We met Ryan Lawson through our current pop-up at Brika, Bentonville. At first glance, we knew someone special was behind this retail transformation. And we were right, in fact, Ryan's design work mirrors a large part of his personality; warm, eccentric, captivating, witty, and smart are the words to describe this talented interior designer in our eyes.
Ryan's interior design firm, Ryan Lawson Design, started in New York and remains in the city today, "I moved to New York after college, worked for another interior design firm for a little over a year, and then I took the leap and started my own firm when I was twenty-four. I had one client who wanted to hire me to design a house down in Kentucky. And, a second client asked me to decorate her apartment in New York. Luckily, that turned into three projects, then four. And, it has slowly grown from there."
We very much enjoyed this interview and are lucky enough to be part of this project to say the least. Hope you enjoy this post, here's Ryan's interview.
How would you describe your design approach?
"This is a big question."
"What I love most about the projects I get to work on is how varied they are - houses, apartments, stores, offices, etc. I don’t ever get bored. And, in addition to that, there are so many specifics that have to be taken into consideration with each project - the site, the space itself, the historical context, and of course the clients themselves and what they like, how they plan to use the space, and what they can and can’t afford to do.
With all of that, it’s impossible for me to create the same space twice; each one is truly tailor made.
That said, I think there are some threads that tie things together - however loosely - in all my work.
I think it’s always important to establish a narrative; it helps give me and my clients something to reference as the design develops and prevents things from getting off track. Does this tile match our objectives? Is this coffee table telling the same story as the sofa and the rug? Is the fence compatible with the siding and shutters?
There are always historical references. That takes many forms - things passed down from generation to generation, things collected over time and on travels, the sort of patterns of living that emerge over time in a space, the process of learning about the history of design and its relevance to the decisions we make today.
I am a big believer in encouraging my clients to buy the highest quality materials and products that they can. Something that is well made can last a lifetime. Buy it once and love it forever. I always push that concept.
I think the most important thing I can do, though, is to create spaces that foster good living. Comfortable sofas. Good warm lighting. A place to sit your martini. Good music. Good scents. The right size bathtub. Logically placed light switches. Windows that celebrate the light. Shades that block the glare. A spot for the toys. A spot for the dog bowls. A place to keep the scissors. The perfect fruit bowl. They all matter."
What are your go-to design pieces this season?
"I try not to pay too much attention to trending ideas or items because, by definition, those same things won’t be trending in a few seasons. I always hope that my work is relevant, looks fresh, and works well for a long time to come.
If I get all the elements that I mentioned above correct, the stage is set for that to happen. The trendiest shapes and color schemes don’t matter as much.
All that said, there are things in the zeitgeist that influence me, for sure. I read magazines and look at Instagram just like everyone else."
Right now, on the pin-up board in my office, there are lots of good references -
- Paintings by Ron Gorchov
- Houses by Hugh Newell Jacobsen and Harrie Lindeberg
- A Modernist Chapel by Fay Jones
- Upholstery fabric samples from the 1980s by Jack Lenor Larsen
- Art Nouveau lampshades
- Jute tassel fringe samples
- Pierre Chareau sofas
- Photographs by Saul Leiter and Alec Soth
- Villa Mabrouka by Jacques Grange
What do you love the most about living in NYC?
Your favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon in NYC?
"I live close to Washington Square Park. The people watching there is absolutely the best in the City. I love people watching."
You've recently designed a turnkey pop-up retail space for Brika in Bentonville, Arkansas, that Sömn is part of as a vendor, we adore this space and were wondering if you could tell us a little bit about how you transformed the space (so successfully) from a former bank into an inviting retail setup?
"Thank you so much for the nice words about that project!
It was a special one for me for several reasons. Firstly the space itself is incredible. So, I thought a lot about not screwing it up. Secondly, I am originally from Arkansas, and this was my first big project there; it had to be spot on.
The Brika team and I paid a lot of attention to the vibe of the town and to feedback from people there about what kind of products and retail experience they needed.
I wanted the store to feel welcoming and at the same time new and exciting. Familiar but also transportive. I wanted to bring the sensibilities of my residential work to the space to give people a sense of how they might live or aspire to live with these particular products.
I also wanted the things I brought into the space to be as elevated and sophisticated as the space itself. So, I looked to some great designers of the past for the fixtures I had made. And, I brought a lot of things that are rich in color, texture and material.
My mom came to visit the store, and she told me it felt like I had brought together the edge of New York City and the comfort of Arkansas.
But, she may be biased."
We love the fact that you sourced locally and sustainably for the Brika shop design, is this something that you try to incorporate in most of your projects?
"In general, I think it’s smart practice both environmentally and economically. If materials and products don’t have to travel too far and can accomplish the same design objectives, what could be the downside?
The people I worked with in the Bentonville area were super enthusiastic, super smart, talented craftspeople. They did excellent work for me.
There are great people and great products in every place I work. I think one of the biggest joys of my job is finding them."
It is obvious that you have an eye for vintage pieces, can you share your tips on how to incorporate one-off pieces into a home seamlessly?
"I'm glad you noticed that.
I am a bit of a compulsive collector myself - always on the lookout for interesting and inspiring and quirky things from the past.
That probably shows up in all my work.
There are so many reasons to shop for vintage and antique things. One of the most obvious reasons touches on your previous question. Vintage things are inherently more sustainable because they already exist. You find them. You use them as they are. You refinish them. Reupholster them. Give them love.
And, they give a touch of magic back to you.
Every house - and in this case Brika - has more of a story and more nuance with a hefty dose of vintage things."
What is your advice on choosing a good set of bedding?
"Firstly, I go for comfort. I sleep hot, so linen is a great choice for me. And, I love that linen gets softer with every wash.
And from an aesthetic point of view it’s really dependent on the space around you. Personally, I almost always choose darker sheets over lighter ones - I think people look better in darker colors."
What do you love about Sömn bedding and why?
"I love all the colors of Sömn linen! And that subtle woven texture adds a visual layer to any bedroom that strict, crisp cotton just doesn’t give."
One random interesting fact that we don't know about you?
"If I weren’t an interior designer, I would want to be a florist!!! I love fresh flowers."
Ryan Lawson Design - Top image of Brika Bentonville Retail Store - Photo by Rett Peek. Bottom image of Minnesota Lake House - Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson