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Credit: Christopher Dibble
Class of 2020

Class of 2020: How Max Humphrey Transitioned From Punk Rock Musician to Design-Savvy Decorator

published Oct 17, 2019
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Who: Max Humphrey, a Portland based interior designer
Nominated by: Emily Henderson, designer, stylist, and New York Times bestselling author of “STYLED
Where to follow him: 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 Max is part of the Class of 2020: “Max has been in the design world for longer than I have, but only recently started his own firm and frankly cares more about his work than his following so he’s been flying under the radar. I met him years ago at a design conference where we hit it off, exchanged numbers and I proceeded to text him ALL THE TIME with questions like, ‘Uh, how do you bill clients for travel time?’ Or ‘how do you bill your assistants shopping time?’. He was so generous with what was historically really annoying secretive information. His work is whimsical and utterly delightful. I recommended him to my best friends in Portland to design their house and they couldn’t be happier and are on their second project with him that we will be documenting and revealing on the blog. His work is just fun, thoughtful and so personal and he’s generally a great guy to be around.” —Emily Henderson, designer, stylist, and New York Times bestselling author of “STYLED

Credit: Christopher Dibble

A knack for design fell into Max Humphrey’s orbit completely unexpectedly. After film school, a stint in TV production, and a successful touring gig with his former punk rock band (yep), he eventually found himself in need of a career change—and a permanent residence after living on the road.

The New Hampshire native rented a spot in L.A. to figure out his next move, but found inspiration much closer to home… literally. “I was decorating my apartment because I had just spent all this time without my own personal space,” Max explains. “Then months in, it all sort of clicked that the one thing I was doing in my spare time was making me most excited. That’s when I started to figure out how to make a career out of it because I had no idea what interior design was.”

Credit: Christopher Dibble

Oh, but he learned—and quickly. After spending a decade cutting his teeth at a local design firm and teaching himself the industry know-hows, Max migrated to Portland in 2016 for his latest and greatest endeavor—opening his own eponymous interior design business. “That’s what’s great about the industry right now is that anybody can do it,” says the self-made decorating aficionado. “You don’t need formal training or a ton of technical abilities, as long as you’ve got attitude.”

Which, speaking of, Max’s portfolio hardly lacks in the spunk department. Pops of color (read: no all-white kitchens), punchy patterns, and a little dose of humor all encompass his modern cosmic Americana style—because, as he explains, design should never be taken too seriously. We sat down with the former bass player to chat upcoming trends (hint: farewell, minimalism), inspirations, and a few exciting new projects worth checking out.

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

Max Humphrey: Growing up, I did have inspiration, actually, but I wouldn’t have known it at the time. My parents were preppies—we had matching plaid sofas in our living room—which is a style I rejected as a young adult. Maybe it was a reason why I got into punk rock because that was as far away from being preppy as I could get. But I’ve come to embrace it now. It’s in my blood. There’s an aesthetic link between the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast with all the plaids and buffalo checks and outdoorsy textures. As an inspiration, I’ve come full circle.

“Basically, anything Marie Kondo says, I do the opposite to feel at home.”

Max Humphrey

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

MH: I’ve been designing a house in Bend, Oregon and it’s all Pendleton’d out. I’m even tiling the bathrooms so they look like Pendleton blankets. It’s uniquely Pacific Northwestern.

Credit: Christopher Dibble

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?

MH: I’m renovating my own house, which is fulfilling and something I encourage anybody to do—sweat equity, you know. I’ve been planking the walls and ceilings in wood so there’s no visible drywall left and custom designing all the furniture and built-ins with a local builder buddy. It’s indicative of who I am because I’m doing a lot of the work myself (DIY!), which is making me appreciate the whole process even more on the jobs where I just get to spec everything and walk away.

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

MH: Cowboy high-style.

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

MH: I’m a collector and vintage shopper, so my house is full of finds from all the different antique malls and estate sales and junk stores I come across. Basically, anything Marie Kondo says, I do the opposite to feel at home.

Credit: Christopher Dibble

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

MH: I just designed a collection of made-in-the-USA wool rugs, so I’m excited to get those out into the world. I’m working on a wallpaper line next. I have a few commercial projects I’m working on that will be fun to see take shape, like a food truck for my favorite local restaurant chain, and a hard cider tasting room in a converted barn for an apple farm. On the residential side, I’m working on a house right on the ocean in coastal Oregon, which is going to be more of a beach cabin with rustic pine walls and cedar ceilings—none of that navy and white nautical stuff.

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

MH: More is more. I read somewhere that Dolly Parton is credited with that term and we shouldn’t try and argue with the queen of glitz. Less is a bore.