A Conversation With Architect David Tate

By Phillip William Sheppard

At times we are fortunate to have the opportunity to excel at a particular profession, and hopefully do it exceptionally well; however, there are those rare individuals who are truly gifted beyond the exceptional and have talents that are bestowed upon them from the creative force of life.

I met just such a person in architect David Tate. I visited the spectacular home he designed high in the hills of Bel Air, California, and spoke to him about how is it that some architects go to school to learn certain techniques that guides them to realize their unique vision, while developing technical, theoretical and communicative skills which empower them to build intelligent places and beautiful things that improve neighborhoods and communities.

However, in his case, he did not attend any special school, yet has mastered the process of creating structural masterpieces both exteriors and interiors, while incorporating every conceivable aspect of the viewer’s potential experience.

His idea is that “design should be completely organic” with the external environment and achieve an aesthetically beautiful internal environment that will magically capture his artistic intent that the viewer feels naturally at “home”

How does he do this, and who is David Tate?


David greats me at the bottom of his drive way. The magnificent home he has designed sits on a plateau that gives a panoramic view of the mighty Santa Monica Mountains.

He offers a warm handshake, and a broad smile that puts me at ease instantly.  As I sat down at the center table in his enormous state of the art kitchen, to grab a bite to eat and the water he offers me, I was able to partial read a document he prepared for our meeting.

David Tate, was once a leading advertising producer, with his own production company, and was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes Advertising Film Festival, an achievement only gained by 40 companies at the time, and subsequently recognized as the eighth best producer in the world, in a 30-year career in the marketing and advertising industries.

His array of producing credits has controlled spending of over a billion dollars. He’s the guy that you couldn’t escape, the guy who helped create all those television commercials you have been watching most your life, no matter how old, what race, or level of education you are.

David quickly explained to me that he has no formal training as an architect, but growing up in Europe afforded him a unique perspective that he embraced all his life, and that which he incorporated in every aspect of his work whether he is developing a commercial production, or designing the interiors of houses. For him, it’s all about  “A Considered View.”

Phillip: David tell me what you feel is the most important aspect you strive to achieve creatively?

David: I think the two most important issues in architecture and design are spatial relationship and flow. While choice of style and materials is subjective, it all works better if the volumes are balanced and organically connected.

Phillip: As we walk through your home, I am keenly aware of your use of highly creative functional areas that preserves large open spaces for a sustained view of the outside environment, and yet creates a calming almost Buddhist peace of “enlightenment.” Is that one of your goals with use or nonuse of space?

David: Spatial Relationship is fundamental to me.

Whether it’s the placement of a chair in a corner, the position of a window set into a wall, the orientation of a building in the land it occupies, if the spatial relationship is right there is a harmony to behold. And it is this harmony that leads one to feel at peace and in comfort in the environment.

Phillip: It’s truly amazing what you have achieved here. How did this project come together and how did you creatively decide to build this home? What was here first?

David:  When I bought this property there was a home here and I was thinking it could be expanded and improvements made so I began to work on ideas. But the more I looked at designs I knew we had to start from scratch.  With that realization, I started with a blank slate and with a specific intent in mind. I was able to incorporate every desired aspect in the architectural design.

Phillip: Is there a preset object about what you want people to see when they enter a project you have created?. Is there a singular object, a particular point of view?

David: I start every project from identifying the unique views. This can be a view through a window, doorway, entrance hall, from a terrace, out to the environment beyond the control of the architect. The external landscape, if you will. Or it can be an internal view, a controlled view, interior or exterior, but under the control of the architect.

There should be many unique views in a project. In fact, each place - room, hallway, kitchen, terrace, garden, should have a number. What this does is to provide destinations in each area, places to go to from which to observe those views. You could be seated, standing, or even lying down, but in each case, on arrival you understand why you want to be there: the unique view.


Phillip: So these ‘unique views’ as you call them are themselves designed.

David: Exactly, organically designed, if you can say that. But it is much more than the term implies. While what you see will be worthwhile, because spatial relationship has been employed in placing you in that position, what you feel is even more important, and it is that harmony that surrounds and holds you and your impression of the view. So it becomes not just what you see when you arrive in this place, but what being there engages in your imagination.

Phillip: What is it about your work that allows you to achieve this in every aspect of this home, where did all this detail and beauty come from. It all seems so elusive to me?

David: This elusive aptitude, the Imagination, is the key to a successful client/architect relationship. Just like a painting, or a piece of music, architecture has the ability to engage, and we are all best engaged when we feel our own senses are adding to the piece. So I believe an integral part of architecture is divining the Imagination of the client. Having established a series of ‘unique views’, employed by spatial relationship and founded in imagination, the next task is linking them together.

As we venture upstairs, David shows me another “unique view” that allows me to see completely through the house from room to room. Large windows allows light to pass through each room, and as David walks through each room I stand and notice as he passes each window he looks back at me, it creates a unique experience for as the viewer I am not moving.  Quite remarkable indeed!


Phillip: What made you do that, as I had never seen windows internal to a house that give such a perspective.

David: I first do this by ensuring the major ‘unique views’ will be at the extremities of the project. I want the participants to enjoy the whole project, the whole scope of it, so I want them to traverse from place to place, from view to view, as they occupy the space. For me too much store is put into convenience of placement, and while that economy of movement some see as the ultimate goal, I believe pushing the destination points to the edges provides a living drama, a kaleidoscope of impressions/imaginations that you have the opportunity to encounter every time you traverse.

And the day moves through the space as you do, as natural light plays with artificial light, you can expect each trip to be different, so you see and feel and participate in new experiences.

Creating flow in this way imbues the project with a sense of right. Its not order exactly, but the flow appears as a natural path, or paths, and you have a feeling of everything being in place, and in its place. This tranquility draws you forward gently, and like a river you feel the flow, organically.


I conclude our interview with a moment of silence looking and walking around the entire property outside, and reflecting on what I just experienced; something magical, a work of art created by a truly great man who loves designing things the way his clients want them, while insuring beauty and mother nature is greatly satisfied.

Photo Credits: Phillip William Sheppard

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