The brilliant San Francisco based interior designer Benjamin Dhong has a fascinating story. During a trip to Italy in 2004, to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday, he meet and befriended designer Martha Angus. After chatting over the course of two weeks about their mutual love of design and art, Martha invited him to apprentice once a week with her firm.
One day turned into a full week, and three months later he was working with clients directly. He describes meeting and working for Martha as the equivalent to taking a graduate course in design (his background is finance). His story and experience once again proves the old adage, ‘nothing can replace a hands-on learning and experience’. After just three years at Martha’s firm, Benjamin opened his own company in 2007. As they say, when you’ve got it, you’ve got. And Benjamin has it!
How would you describe your personal style?
I create confident rooms with a very clean classic sensibility. It doesn’t matter whether it’s modern or traditional. It’s no fun breaking the rules unless you know the rules. And i certainly do break the rules. I also love juxtaposing opposites….the play between new and old, precious and humble. I find that tension exhilarating. And ironically it ends up creating a very balanced and serene space. Nothing is lovelier than the play of silk velvet against a humble linen.
What is your most prized possession?
A good sense of humor. Life is too short not to be happy. Plus, a quick wit can get you through the most difficult situations and calm the most anxious of clients. Not that I’ve ever had one of those of course!
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Sitting around a table under a tree and eating and drinking with friends. And if it happens to be out in the Stockholm archipelago during the midnight sun I might just pass out.
What is the one thing in life you cannot live without?
The ability to appreciate the simple things in life.
What inspires your creativity and designs?
History. I’ve been mad about history ever since I was a little boy. I love everything about the past; that which makes it familiar to us and everything that makes it different. When I look through my portfolio, I realize how indebted I am to all that preceded me.
Travel. Nothing is more exhilarating and life changing than traveling and seeing the world. Whether it’s Haga pavilion in Stockholm or Edward James’ folly in Xilitla Mexico. I’ve never regretted taking the time off to travel. I even have fond memories of being pick-pocketed!
Cinema. I was very fortunate that when I was growing up they were showing the truly great classic movies on tv. I’d sit and watch Black Narcissus as a 10 year old the way kids today watch the Twilight trilogy. Seeing Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Red Shoes was much more fun than teen vampires!
Who are your style icons?
Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and John Saladino. What a genius! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I met him at his villa in Montecito.
Who would you most like to collaborate with on a project?
Thierry Despont, David Collins and Nicky Haslam. Superb taste, sumptuous design, juicy stories and gossip!
What books are currently on your bedside table?
Almost all non-fiction. Saga of the Mitford Sisters, Nicky Haslam’s memoir and Love Junkie” by Robert Plunkett…it’s wickedly funny.
What is your favorite luxury in life?
Oh that’s easy. A really deep afternoon nap.
Past or present who has most influenced your direction in life?
My mom. Growing up it was just the two of us. I was her little man. She’d take me to the symphony and museums; she had a great zest for life and a wonderful sense of humor. Everyone adored her, but she could be a stubborn one! We’d be visiting friends or acquaintances and the next thing I knew we’d be rearranging their furniture. I thought it was all great fun! Not sure how often we were invited back.
Profile by Ronda Carman