NEW YORK – Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy, author and all-around design guru, understands the excitement that a truly unique piece – whether it's a rare antique from one of the four corners of the globe or a souvenir discovered on your weekend getaway – can add to a room. We spoke with Ryan about his favourite international shops, where he can't wait to travel next and his picks from Wanderlust: Timed Online Auction, a sale of furniture and decorative arts dedicated to the life and spirit of the traveller.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF APARTMENT THERAPY MEDIA
What are some of the most beautiful homes or architecture you’ve seen around the world?
Early on, I became a fan of Greek revival architecture and toured a bunch of homes, including Monticello in Virginia. I have to say it imprinted me for life. In Greek architecture the entire house has to be centred – which seems so simple, but nothing is designed that way anymore. The doorway is in the middle, and every room on the right is mirrored on the left. The Greeks believed that the height of design was symmetry, because God designed the human body symmetrically. They even thought of the house as our exterior body – it was meant to support your physical health. So in their minds, if you lived in a house that was out of symmetry, you would get sick. They were so incredibly intense about that.
Do you have a favourite souvenir you’ve brought back from a trip?
I have a cuckoo clock on my wall from the Black Forest in Germany, which I love. It’s manual. You wind it up and it runs for seven days. To be fair, the older ones only ran for one day. When people come over to my home they are always amazed because they hear the cuckoo go off every hour on the hour.
Have you discovered any favourite shops during your travels?
A lot of what I do is on the web, so going into stores isn’t my default. When I do find something, it’s a really fun discovery. There’s a furniture store on the Left Bank in Paris that I absolutely love called Caravane. I also love Pentreath & Hall in London, Ruby Beets in Sag Harbor, New York, and OK in Los Angeles. Another favourite, BoBo Intriguing Objects, is based in Atlanta. They sell antiques from around the world and also take certain ones they like and reproduce them.
Is there something you always pack without fail?
I have a pair of shoes called Sabahs that I always bring to wear through the airports. They’re an adaptation of a traditional Turkish slipper and imported by a guy who has a shop in the East Village.
What is the top destination on your travel bucket list?
My biggest fantasy is to go to Japan. I’d like to see the cities, but I’m much more interested in traditional Japan. When I was in college I studied Japanese history and had a great teacher who talked about the wandering poets and the mountains of Japan and the whole culture, which was really very rural for a long time. It feels like a lost world, and that’s what I’d like to see.
Could you describe your personal aesthetic in three words?
Traditional, playful and raw.
Would you say that your audience gravitates towards the classic?
Yes, totally traditional, as am I, weirdly enough. We are contemporary in soul but traditional in style. It’s not like trends don’t make a difference, but I’ve noticed that most people tend to gravitate to the comfortable and the familiar, done in a fresh, clean way.
Do you have a strategy for making antiques feel fresh and cohesive in a home?
I think there’s a real appreciation for things that have a history to them. None of our readers want all of their furniture to be brand new from the store. I say that around 10 per cent of the room should be antique. The antiques – a side table, artwork, a stool, a coffee table, a rug – fill in along the sides. They sort of slip in. I would only use antiques that really stand out and have visual value. It’s similar to what I tell people about colour: a little goes a long way and really wakes up a room.