Ten Things You Need to Know about Apartment Therapy

Part 2 - Your Home is a Path, Not a Place

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Detail of Michelle McCormick's ever changing home from The Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces

With all of my talk about Terence Conran’s impact on home design, I hope you can begin to see that it’s the activity of “home design” or even “home making” that is of the greatest importance, not simply arranging stuff in it. Arranging stuff is what I call “decorating.”

Stuff comes and goes, as do styles, but the creation of home is something that we develop over time. Those skills stay with us. Which is to say that your home is a path, not a place. It’s something that you do with aspiration, it's an activity that never stops. It will help you learn, grow and change over the course of your life.

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It doesn’t matter whether you rent, have roommates, or don’t plan on staying long; you want to commit to the space you live in early and often. I’ve worked with people who have put off furnishing or “finishing” their homes for all of these reasons, and I always tell them what I’ve seen…

a. Everyone ends up staying longer than they expect.
b. Postponing making your home, like postponing joy, is a missed opportunity.

You can make your home in any place that you inhabit and take it with you when you leave. I’ve made my home in a decommissioned dormitory closet in college (the only single available to sophomores), in a tent while travelling by bicycle around the world for a year, and in a one and a half bedroom rental apartment in the West Village for the past three years with my wife and our four-year-old daughter. While we’d love to buy an apartment in the city, it hasn’t stopped us from building our home together, which is far more important and gratifying.

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Our living room in our current home.

When I started Apartment Therapy in 2001, I was living in my previous apartment, a tiny, 250 square foot rental on the same block. This amazing home took good care of three of us when Ursula was born, was renovated twice (with my landlord’s permission!), and was the place where Apartment Therapy got its name, or, rather, its second name.

Apartment Therapy's first name was Retreat & Co., a nod to Tibor Kalman’s 1980s/1990s design firm, M & Co. I thought was a very witty name for a young interior design company. I had letterhead and business cards already made, but at dinner with friends one night at home I talked about the idea for my new company, and one of them called me an “apartment therapist” and suggested that that was a far better name for the company. My pitch was far too touchy-feely to be considered regular interior design, they said, and since my father was a psychiatrist it only made sense.

I resisted the new name, but it stuck and then became etched in stone when Dany Levy wrote me up on Daily Candy, calling me The Apartment Therapist, “one part interior designer, one part life coach.”

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Karl Lagerfeld's home library photographed by Todd Selby

Now, after a number of years, I’ve come to realize that the therapy part is very real, and what makes what we do so much more interesting. Instead of becoming an interior design company, Apartment Therapy has become a lifestyle community for a new generation where ideas, inspiration, resources and support are all intertwined and no one style or approach is championed over any other.

As Michael Cannell wrote in The New York Times last week, Apartment Therapy has become "the populist hub of the emergent do-it-yourselfers," which is perfect, and a far more interesting challenge in the long run.

Previous:

1. I *Heart* Terence Conran

Next:

3. We are all looking for our own path.

Good Links

>> Tibor Kalman via Wikipedia
>> Design Well Within Reach by Michael Cannell via NYTimes

(Images: Top two images from The Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces, and bottom Karl Lagerfeld's home by Todd Selby )

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.

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