At The Kuotes, we love discovering new, young designers that bring a fresh voice to the world of interiors. We were therefore thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with New York City-based Matthew Caughy and hear his story and his take on combining classic, elegant interiors with an arresting, modern sensibility. With diverse projects ranging from city apartments to large country estates and beach homes, Matthew’s designs carry a charismatic sophistication that makes him a designer to watch. Here’s what he had to say.
The Kuotes: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started in design.
Matthew: I’m from Maryland and I grew up in Baltimore. My husband is also a native Marylander. We have now lived in Manhattan for about twelve years. We have become true New Yorkers at heart.
K: That’s what they say, right? It takes ten years to become a true New Yorker?
M: Yeah, they do! I love Maryland, and it will always be my home… but for me, I’ve always felt a calling to live in New York City. It’s a dream come true to live in Manhattan and create a life here. As a New Yorker you bring your own unique history to the big city and make it your own.
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K: So you’ve always been artistic then?
M: Well, I grew up in a very creative family. My parents really encouraged my siblings and I to go to museums and appreciate art. We were always drawing and painting so it was just a natural progression to be interested in an artistic field. What I love about making art is translating what you find beautiful into something tangible. I just followed that idea one step further to interiors. It’s always felt like the right fit for me.
K: So did you have any formal training? What was your journey like in becoming a designer?
M: I did. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art, and earned a BFA in Interior Architecture and Design. When I moved to New York, I worked for Foley & Cox Interiors for just over ten years. I had a wonderful experience and learned a lot. They have been mentors to me.
K: How did you decide to make the decision to leave? What is it like having your own design company?
M: It was really hard to leave such a great firm and great people. I learned so much and I’m very thankful for my time there… but I knew I was ready. It’s similar to when you first move to New York. When you go out on your own and start your own business, it’s like it has always been there in the back of your mind. You’re thinking about it all the time, and finally you just take the leap. You have to build up to your dreams.
“You have to build up to your dreams.”
K: So how would you describe your design style now? What makes Matthew Caughy Interiors?
M: [laughs] I get asked this question a lot, and it’s only funny because it really makes me reflect on it as a designer, which I don’t think is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. Honestly, I surprise myself… because when I really think about it, I am a traditionalist. I have a modern sensibility, but I truly love things that are classic, things that’ll never go out of style, and I try to veer away from things that are trendy. People want a stylish home that’s livable, and for me it’s always about finding that balance between what’s beautiful, classic, timeless…and then what also works for today’s client. And without being too much of any one thing. Even in a classic interior, it’s important to have a really great modern piece of art or maybe a piece of furniture that catches you off-guard. You want to keep things interesting.
K: When you first get a project, how do you get inspiration for your designs?
M: I love to start with a color palette. Often times will start pulling fabrics and materials just to sort of get a mood going. I like to start very broad and then narrow down and refine as I ago. I think it’s very important in the beginning of a project not to limit your ideas. It’s important to think of things in an abstract way—beautiful colors, shapes, and patterns that you can develop into a beautiful space. There should always be a period of exploration.
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K: In a more technical sense, do you work with physical boards, Photoshop, autoCAD?
M: I do use autoCAD for furniture plans. Currently, I present a lot on iPad. I find it so easy to share cut-sheets and inspirations with clients this way. It’s like having your office with you wherever you go. Obviously when it comes to fabric and materials, you have to show them in the real. It’s important to show the tangible items because you can never recreate that experience digitally. The benefit of sharing things online is that clients can go back after a meeting to reflect on selections.
“The home is the backdrop to your story.”
K: How do you balance your clients’ needs with your own design style?
M: As a designer it’s a great responsibility to help someone realize their home. I want my clients to be a part of the decision-making process. It’s where they are living their lives; it’s where they are sharing a meal, gathering with family and friends, or recharging from a long day. The home designed is the backdrop of their story, so for me it’s essential that a client really loves the items that we select.
K: Earlier you mentioned how your design style is traditionalist with a modern sensibility. How do you bridge the gap between modern and classic design?
M: I like to start with a classic foundation. For example, when I begin a room, finding symmetry is important. Scale is also extremely important. You have to make sure that you size things to the room. If you have a huge room and a postage stamp sized sofa, it’s never going to look right, no matter how beautiful the piece. I design with a mix of traditional and modern ideas. Adding in modern elements makes the classic pieces feel fresh again. The selection process is a careful balance. Often I teach clients that as you make choices, it informs every other piece that you choose for the room. It’s a puzzle that you put together, and each item selected leads you to the next.
K: What is success for you as a designer? What is a successful project?
M: I like that question because for this one I have a short answer: a happy client. The responsibility of a designer is to create a beautiful home where the client feels comfortable. Once I understood this I was ready to begin my own company. The process should be enjoyable and filled with exploration. A successful designer is more of a teacher and guide to good design. For me, a happy client is always the number one goal.