Laura Thurman
Credit: Daniel Christopher Photo

Design Changemakers 2021: How Laura Thurman Brings the ‘Magic’ to the Spaces She Designs

published Jan 19, 2021
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Credit: Apartment Therapy

The Apartment Therapy Design Changemakers Class of 2021 is made up of 24 of the most talented and dynamic people in the design world. We asked an assortment of last year’s Design Changemakers and Apartment Therapy staffers (and you!) to tell us who we needed to spotlight — see the rest of the list here.

Who: Laura Thurman, interior designer
Nominated by: Anne Sage and Caroline Lee, LA-based interior design collaborators and founders of Light Lab studio space
Where to follow her: Instagram

Why Thurman is part of the Class of 2021: “Laura is a Nashville-based interior designer whose spaces are informed both by her extensive travels and by her classical design training. Not only is she an active advocate for all voices in the design industry, she’s one of the NICEST people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting!”Anne Sage and Caroline Lee, LA-based interior design collaborators and founders of Light Lab studio space

Interior design was actually designer Laura Thurman’s plan B. After training as a dancer from a young age, Thurman swapped her focus as a young adult. “As an athlete, your body can only take so much,” says the Nashville-based designer. “When it came time to decide on college, I kind of just decided I would love dance as a hobby and a passion, but pursue a degree in interior architecture.” 

A pre-graduation trip to Cambodia ignited Thurman’s desire to design from a global perspective. Thurman returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, then after meeting her husband moved to Nashville, where she forged her own design path—first, as a member of several well-known firms, and eventually out on her own. “I like to say that I have a global aesthetic filtered through a modern lens,” explains Thurman. “I just think there’s so much beauty around the world. The way color is used, the way architecture looks, the way someone interprets materiality—it’s all so different depending on what country you’re in.” 

And, though she’s now fully immersed in the world of design, the dancer inside her still comes out every so often. “A few colleagues pointed out recently that I’m really into figure sculptures, specifically if it looks like it moves more flowy,” she says. “It probably has something to do with being in tune with your body as you dance.”

Apartment Therapy: What were your design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?

Laura Thurman: It’s interesting because, growing up, design wasn’t my first plan. I’ve always seen beauty in the arts in general, though. I remember collecting dance photography books, and I always found fashion to be an incredible muse, both then and now. I was always creative, going to performing arts school and taking an interest in painting and photography. 

Now that I’m older, I’d definitely say travel is a huge inspiration of mine. I also love coffee table books, either by fellow colleagues, or just focused on countries with a strong aesthetic, like a book on Japanese furniture or Swedish architecture. I find it’s a good way to stay fresh and not get too monogamous in your design.

AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2020, and why?

LT: My favorite project of 2020 was working with this slightly older couple. They were super fun and just quirky individuals themselves, and they had a wonderful eye for art. I think one of their sons was a sculptor, so they had just really kooky and expressive art, especially for their age—it just seemed like that was not really the generation to have that kind of stuff. They came to the table with a lot of interesting things, and they were also just willing to go there and be bold. They lived in this old, historic home and we did some really cool things, like wallpaper on the ceiling and lots of color. They were the best—I just got to really be myself, and embrace their funkiness.

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

LT: I’d say global, clean, and earthy.

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?

LT: I feel like it’s my own house. Not the one we’re living in now—we’ve only been in this house a year—but the last house we owned. We got to renovate the whole house from top to bottom, and everything in it felt like it was the perfect representation of my style. It had a clean, modern baseline, but was flooded with color, our unique travel finds, and global expression—I felt like you would kind of see that without me even having to say it.

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

LT: I think I feel the most at home when I have the things that remind me of other cultures. I’m always trying to go somewhere—just trying to travel and get out. When I see things that we’ve picked up or that I’ve found, that makes me feel at home. It makes me feel like I’m connected to other places, and I love that.

I think that and the expression of color. I’m just sitting on my sofa in the living room right now, but if I were to kind of strip away all that international flair and color, it would definitely not feel like home. It would feel like there’s something missing.

AT: How do you think the past year will impact the design world moving forward?

LT: I think it’s already starting to happen, but I really hope that it causes people to pause and reflect, and really take our industry a little more seriously. I still think it’s a widely known fact among designers that our industry is not always respected—I feel like people think you just source pretty pillows and that’s it. They don’t understand that it takes real skill and time and knowledge and talent to make rooms magic. And I think that now, more than ever, someone who’s lacking magic in their home feels it. You can’t escape it; it’s in your face. And so people realize, ‘Dang, we need to do something about this.’ And they don’t even know how. So I think it will hopefully produce a greater appreciation for our industry, because everybody deserves to have a comfortable home. 

AT: How has 2020 changed your perspective on or approach to your work?

LT: I think it’s caused me to really analyze the more psychological effects of design. Even when I communicate with clients, I’m more descriptive now than before. It’s more than just each piece in isolation—it’s about how it comes together and how it makes you feel. While I’ve always been sensitive about it, I just feel more responsibility for marrying the emotion of a space to the actual design of it. Spaces should make you feel something, especially in today’s time. And it should be something positive, not just passable.

AT: Any big plans for 2021 or beyond you can share with us?

LT: I think I’m finally taking creating videos seriously. I’ve been encouraged to do it for years, and I’m finally excited to get started. I feel like so much of our industry is about educating, and while the concept of home is super hot right now, I don’t see that going anywhere anytime soon.

AT: What, in your mind, is the power of good design?

LT: Good design is about confidence. I can always tell when a client is embarrassed of their home. They apologize so many times, or they don’t host, they don’t entertain, they don’t cook. You can just tell. I think the right design can make you feel empowered. It can make you feel confident and like you take pride in what you own, and your own little sanctuary. And then that bleeds over to other people. Because if you feel confident, you’re more likely to entertain or have people over, and be a little more communal. When people are embarrassed of their home, they’re more isolated.

AT: What do you hope your legacy is in the design world?

LT: I think I want to be known as just being very authentic. And I think that that kind of means a lot of different things. I think authentic in my designs, and trying to really pull in things that represent what I love, like the passion of culture. It’s taken me a little while to do that, and I still feel like there are ways to push it forward even more. I think I always want to be genuine when it comes to client interaction, too—and with my colleagues. There’s no need to fake the funk. I think you can just be who you are. I just want to be a quality designer that creates beautiful, thoughtful designs.

Interview has been edited and condensed.