Q&A with Actor, Director and Design Maven Diane Keaton


Diane Keaton has conquered stage and screen and has done her time in the director’s chair. Now she’s added another notch in a new belt she’s been wearing lately, that of design maven. Keaton is in San Francisco to promote her new book House and to get an up-close-and-personal look at the work of one of her favorite artists. In a one-on-one interview, I asked her why she chose to briefly focus her attention on something other than the silver screen.

Speaking with Keaton and writer and D.J. Waldie, who penned the book’s text, it’s clear that Keaton is passionate and opinionated about all things design. The book is organized around two building types: farm and factory, and while the photographs are lush and large, the space allotted to words is sparce.

Q: This is going to sound like a typical writer, but I notice there are a lot of photos and white space, but very little text. Why?

DK: “It’s a picture book, you are meant to see the images. I wanted to make the words and design simple, to reflect the projects in the book. The words are important, but they are there to encourage seeing. As for white space, it’s simply beautiful. We wanted to give the images room to breathe. We wanted to hit them with a gorgeous image, and then balance it with a plain white page.”

DJW: “I’m a writer and I don’t mind the lack of words. This is anything but a conventional book about architecture. To Diane, the perfect house book is all photos and about 100 words.”

Calistoga House: Jim Jennings Architecture, Erin Martin Design.

Photography by Lisa Hardaway and Paul Hester

Q: Did you choose to show farm and factory buildings based on childhood experiences?

DK: “I realized while writing the forward to the book that my interest in these building types had roots in my childhood. My family rented a Quonset hut in a Methodist community for about a year. Later, my father bought a prefabricated house and hauled it out to a lot in Highland Park. Like any child, I drew pictures of houses, and that prefabricated house looked exactly like one of my simple drawings. I spent time on a farm while growing up, and that farm looked like a small city of similar wooden buildings.”

Q: That explains the agrarian buildings, but why pair them with factory?

DK: “They are both clear, warm, straightforward building types—and I also grew up driving by the large factories on either side of the Santa Ana Freeway.”

Q: You mention the Pabst Blue Ribbon factory was your favorite, why that one?

DK: “Because it was there. It’s the one I saw the most. But, going back to inspiration, I only realized the link to my childhood retroactively. The reason I wrote the book is because I saw a trend in these kinds of buildings.”

Q: How did you spot the trend?

DK: “I am a seasoned design audience and, at age 66, I’ve been around awhile and I’ve seen and read a lot of things. I was inspired by a profile about architect Annabelle Seldorf in  Elle Decor and I got turned onto Remodelista.com. I also read the books Tiny Houses and Country House Architecture. I had a spontaneous response to this material, and I created this book. It’s the same thing I do as a actress: respond to material.”

DJW: “Diane also has an amazing, amazing eye.”

Louver House in Long Island, NY: Leroy Street Studio

Photography by Paul Warchol

Q: Speaking of Diane’s eye, one of the houses pictured is hers. It has the words “the eye sees what the mind knows” painted in large letters on a frieze. What does that mean?

DK: “I used to own that house, I don’t anymore. It refers to the interaction between the mind and the eye, and how seeing involves a little bit of both.”

Q: So, D.J. wrote the text and Diane picked all the projects and photos?

DK: “That’s right, all of them. I loved seeing the projects by firms like Lake/Flato and Olson Kundig. It was really like going on a fun, ultimate shopping spree.”

Q: Did you visit all of these projects?

DK: “Good God, no! They are all around the country. But I did visit some of them.”

Bethlehem Steelworks, Bethlehem PA

Photography by Paul Warchol

Carraro Residence, Kyle, TX: Lake/Flato

Carraro Residence, Kyle, TX: Lake/Flato

Photography by Lisa Hardaway and Paul Hester

Q: Do you have a favorite? 

DK: “I love how it all came together, from the factory-like structures by Lake/Flato to the desert farmhouse by Rick Joy. Putting it all together was like a little adventure.”

Keaton will be signing books at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show on Thursday, October 25 from 1–3 p.m.

She’s coming to the event because of two men: Ray Azoulay, the owner of Obsolete gallery who has a booth at the show and helped create the entrance, and artist Ron Pippen. “The giagantic entrance is designed in conjunction with Andrew Skurman of San Francisco and it honors the upcoming America’s Cup,” Azoulay says of the 24-by-12-foot structure that features 120 model sailing vessels reimagined by Pippen. “The ships had been in the window of my store, where Diane Keaton [a friend and a client] saw them and became enamored. When I told her we were going to feature them at the show, she wanted to come, and I suggested she use it as a chance to talk about her new book.”


Photography by Jesse Stone


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