Profile: Laura Bohn, Laura Bohn Design Associates

This model-turned-designer finds inspiration outside
By Sallie Moffat
March 17, 2010

With clients in countries all over the world, including Japan and Saudi Arabia, New York-based Laura Bohn, of interior design consulting firm Laura Bohn Design Associates, aims to create comfortable atmospheres in all of her projects using a well-edited approach. Often placing unexpected colors and shapes together to give rooms depth and richness, she’s all about encouraging her clients to take a chance and expand their vision. A graduate of Pratt Institute in New York City, Bohn has long played an active role in the design community. In addition to being a cofounder of The Designers Collaborative, a support group for designers, she is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the Decorators Club, serves as a visiting critic at local design schools and has taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute. Inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1998, Bohn has also received two Roscoe awards for her fabric and wallpaper designs, and her work has been featured on CNN, A&E and HGTV, as well as in numerous books and magazines.

If someone had asked you when you were a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” you would have answered…
As a child I would have answered that I wanted to be a model because I did that for 11 years of my life. I was a runway model. But as soon as I realized there was a profession called design—interior design as opposed to decoration—that’s all I wanted to do, so I went back to school when I was 32.

What learning experience has had the most impact on you?
Getting a degree from Pratt and then working for John Saladino, which was one of my first jobs. I got hired as a senior designer there when I had very little experience and that made a huge impact on me.

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?
That it’s not necessary.

What is your favorite color?
Green! Anybody who knows me knows it’s green. Chartreuse green is my most favorite color. Actually, all shades of green except forest and ivy, but mostly chartreuse.

What is the most intriguing aspect of your job?
Problem solving.

What do you hate about it?
Clients with limited vision—those who are unwilling to take a chance or can’t see it. You do something really wonderful and they don’t understand it.

Who do you consider to be the most inspirational architects?
Luis Barragán and Steven Holl.

What do you like to do in your spare time when not designing?
Well, I’m almost always designing one thing or another, but I’m a really passionate gardener and I’m very passionate about my animals. I have dogs and cats and we rescue racehorses. Outdoors I have five cats, but I have one cat that I take back and forth from the city to my farm in the country along with two dogs. I also have four racehorses and three little miniature horses that are only 29 in. high. I’ve had them for 10 or 15 years...they’re adorable. And then I have about five or six goats.

Do you derive any ideas from nature or other disciplines? Music? Theater? Literature?
A lot from gardening. I’m really inspired by gardens that are restrained and that have a real strong sense of design and not so many different plants. I use a lot of chartreuse plants, for instance, and I don’t do very many flowers—mostly leaves and patterns, which is the same thing I do in my interiors.

What are some of the proudest experiences in your career? Do you have any regrets?
I don’t have any regrets, but I would say being in the Hall of Fame is my proudest experience.

What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
To have a real dream client. I haven’t had one that was really open. I’ve had some great clients, but not one who was just really willing to take a lot of risk.

What is your favorite product?
My carpet steamer. Well, I have dogs and I steam my carpet all the time. It works like a top and it’s just amazing what comes out of that carpet! I love it, it’s just really satisfying to me.

Tell us about your favorite/ideal customer?
Someone who appreciates and has an eye for design, and who gives you a lot of trust.

What is the best thing that has happened to the design profession in the past five years?
I would say going green and using recycled materials.

How long is your typical workday?
Nine to five.

Do you have any professional pet peeves?
My pet peeves are clients that have no interest or vision for any detail and don’t value the need for drawings. The more drawings you have, the better the project.

What do you do to unwind?
I love to sew. I make a lot of hats. I make a lot of everything! I garden and then I have my dogs and I do dog shows.

When you walk into a room you didn’t design, what do you tend to notice first?
The circulation. Whether it works or not, if the furniture is in a place that makes sense, if it’s easy to move around...usually they could have rearranged it better. Most people push furniture up against the walls and it needs to breathe; it needs to come away from the walls. I usually notice that first and then I notice color and all kinds of other things after that.

What moment in your life inspired you to get into the business?
When I was 10 my parents built the house that I grew up in. My father was an engineer and he did all of his own drawings for the house. So I read and looked at those drawings and started to make changes to them. I moved my bedroom wall, a fireplace, a bunch of stuff, and my parents said, “Oh, that sounds like a good idea, let’s do that.” But the profession of designer didn’t really exist then. You could be an architect, but I wasn’t good at math, so I put it on the back burner for a long time.

People would be surprised to find out that you…?
That I’m really good with money!

What is your favorite place on earth?
My house in Pennsylvania because it’s fantastic. It’s just a beautiful piece of property and it’s very peaceful and it’s gorgeous.

What is your greatest strength as a designer?
I do really good plans. I love the planning part of it and the circulation.

What is your most annoying weakness as a designer?
I don’t know what that would be!

What’s the coolest thing you ever put in one of your projects?
Well, I love painting blackboard in spaces. We have one in my office that’s 10 ft. sq. I paint those blackboards in a lot of projects. I put them on the kitchen wall, in the hallway, over a bed...I love blackboard paint! It’s useful and comes in a lot of colors if you don’t want black.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current profession?
I’d be a landscaper.

Do you have a signature style? Personal design philosophy?
We do very modern interiors, but they are very comfortable and soft. They’re soft modern, not cold and not hard, but very livable and practical. They’re child friendly and dog friendly.

What’s the one thing that keeps you up at night?
Worrying about the business. Thinking about details I haven’t solved or haven’t thought of. I solve a lot of problems when I sleep.

What “words of wisdom” can/do you share with others?
I’d say that planning is a really big one. That it really is important to plan it right down to the last detail from the very first minute. People think, oh, you throw in a rug, you buy a lamp. I even have a client who says, “What’s the big deal? You put two lamps and a bedside table and a rug...” That’s a huge misconception—all of it takes a huge amount of thought and planning and experience.

What are some issues that you’re passionate about?
I’m passionate about everything...about details and how materials go together.

What has been the best development/innovation in the past five years?
All the new materials! Materials have gotten so interesting, and now that they’re made up of mostly recycled content, everything from coke bottles to inner tubes to tires to leftover mirrors to glass—all those things that normally would be waste or in a landfill are now being used to make extraordinary materials. And they are durable and they are cheap a lot of the time. Some of them are more expensive, but a whole lot of them are inexpensive.

What was your most difficult design challenge? How did you resolve it?
The bank building on 14th and 8th Avenue in New York City that my husband and I did together. He’s a builder/developer. It was a classical 1907 bank that we converted into 11 units without touching the exterior of the building at all. So that was very very difficult design-wise, construction-wise, landmark-wise...very difficult! We just kept at it, It took about a year and half to do, just dealing with every kind of bureaucracy you can imagine. From the color of the limestone on the outside to water blasting, it was just a thousand things. Just really complicated. To the environment, to the scaffolding in the neighborhood, to the people that had businesses on either side, to lawsuits about their having no business because of it...just a thousand things.

If you could change one thing about your last project, what would it be?
The architect. He was into a very traditional exterior for a fairly modern client and they didn’t really see it, so it’s a shame.

Who are your role models?
My mom. A fabulous role model.
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