January 28, 2018
'Bohn: Ways of Seeing' by Laura Bohn
Laura Bohn's new monograph offers a revealing look into the designer's history, design principles, projects, and so much more!
by New York Spaces
NYS: In terms of your past, did your past as a haute couture model living in Paris influence your
design aesthetic? If so, how? What tie-ins do you continue to see today between fashion and
Laura Bohn: What most influenced me about haute couture was the quality of materials, the finesse of detailing, and the fantasy and imagination of conception—I had never been exposed to such things up-close before. It was an opportunity to see over-the-top thinking actualized perfectly out of the box. Fashion is able to react to changes in the culture more quickly than design. So, I think that today's fashion, at its best, offers designers an immediate and vibrant take on the current moment—an evolving vision of how things stand and where they're going, if you like—and I, for one, can't get enough of it.
NYS: Tell us about your start in design.
Laura Bohn: My parents were a huge influence on my becoming a designer. When I was 10, they designed and built a house for us in Texas and they allowed me to be a part of the process. I had the freedom to review the plans and was even able to persuade my father, an engineer, to move the living room fireplace to a corner (a not-so-great idea), as well as pretty much determining the layout and look of my bedroom. My mother, a trained fashion illustrator, had a keen eye for design and her interiors were always forward thinking. For instance, she installed dark gray industrial carpeting and a bright pink sofa in our house at a time when our suburban Houston neighbors favored shag rugs and pastels.
NYS: Tell us about your return to the field of design when you were 32. We cannot get over the
fact that Joe D'Urso was your teacher at Pratt! What did you most take from his tutelage?
Laura Bohn: My professor Joe D'Urso taught me to think about every project architecturally, as a fundamental question of space and how you move through it. To him, "the plan" meant using all the tools at the designer's disposal to mold, create, control, organize, and otherwise manipulate how you experience space. That continues to be a seminal lesson in my design life.
NYS: We love the fact that you worked for Saladino and met your first business partner there.
What did you most gain from working for such an icon?
Laura Bohn: In many ways, John Saladino was the opposite of Joe D'Urso. He was all about luxury, grandeur, color, and texture, but not necessarily about practicality. Having trained as a painter, he was a sensualist, but underlying the beautiful surfaces of his projects was a deep understanding of classical architecture, which gave the spaces a feeling of structure. These were qualities and values I recognized from the world of haute couture, and I combined them with the lessons I'd learned from Joe D'Urso.
NYS: What are some other luminaries you have met and or worked for along the way and what
did your take from those experiences?
Laura Bohn: One of the first and most influential jobs I had out of school was working for Karen Daroff at Daroff Design in Philadelphia, which is now a huge and highly successful corporate firm. I did commercial projects there—nothing residential—which have a rigor and scale that I found both intriguing and inspiring. I also learned an enormous amount about managing large jobs and running a bigger design business from Karen, and that a woman could do these things just as competently as a man.
NYS: What are some of your signature projects and what are you most proud in terms of the
Laura Bohn: I am most proud of the 10 or more residential conversions I've done with my husband, the builder Richard Fiore. Our first, back in the 1980s, was converting the entire top floor of a commercial building on West 29th Street into three apartments. It was also the first real project I did after graduating. We move on to a new location every few years, and every new project is a chance to experiment with fresh ideas, different materials, and new products. Our greatest joint project was converting the beautiful Beaux-Arts bank building on the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 14th Street into five floors of duplex and triplex condominiums—a huge challenge but hugely satisfying, too.
NYS: What are a couple of your favorite projects in the book and why?
Laura Bohn: Among the city projects, I'm partial to the Greenwich Village loft renovation. The original apartment was dark and horrible—a real bat cave—so we completely gutted it and created the illusion of daylight where there was none. Because the place is primarily used by the out-oftown owners as a pied-a-terre for weekend theater going, we had leeway and were able to treat the opened-up space as something of a stage set. Now it's bright, lively, practical, and welcoming—all the things it hadn't been before.
In the country, I'm especially pleased with the mountain retreat in Old Snowmass, Colorado. The architecture of the new-built house was great, the setting sublime, and the client a close friend—so the whole project was a pleasure. The challenge for me was to create interiors that were quietly luxurious and deeply comfortable without in any way distracting from the excellence of the architecture and the glory of the surrounding mountains. I think we achieved that and subsequent visits haven't changed my mind.
NYS: We loved Ottsville 1. What inspired you to place tree trunks in the middle of the space?
What do you think it adds to it all?
Laura Bohn: That large living-dining space developed as the house went up and was a little unfocussed. A neighbor was cutting down a tree and I just decided to use sections of the trunk and branches (top image) to make a subtle divider separating the dining and living areas. It creates a focal point and brings an appropriately woodsy feeling into what is basically a modern setting.
NYS: What do you think our readers could most gain from your book?
Laura Bohn: I hope it inspires them to try new things—materials, ideas, styles. My message to them is, if you
see something you like out in the designed world—whether it's expensive or not—find a way to recreate it in new and exciting ways that fit your resources. Think about how to develop and extend the same idea using a different, imaginative, and above all, personal approach.
NYS: If you could build your own home anywhere, without a budget in sight, where would it be
and what would it look like?
Laura Bohn: My next real project, I hope, is a chateau in France. My husband and I fell in love with the history and the scale of 18th-century buildings in the French countryside. We have our eye on one in the Loire Valley. I would like to design the spaces in it in a modern way that shows respect for the old and traditional. The scale of these buildings is what intrigues me: the 12-foothigh doorways, 15-foot-high ceilings, the flow of the space from one room to another—the famous French enfilade layout–and, of course, the grandeur!
NYS: Where can we find your book today?
Laura Bohn: You can find my book in Rizzoli's or on Amazon.
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