Friend, interior designer and self-proclaimed lifelong scavenger Cliff Fong emboldens people to lean into their eccentricities.
Cliff took a fortuitous detour in fashion to arrive at his present vocation. And as if by design, his early art history studies led him to further explore cultural influences in the decorative arts, ultimately prompting him to focus on curating unique – and deeply personal – objects for both his clients and his own home. We had the pleasure of seeing him along with the three dogs in his perennial orbit – two large and one petite – in his Los Angeles home and exchanged stories on discovering one’s purpose and tapping into creativity.
I would say that most of my inspiration comes from nature.
For me, there’s architecture in the structure of plants and flowers. There’s obviously wonderful patterning in flora and fauna. There’s also a natural progression to things in nature that I find very easy to compare to other processes including design and architecture. I think about every process that I’m involved in as an organic one, so whatever feels natural, or rather, in line with whatever our natural laws are, it all just kind of makes sense to me.
Today, I think you can be influenced by something without really, truly understanding its origins. Maybe its true meaning was through science and nature, your study of the natural world, our architecture, ancient cultures. I like the idea that whatever I come to, I come to organically, not because I’ve been influenced externally by another. I’m going to stay close to what it is that I feel is a pure, creative approach to things. I like the idea that it just comes from my experiences, and not necessarily something I might have seen recently in a magazine or a social media. I also think that I just never want to interpret something directly and I certainly wouldn’t want to plagiarize someone’s work or aesthetic. I like the idea that I am hopefully creating something fresh to me or fresh for a client every single time. And then, I don’t have to worry about those other questions in my head. About the validity, my own creativity or the perspective from which I come from.
I like the idea that whatever I come to, I come to organically, not because I've been influenced externally by another.
Creativity is an unlimited renewable resource.
I feel like one of the points that I would like to try to drive home is to help people find their creativity because it really does change lives. And it can also change perspectives completely. Whether it’s about supporting young, creative work like an artist or a designer or furniture maker, or just helping somebody find a way that they can enjoy being creative and have that outlet, or possibly letting it help expand their world into a different career. I think everybody has the potential to be creative, whether they base their careers on creative work or not is something else. I don’t think anyone gets good at what they do without thinking about things in some sort of creative way.
If a glass is always full, there’s no room for anything else.
In a city or in a world where you have really successful people with a lot of money, I think a lot of them go through their day thinking that they’re a nice, big, full glass all the time. I think one of the things I feel very proud of is that it’s never my personal creative agenda that I’m trying to manifest with a client.
I think what we're missing is that sense of discovery, or that experiential kind of shopping that helps inform your environment in a more cultivated or articulate way and having a chance to physically interact with it.
I think I’m a scavenger at heart.
With furnishings, I don’t always like the idea that you can just click a couple buttons, and it’s going to be there the next day. It’s good that you can return it for the most part, but I think what we’re missing is that sense of discovery, or that experiential kind of shopping that helps inform your environment in a more cultivated or articulate way and having a chance to physically interact with it. If I think about what I like in terms of experience, I think I’m a scavenger at heart. In some ways, that’s probably why I have the career that I have because it helps facilitate a certain interest or even an obsession with something.I think the idea of traveling and exploring and choosing things that speak to you and bring them to your home, that’s the thing that makes and helps make the environment a little more special.
In a city like Los Angeles, people like their bubbles, right? They have friends, they have their industry bubbles. A lot of people that I work with build homes where they feel like they never have to leave them. I think it’s nice to be able to do that. But I don’t think we should shut ourselves down completely to the rest of what’s out there in the world, especially as creative people, because then we suffer from our own personal brand of entropy.
My home is pretty eccentric.
If you have a beautiful home, wonderful things happen externally and internally around your home. I find that I tend to geek out on a lot of things. And I think the way I live is an expression of me. I’ve weighed too much on the walls, there’s a lot of art, there’s a lot of visual information, I have way too many fish in my pond, I’ve got way too many orchids, I’ve got three dogs, there’s a lot of stuff here I need to be aware of, and I love all of these things. But, sometimes I feel like I’m a victim of my own interests because I can’t just hint at something, I have to kind of go all the way in. But then I often think, ‘well, where would we be if we didn’t have eccentrics out there in the world?!’ I think that’s a necessary thing, but I definitely encourage people to explore their quirks and their eccentricities and let them play out a bit in the home. Taking things out of a predictable aesthetic, turn them on their side and create something that is fresh or unique and personal for you.
I sit in this chair every day.
This chair was one of the first things that I ever bought, before I thought about furniture as an investment and before I started getting interested in design and started buying design. This is a great piece because of its function. A lot of utility. A lot of Jean Prouve’s designs, like these chairs, were made for institutional purposes – for schools and universities. I think one important thing about vintage or about the found item is that you can see that it’s had some history; it has a different kind of personality or character than the new thing. I don’t think I’d ever sell it because I don’t think I’d ever need to. It’ll always have some place here; it’s just a little chair. Not only is it one of my favorite things, just as a sculptural piece, for what it represents – historically to design and I still just really sentimentally love it.
I definitely encourage people to explore their quirks and their eccentricities and let them play out a bit in the home. Taking things out of a predictable aesthetic, turn them on their side and create something that is fresh or unique and personal for you.
I have a big thing for studio pottery.
I liked shopping for vintage T-shirts, and now I do it for pieces of furniture and pottery. When I started buying ceramic pots 25 years ago, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than the act of acquisition. Now, I think about it a little differently.
There are so few things in this world that have any kind of evidence of human interactions and handmade things like that. So I think that’s one of the reasons I always like pottery. I much prefer something that feels earthy or organic. And then in terms of price point, it’s accessible. What got me into loving pottery is the purity of the form and how sculptural they were. And then when I started going to flea markets and shopping for pottery here in Los Angeles, I discovered the work of David Cressey, which is basically almost every single piece of pottery here [in my garden].
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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