The Design Therapist Is Here to Help

June 15, 2011 by

Apartment Therapy’s Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan speaking at ABC Home in New York City.

“Home is a path, not a place” was the mantra at Apartment Therapy’s recent Design Evening in New York. “Home is something you do, not something you buy,” explained Apartment Therapy’s Founder, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, who spoke passionately about the how rather than the what of design: how design influences and impacts our lives as “it’s about how you use things, how you grow with things.”

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The Apartment Therapist
Apartment Therapy, one of the world’s most successful design blogs with more than 4.3 million readers, was launched in December 2001–eleven days before the twin towers fell. Gillingham-Ryan watched with his girlfriend as the towers crumbled. After the the tragic event, said Gillingham-Ryan, people had their “day of reckoning” and everyone went home. In reaction to 911, people were inspired of take care of the nest. As a result, Gillingham-Ryan, who at the time assisted apartment dwellers in designing interiors on a shoestring budget, got lots of press as the apartment therapist.

To Be of Service
“The mission of Apartment Therapy from the start,” the proclaimed design therapist explained, “was to help people make their homes better, to connect people with problems to those with solutions.” Apartment Therapy does’t aim to tell people what to do, but asks them what they are doing. “We are like hosts at the party,” said Gillingham-Ryan.

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Home is Not a Static Place
Styles have changed, contends Apartment Therapy’s founder, but the basics have not changed. One of Apartment Therapy’s guiding tenets is that home is not a static place; that nothing is never fixed. We get rid of stuff, we get other stuff, but do not stop changing our homes. Gillingham-Ryan noted that our lives do not stop changing and that every seven years in the natural life cycle our lives experience some sort of major shift. “It’s all lined up with powerful life transitions,” he said, commenting that as one’s life changes, one’s home should evolve with them. “A client once said, ‘I am going to put tape on the floor and not move things till you come back!’ I said, no, please don’t do that…!” The home, believes Gillingham-Ryan, should be a living environment, the place where we evolve the most, the place where we can safely express ourselves–not a static place designed by someone else.

Small Cool Spaces
In his new book, The Big Book of Small Cool Spaces, Gillingham-Ryan demonstrates through real people’s homes how “size constraints can actually unlock your design creativity and allow you to focus on what’s essential.” The book offers a peek into forty small, cool spaces with inventive solutions for optimizing space–such as shifting the sense of scale through contrasting colors–and for making the home more comfortable.


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“Having a warm home that looks good and that you and your family and friends enjoy must be one of the most worthwhile things in life; and to help you achieve it is the object of this book.”
Terence Conran, The House Book, 1974

Design is the New Food
Much of  Gillingham-Ryan’s inspiration comes from Sir Terance Conran: designer, restaurateur and founder in the 1960s of the home design furnishing chain Habitat, now The Conran Shop with a New York City outpost at ABC Home. Conran was one the first to bring intelligent, modern design within reach of the masses, and is a great supporter of design education. Gillingham-Ryan explained that just as our knowledge of food has come a long way over the years, so has our knowledge and awareness of design. “People want to know about the designers, where the design comes from, who makes it, how it makes up their home. They want to know, like they do about food, the story of where things come from. When you talk about home, you need to talk about the food, and food paired with design. We entertain at home, and when we entertain, we eat.”

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Design and home is lifestyle, it’s not just about having a design eye and loving objects. It’s how you use them and how you live with them, how you design your life.

  • Perfectly expressed!

  • I love the hyacinth bulbs!! I have lots of those in my front garden, but planted the typical way with the bulbs buried in the soil. What a creative alternative youâ??ve shown in your photograph. Awesome 🙂

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