David Netto may be best known for being one of the first designers to take kids’ rooms seriously—creating modern cribs that were every bit as well-designed and well-crafted as living room furniture (and yes, cost just as much). But three years ago, feeling the pangs of living across the country from his older daughter, Kate (by Ione Skye), he sold Netto Collection to Maclaren and moved from New York to L.A. Today—between designing for Maclaren and writing a design column for The Wall Street Journal—he spends his time as a hands-on dad to Kate, 9, and Madelyn, 5 (by wife, Elizabeth), manning bath time, breakfast, and some very ambitious Lego projects.
As someone who pioneered this very sophisticated aesthetic for children’s rooms, we’re wondering—what are your daughters’ rooms like? I have a nice modern house by Richard Neutra in Silverlake. So right there, you can’t really screw that up. Like Netto furniture, beautiful architecture is a great backdrop. Beyond that their rooms are, you know, messy and full of cute stuff. Both of my kids have polyester pink Pillow Pets. They all want that stuff. Even babies prefer the fuzziest, wildest mobiles to beautiful Flensted ones. I’m not going to get in the way of that.
How did you come up with your latest bedding designs? Maclaren heard me out when I said I want to do something unexpected—lush, in gutsy colors, and similar to Scandinavian textile design, which I love, like Svenskt Tenn and Marimekko.
What’s been your proudest moment in parenting? When I finally closed my office in New York and moved to L.A. to be with Kate fulltime. She was born in 2001, and I just couldn’t get out of my business in New York. After 7 years of flying back and forth—the rule was I was never out of L.A. for more than two weeks—I knew she really needed me to be here permanently. And since I was then married to Elizabeth and having another child, I didn’t want Kate to see me living in another city with another kid. So the pressure was on, and that was when my business partner, Claude Arpels, and I succeeded in selling Netto Collection.
How do you manage shared custody? I get Kate half the week, Sunday to Wednesday. It’s very amicable, for which I give complete credit to the women in my life. Kate’s mom, Ione, is extremely generous with the time that she allows me with Kate, Elizabeth is very flexible, and both women are friends. When you hear about that situation being tense in other families, I just feel so grateful that both of those ladies are who they are. As far as I can see, Kate isn’t any different of a person than she would have been with two parents living together. She’s a happy kid and she has no sort of preoccupation with why Ione and I didn’t end up being together.
What’s a typical weeknight like in your house? We always have family dinner at 6:30. And people, especially other families in the neighborhood, drop in often because they know we do have a lot of food. I think part of why I like to have people over is in reaction to my childhood, and the ritual of having dinner alone with my 55-year-old parents when I was 6, candles lit and just bored to tears. My parents were great people, but I was an only child and they didn’t know how to make it a party. I remember when I was 16, setting up speakers and playing some CD in the dining room to make it less gloomy.
Regarding TV, are you conservative, easy breezy, or completely confused as to what’s appropriate? I am conservative. I don’t like a lot of television in their lives. In terms of conservative, though, that’s how much they watch. In terms of taste and what they watch, I am to blame for some serious breaches because I like to show them interesting things. For instance, we were reading the Asterix, which are these funny Belgian books about the Roman Empire. So I showed them some scenes from the movie “Gladiator,” which wasn’t a great idea. Kate’s mother thought I was insane when she heard, but it was well meant.
How do you celebrate birthdays in your house? Do you like or resent goody bags? For Kate’s most recent birthday, we did it in the bowling alley. Now that they’re getting older, you can’t just have a party at home—you need something that can amuse a bunch of 9 and 10-year-old kids and let them blow off steam. But yeah, the goody bag is the biggest pain in the ass of birthdays. It’s completely expected by everybody now, so we just sucked it up and hired the bowling alley to pack the goody bags.
What’s a typical weekend like? We go to the Silverlake farmer’s market on Saturdays, then we tend go to Musso and Frank or Asanebo for an early dinner. Between the farmers market and the restaurant, things are pretty free form. One thing we often do is drive to El Matador, this obscure, cliffy beach in Malibu. And we just got a dog, so we take the dog on a walk or ride our bikes around Silverlake reservoir.
What’s on your iPod right now? Kate and I share an iTunes list and she’s always buying things on my account, so I’ll be listening to my usual nice music—I have a thing for Dionne Warwick, Marlena Shaw, that kind of slow groove R&B stuff—and all the sudden the soundtrack from The Wiz comes on.
Have you introduced your daughters to any of your music? One of the songs that’s been a big hit with the girls is by L’Trimm—“The Cars that Go Boom”—from 1987 or something. I was driving around in all seriousness listening to that in 1988, thinking I was cool. And I now play it for them and they think it’s hilarious.
What’s on your to-do list that you never get around to finishing? Completing the Lego Taj Mahal. I developed an addiction to complicated Lego sets a few years ago. But mostly, I feel guilty because I have certain selections of my daughters’ art that I plan to frame and never do. You know, it’s leaning around or taped up in the kitchen. I have framed exactly one thing in 9 years and I’m ashamed of that. Because it makes them feel good.
What are some of your favorite books? In addition to Asterix, we’re also on a binge with Tin Tin. Same idea, but more more goofy than Asterix. Other favorites are Georgie the Ghost by Robert Bright, Amos & Boris by William Steig, and the Ant & Bee series by Angela Banner. For myself, I like autobiographies. I just finished Le Corbusier by Nicholas Fox Weber.
Favorite clothing source? Anything by Steven Alan. He’s got something going on that I like very much.
Your guiltiest pleasure? Horror movies. I just watched Piranha from 2010. It was fantastic.
What’s been your best family trip? Last Thanksgiving, we took an overnight Amtrak train from Los Angeles to Klamath Falls, Oregon. I’m a huge train buff when it comes to going on vacation with kids. They just loved it, they were never bored. Unlike a plane, where you lose a whole day to nightmarish schlepping, your vacation starts the minute you get on the train with children. With a train trip, even the waiting in the station is fun.
How do you keep in touch with your daughters when you travel for work? With Kate, I email. With Madelyn, I take pictures and email them to Liz to show her. But honestly, the last thing either kid wants is to have to have a structured 5-minute conversation with me. I would love that, but I understand they’re not into it, so you text them cute messages, you send them pictures of something you’re in front of and think they’ll react to—you do the best you can.
What’s the division of labor like in your house? I don’t like to make school lunches. So Liz took that over from me, and it felt like a piano had been lifted from my chest. And she for some reason doesn’t like to give baths. So I give the baths. That’s totally easy to me. She does most of the cooking, but I’m the breakfast guy. I make very good scrambled eggs.
What’s your daughters’ relationship like with one another? It’s fantastic. They’re hilarious. Madelyn keeps Kate one foot in childhood a little longer, and Kate makes Madelyn happier than anybody in the world. If I have a Part B to proudest moment in parenting it’s that in moving out here, we really made them sisters. They’re enjoying every day of their lives more being together.