Jim Franco photos
Designer Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan is as passionate about life as he is about wall color — probably more so. He is co-creator, with his brother Oliver, and CEO of ApartmentTherapy.com , one of Time magazine's "Best Blogs of 2010," a site that is read by 4.3 million people each month. His holistic design prescriptions include ways to amp up the energy flow of a room with a little rearranging, green cleaning supplies and deliciously healthy recipes to make at home. He's set to speak at LaDifférence on Nov. 11 to share both his practical advice and design philosophy and to sign copies of his new book, Apartment Therapy's Big Book of Small Cool Spaces.
R•Home: How did you develop your holistic approach to home improvement?
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan: I was a schoolteacher for seven years before I started Apartment Therapy. During that time, I visited children at home every year, and their homes were very, very different. The kids that came from "cared for" homes often did better in class. I wanted to help people make their home not just a pretty place but a healthy place, a comfortable place that supports them in everything they do. The goal of Apartment Therapy is to help people make their homes beautiful, organized and healthy.
R•Home: What prescription do you think most people could use?
Gillingham-Ryan: The key to a good home is one that's well used. This really means three things: cleaning it, cooking in it and, at some point, entertaining in it — having people home.
R•Home: You make the provocative observation that money is not nearly as critical to home/life improvement as the concept of "letting go." Why do you think we have such difficulty in editing?
Gillingham-Ryan: Because we have been taught to consume; we haven't been taught to edit. There is the caveman metaphor: When you live in a world of scarcity, the more you can drag home to your cave, the longer you'll live. When I talk to clients about considering letting something go, they say, "No, no, no. I might need it." What's behind those words is almost this feeling of "I might be in a position where I might really need it, I might die without it." Where some want to live so lightly because their lives are so full of work and stress, most of us find balance the other way around, by acquiring a lot of stuff.
R•Home: One of the most noteworthy projects you've worked on was your own 265-square-foot apartment for you, your wife and baby. What lessons did you take away from that experience?
Gillingham-Ryan: The biggest lesson about that space was that it wasn't the footprint that was dragging me down so much as the emotional energy of the space. Every time I renovated it, I didn't change the footprint at all, but it felt bigger and it felt fresh. I thought, "Boy, I've just given myself the new apartment I was looking for, and I didn't have to move." I realized a lot of people are moving, and they say it's for space, but it's actually for new energy. You only need more space when there are more people.
R•Home: In your most recent book, Apartment Therapy's Big Book of Small Cool Spaces, you expand the discussion from small homes to small rooms. How might a traditional homeowner be able to utilize your coaching?
Gillingham-Ryan: Even if you live in a suburban house, I think you want to make the most of your rooms. To give a larger house a freshness and a vitality can be a challenge. If you look at any of the rooms in the book, regardless of size, and apply the good things you might be drawn to [for] your home, they are easily translatable.
R•Home: Are there mistakes people make repeatedly?
Gillingham-Ryan: People often put their bed in the wrong place. Your bed should really put your head against a wall and your feet towards the door.
Another thing people do is they don't use enough lighting. I always recommend people have at least three light fixtures in each room, and that they turn them on. If anyone tells me their home feels small or doesn't feel inviting, I tell them to check their lighting.
The last thing I'll mention is that people hang their pictures too high. In general there's a 57-inch rule. The idea behind it is that pictures or paintings should have a relationship to your furnishings — and they don't have that if they're too far away from them.
R•Home: What should we be on the lookout for from you and Apartment Therapy?
Gillingham-Ryan: Boy, I wish I knew. We make it up all the time! The biggest thing we're working on right now is in January — we are going to relaunch our site with a whole new look and feel. Just like in a house, you need to clean up after a while. Our site has grown, and we need to clean it up. It's going to be stripped down, sharpened and refreshed. The same design approach I would bring to a home, we're bringing to our site.