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Credit: David Lewis Taylor
Class of 2020

Class of 2020: How Lora Appleton Is Reimagining the World of Children’s Design

published Oct 31, 2019
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Who: Lora Appleton, founder of Kinder Modern design gallery
Nominated by: Jaime Derringer, artist and founder of Design Milk
Where to follow her: Instagram

Apartment Therapy’s Class of 2020 Design Changemakers is a specially-selected group of the 20 people in the design world everyone should know about by next year. We asked experts (and you!) to tell us who they think should be included—see the rest of the nominees here.

Why Lora is part of the Class of 2020: “Lora Appleton, founder of kinder MODERN and the Female Design Council. Not only does she run an amazing design brand and gallery, but with FDC, she’s bringing females in the design industry together to have conversations, connect and also to raise awareness that there is still a lot of work to be done to bring female designers, architects and creatives to the forefront. Through kinder MODERN, she shines a light on the undervalued—and often ignored—area of modern kid’s furnishings and decor. She’s out there doing the hard work, and should be recognized for all that she’s doing.” —Jaime Derringer, artist and founder of Design Milk

Credit: Alexandra Rowley

Lora Appleton has loved all things design since she was a kid wandering the halls of her grandmother’s home, which was filled with antiques and retro finds. It’s fitting, then, that she wound up carving out a space for her unique perspective and eye within the realm of children’s design. And she has parenthood to thank for that. “Being a parent has made me realize you need but a quarter of the things you’re recommended to buy when you’re a parent,” she says. “Materials have been a very big driving factor in my parenting. I’ve watched it really inspire and engage my son in so many ways.” 

Enter kinder MODERN, Appleton’s answer to what she considers a dearth of imaginative children’s design currently on the market. Part gallery, part design firm, kinder has made major waves for its thoughtful, sustainably-minded approach to making kids’ spaces functional, yet aesthetically pleasing. Of course, it helps that Appleton has a wealth of firsthand experience—her two-bedroom Tribeca apartment is where she frequently experiments with different looks and staging, depending on her family’s needs and priorities. “You’re living with a child and there might be all this space in the house,” she explains. “How do we use design between us and for us to facilitate modern living? I’m really into that.” We sat down with the gallery owner and designer to talk about the homogenization of the design world, her collaboration with Design Within Reach, and the legacy she hopes to leave.

Credit: Clemens Kois

Apartment Therapy: What do you remember as being design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?

Lora Appleton: My biggest design inspiration was my grandmother. She was a sculptor and painter. We made art and sculpted every day. She was an incredible collector. Her home was filled with original vintage works from the forties and fifties. That laid the groundwork of inspiration for me. Then I started going to vintage markets and estate sales. I was into home design magazines. Even as a small child, I used to create dollhouse rooms. I made every little thing in the home, all the way down to rearranging the furniture constantly.

I’m mostly inspired by bravery. People that take risks in their life and in their creative life are my biggest inspiration. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michèle Lamy, Christine Blasey Ford—so many people standing up for what they believe in. Kara Walker. She’s incredible. I think about her work a lot. Simone Leigh. She’s a sculptor and artist that also does incredible work. Judy Chicago—she’s a big inspiration for me. 

Credit: Christian Torres

AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2019 so far? (and why?)

LA: I loved the collaboration I did with Design Within Reach. It was so much fun to design a couple of rooms for their New York City flagship apartments. It was great for me to get to show my lens and the kinder MODERN lens on the design of a classic brand. It’s like nothing else we’ve seen from Design Within Reach. That was exciting to see how my take works with that brand. I mean they’re iconic!

AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?

LA: My Kinder ground rug collection. I pushed into an area that hadn’t been done before: luxury modular. Like most things I work on, I’m looking at how to push through the obvious to discover something innovative and unique. In that case, it worked. I don’t like to be repetitive in creating things. I’m constantly pushing myself in how far things can be interesting and used differently.

AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?

LA: Bold, colorful. I said eclectic originally, but I’m not sure that’s the right word. I’m always a little off the cuff and outside the norm, but not so avant-garde.

AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?

LA: Color, art, and order. I’m a sentimentalist to the core. I can pretty much tell you—every single thing down to teeny little toys in my son’s room—where they’ve come from. I have a real historical connection to things. And as a Cancer, we love our home. I’m definitely no exception. I like keeping order in the house. I have a lot of things, so I like to call it classic minimalism. There are a lot of ways your eye bounces around the space, but it does that because there’s order in some of the chaos. That makes me feel relaxed. When I come home—and it’s ordered and quiet—it helps my mind rest. Otherwise, I’m thinking about all the things I need to do and fix. That takes away from my creativity.

AT: Any big plans for 2020 or beyond you can share with us?

LA: More design and collections for kinder MODERN, as well as our own design and made in-house collection. Also a lot more growth with the Female Design Council, more curatorial effort connecting other women’s organizations together. More expansions into technology. We’ll be launching the Female Design Council app, and strengthening our ability to activate with the presidential election coming up. Now we have quite a bit of power behind us that we can engage.

AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2020?

LA: Technology. Homogenization. Consistent. There’s a monotony happening. There’s a reduction of interesting ideas that are getting boiled down to a lot of sameness. Technology is helping that. I don’t think that’s positive. It actually homogenizes the world in which we live. We want to be more dynamic, more shifting innovation and individuality. At least that’s what I’m trying to do.

AT: What legacy do you hope to leave?

LA: Helping people realize you can do anything you put your mind to. With support, everyone can achieve. It’s a lot of what makes people held back, right? They don’t come from money or resources, the best education, or a good and strong supportive family. All those things can work against you. But when someone else reaches out to you and extends that effort, it can lift you up in a way that’s so powerful. I hope to continue to do that.