-first century, in today’s home, and above all, it still had to be comfortable because contemporary has got the look, but is not necessarily the most comfortable, so curves had to add comfort.
Do you design anything else?
I design software. Our website has an area which is called iPLAN. I started working on the iPlan three years ago, because I saw, maybe four years ago, a book in Paris and it showed how in the 1920s they were using their room plans, and the three-dimensional side of a room plan. So it’d be flat, but you’d see the elevations. And everything was hand drawn. And I thought to myself, ‘How could I recreate that digitally?’
And so we did. You can go to our website and look under iDESIGNED and iPLAN, and create a wall. You can drag an item in or out. You click the wall, the elevation will open, and as you move the chair around, it’ll move around the wall so you can add all the art. You can add everything to the elevation.
Perfect for architects and designers.
Because it’s the way that designers work — they work with passion. And just to do a 3D model, you either have a very high-end program like 3Ds Max, which is beyond the means of most designers and if you have the time to do it. Or you have what I would call more of a Mickey Mouse version, which doesn’t have any feel to it so, the difficulty in creating such things comes from the size of the loading. Each of the drawings that you see on our iPLAN is drawn nine times, so when you move it around, there are nine different drawings in play.
You have a plan view, and you have the side views. To change the color of the item, there’s an algorithm that we created, so if you select red it’ll look red. Nowadays I enjoy designing software for our industry.
Do you have any plans to design anything else?
Not really, this is why I designed the software to unify our industry.
What do you do when you don’t work? What’s your relaxation program?
Working (laughs). I travel a lot. Actually, I love my work. Look, I’m sitting here under the beautiful blue sky, here in Beverly Hills. Two weeks ago, I was eating beautiful food in Madrid, and then I went to London and was doing the Harrods project. Every part of my life is a beautiful part. I enjoy time spent with my son, George Harrison.
What? (laughs).
Yes, George Harrison is his name.
It sounds crazy, but I just jump on a plane and I enjoy whatever I do. I’m always enjoying my life. I don’t really have to do anything specific. As a food lover, I love to people watch, and I love seeing beautiful things. That is a pleasure in itself.

Christopher Guy’s accomplishments are numerous. He has received many awards including, The British Interior Design Association Award for the Outstanding Design in 2004. In May 2014 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Otis College of Art and Design. His work can be seen around the world: Divan Asia Hotel, Turkey. St. Clemente Palace, Venice, The Trump Plaza, New York. The Savoy, London. The Beverly Wilshire, California. The Ritz-Carlton properties. The Bellegio, The Venetian and Encore in Las Vegas.
His furnishings have become stars in their own right in the following films: The Hangover, Casino Royale, The Devil Wears Prada, Stardust, Sleuth, Ocean’s Thirteen.
Christopher Guy’s showrooms include, Los Angeles, New York and Las Vegas.
www.christopherguy.com