Dat Pham was born in Dalat, Vietnam, the garden capital of Southeast Asia. He studied Art History at UCLA and on trips to Europe, North Africa and Asia. He funded his studies and travel by gardening for Hollywood producers, actors, and screenwriters. We came to know of Dalat Landscape Design & Furnishings and Dat’s beautiful work after being intrigued by the unique pieces he had sourced from our site. Read on to learn about his zen-like, holistic process!
What is your background? How did you get into design? Have you always been aesthetically minded?
When I was a young boy in Vietnam my mom had a best friend who was an incredible woman. She was very spiritual and had an incredible Buddha alter with beautiful offerings. That is my earliest memory of something aesthetic that stuck with me. It was always a privilege to go with my mom there and take it all in. As a young gay boy it had a lasting impression. I never had proper training per se, but when I was growing up in Orange County, I would go the the Rizzoli bookstore after school. I would look through all kinds of art books and listen to opera. It was an immersion in beauty. Eventually, I went to UCLA and majored in Art History.
Your work is so meticulous, how do you achieve that without it seeming too precious or austere?
My education in Art informs everything I do. I do not like my work to be an imposition, rather, I like to take the context of where I am and who I am working with and base my work in that. It must always have a narrative and context.
If someone is working within a strict budget, where do you encourage them to spend and save?
I work with billionaires and people on a strict budget, and in both cases I encourage clients to save where they can. You can find beauty on a budget. Karl Lagerfeld for H&M is a great example. Ikea has great baskets. Things don’t have to be expensive, but they have to have soul and speak to you. I encourage my clients to spend on the one beautiful item that speaks to them.
What are your favorite resources for a splurge? For a steal?
Previously Owned by a Gay Man has become an addiction for me! It’s not about the deal…everyone loves a deal (and finding an amazing deal is better than sex!). I love the surprise element. I have found some amazing pieces that were completely unexpected. It is a beautiful surprise! Similarly, I love Accident & Artifact. Even the name is poetic — and they have great pieces with age and patina. They have stuff from all over and it is wonderful!
Do you tend to have tried-and-true favorites that find themselves into every job?
Every project is site-specific, but one thing I do love is old stone. It can look very modern and can also offer a feeling of history. In San Francisco, I do a lot of rooftop gardens and I often use light weight aluminum coated planters (I carry two lines of them). They never fail me.
What is your favorite recent project and what made it special?
I have been working on a project in Italy for 15 years. I can watch it grow and change and it is like watching my family grow up.
Is there a current trend that you love and think will endure?
I don’t really follow trends. I read the magazines and enjoy seeing what is happening, but I and my design are routed in history. Trends are wonderful because they are based in new ideas, and following them is a way to grow in different directions, but for gardens the element of time is essential.
What are your favorite pieces on Previously Owned by a Gay Man, and how would you use them in a project?
It would be so lovely to have this bust in a very contemporary garden with a yew hedge behind it trimmed into the shape of a niche.
I love shaped hornbeams and it would be musical to have two pruned as columns on either side of the niche. Since they go dormant and revive in the spring, you’d have a sense of season and a connection to his representation as a redeemer. I’d have it set high in the garden, in the east where the sun rises, since he represents the rising sun. Form alone can be pure and nice, but when you can add these other dimensions that aren’t apparent, it makes the place richer. I try to find some connection between artifacts, my clients’ interests, and context. Since he represents poetry, medicine, redemption, the sun, it would just be lovely to bring all those dimensions into play.
It’s been done a million times and a theme I love to come back to, but I can’t get tired of planting succulents in either a cast clam shell, or if one is available, a veritable squamosa tridacna clam shell. I was just in Montecito last week touring Lotusland, where the garden contains the most astonishing collection of giant clamshells. Mirrors are a great trick, another item I constantly use in tight spaces and covered areas… they bring light, expand the space, and, placed cleverly, create a trick of the eye, letting the viewer believe there are other rooms/gardens beyond the wall.
See more examples of Dat’s beautiful work at www.dalatlandscape.com.