Tommy Clements

A conversation with the interior designer about the place of architecture and the future of design.
Illustration by Ojima Abalaka

Every city has more than one story to tell and one face to show. Regardless of the artistic background, each place is full of inspiring individuals making its own culture and story. In Plus’s online initiative, ‘City Talks,’ we feature 10 creatives representing the designated city per season, asking contributors to share personal relatedness and building an engaging community that gives a sense of belonging. 

The second season takes place in Los Angeles, and this week, we speak with Interior designer Tommy Clements of Clements Design. Over the past decade, Clements Design has built a gallery-like, nature-inspired interior design practice masterfully combining sophistication with simplicity. With the impeccable selection of antiques, the firm brings the client’s personal narrative into life.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

Coffee before anything else.


Where is your favorite (go-to) restaurant in LA? Why?

The Ivy. It’s a classic. The food and the vibe haven’t changed one bit since it opened in the 80s. They have the friendliest staff, it’s always filled to the brim with fresh cut flowers, and they make the best margarita in town.


What are your ways of recharging/ taking breaks?

For me, the only true way to take a break is to get out of town.  Otherwise, I am constantly getting sucked into work.  I have a lake house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, totally off the grid.  It was initially built in the 1800s and served as the carriage house to an iconic historic estate on the lake.  I did a major renovation/restoration project and filled it with art, furniture, and objects that I love to live with.  There is a stillness about it that I find so peaceful.  It’s the perfect hideaway.


What song are you into these days (and why)?

I just worked on a project with Jerry Lorenzo (founder of Fear of God), and he shared a playlist with me that he created for one of his 2020 shows in Paris.  It’s all old-school r&b and yacht rock… Luther Vandross, Al Green, Ambrosia, Roberta Flack, Aretha…it’s a vibe. 


What are your design philosophy and one thing you always keep in mind when designing? 

I really try to get inside my clients’ heads when I start creating their homes.  I want to understand how they like to live, what’s important to them, and what they love so that I’m not imposing a predetermined vision of design. Homes that feel like a reflection of the people who inhabit them are the homes that genuinely have souls.


If you could have any artwork in your house, what would it be? 

Cy Twombly’s Four Seasons works.


How would you describe the architectural/design scene in Los Angeles?

I love being a part of the architecture and design scene in Los Angeles because there is so much variety.  At any given moment, I can be simultaneously working on an iconic mid-century Hal Levitt home, a 1930s Wallace Neff, ground up new construction projects with Howard Backen and Scott Mitchell, and a Montecito George Washington Smith Spanish revival. You have to be able to flex a lot of muscles at once. It keeps me on my toes, and I enjoy that immensely.


What do you see for the future of design? 

I think the use of antiques has been neglected and widely overlooked in many recent American designs. It’s also not an easy sell to some clients here in Los Angeles who have a certain idea of what “California living” looks like.  That said, I am really trying to make antiques a more significant part of the conversation. The dialogue between modern design and beautiful 18th/19th century English, Italian, or French antiques is fascinating. I think there is a huge opportunity to make that combination feel fresh and new.  


How do you combine beauty and function in your design? 

At the start of every project, I always focus strictly on a floor plan and furniture plan.  All of the early conversations relate to the program and layout.  Those things need to be nailed down first and foremost before there can be any discussions about look and feel, materials, furnishings, palette, etc.  At the end of the day, the proportions of a room, the scale of furnishings, and the flow of spaces need to be correct.  If they aren’t, it won’t matter how beautiful the furniture, the art, and the objects are; the home will never feel right.


What change would you like to see in the creative industry at large?  

I would like to see interiors, architecture, and fashion magazines have their heyday again. The publishing industry has obviously suffered since the rise of social media. There is so much imagery and noise constantly coming at us. A lot of creative output feels like it is being heavily diluted. Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram, and I think it is a phenomenal tool. But there is nothing like flipping through a magazine’s pages with a concentration of well-edited, curated, thoughtful stories.


Which three qualities in yourself are you most thankful for? 

Loyalty, tenacity, kindness.


Listen to all the favorite songs picked by our City Talks contributors HERE.

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