NYSD House

Shawn Henderson

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


In eighth grade, Shawn Henderson subscribed to Metropolitan Home – he clearly knew what he wanted to be. Briefly he studied hotel management — “I thought if I studied interior design, everyone would think I was gay ... well, they probably suspected anyway ..." Now he designs for the likes of Will Ferrell, Glenn Close and five-times Nascar champion, Jimmie Johnson. Despite working on large residences, he himself prefers small. He has a cozy house upstate and in the city he also lives contentedly in a compact space. “I feel so at peace. There is something about being able to see everything that you have.”

So I was looking at some of your Huffington Post tweets, or whatever such things are, and someone had asked you, “I want a cat but I only want a cat that matches my furniture” to which you responded, “That’s not a crazy idea …” But it is a crazy idea! And I have noticed that your dogs actually do correspond to the color palette in here. Was that deliberate?

[Laughs] No. Well … you know, it’s so weird because they were both pitch black when I got them and they’re two different breeds and then they both happened to turn this color [silver grey], which is amazing. I probably would have been sensitive if it had been a lousy color.
Looking across the seating area of Shawn's studio apartment near Gramercy Park.
Gorgeous white parrot tulips are arranged atop a coffee table designed by Shawn. The 1950's sofa covered in a fabric from Romo is topped with blue silk pillows from Soie de Lune and a grey and white cotton print from Fortuny.
In a corner of the seating area a Dunbar chair by Edward Wormley is covered in a fabric from Hodsoll McKensie.
A large color photo of a herd of sheep is by artist Michael Stuetz.
Shawn found the 'Schiele' like painting hanging above the sofa at an upstate New York thrift shop.
A 1960's leather bucket chair by Nicos Zographos was purchased from a Dallas vintage dealer. Shawn purchased the white vintage rug during a trip to Morocco.
A small marble-top table by Shawn was designed as a prototype for his furniture line.
A triangular shaped Scandinavian side table purchased in London stands next to a floor lamp from Hinson.
What other crazy questions do you get asked? I saw another one inquiring about a bearskin in Sarah Palin’s office which is placed on a chair back instead of on the floor … er would you re-arrange or design Sarah Palin’s office if she asked you?

I wouldn’t. I don’t need to go there. I couldn’t do it.

You have also said that even as a kid you knew exactly what you wanted to do for a living — a lot of the designers we talk to say that as kids, they didn’t even know interior design was a career. How did you know?

I always remember being fascinated with design magazines as a kid. Early on I remember subscribing to Metropolitan Home

Like how old were you?

I was in grade school … eighth grade … I also remember going to the doctor and looking at HG when Anna Wintour was the editor. But when I read it in the doctor’s office, I would put it inside another magazine because I was so embarrassed.
A custom console out of metal and wood is perfect for storing tech equipment and odds and ends. The marble sculpture is by from Flair.
A small leather and iron bench designed by Shawn stands atop a corner of a rug from Alt Living.
A home bar is grouped atop a brass tray on Shawn's custom console.
In the entryway an antique country mirror hangs above a small Scandinavian chest of drawers from Baxter & Liebchen. The compact but fully-equiped kitchen serves it purpose.
A series of photos by Joseph O. Holmes from 20x200 hangs in the main hallway. The 'cork' wallpaper is from Phillip Jeffries.
Were you able to articulate what it was that fascinated you?

No. Thinking back now, the idea of being surrounded by beautiful things — I loved it. I was obsessed with my parents’ house … I mean it was the smallest house in the world. It was a really great Arts and Crafts bungalow, shingled with porches … I was out there mowing the lawns and weeding. I just loved it. My parents just sat back and relaxed!

But they owned a tavern near Albany, didn’t they? So you worked there quite a bit — how much work did you do?

My father used to pay me to clean up the parking lot and the property, so I started doing that and then I started cleaning the bathrooms on the weekend. Of course I was also washing dishes … I didn’t mind — I loved it.

I guess the money helped.

The money helped but more importantly I loved the restaurant.

But owning or running a restaurant always seems like you’re working when everyone else is having fun. What kind of food was served?

It was home cooked, like pub food. My mother cooked it and my sisters … at one point we all worked there together.
Shawn's dogs, Gus, a Yorkiepoo an Alfie, a Schnoodle, make themselves comfortable in the sleeping area.
A platform bed with a cork headboard, lamps and bedside tables were all designed by Shawn.
A view across Shawn's bed from the dressing area.
The quilt and bedspread are by Society Limonta from ABC Carpet, the mohair throw is by Lena Rewell and
the ceiling fixture is by Daniel Becker.
A photograph by Chandra Johnson, wife of Nascar legend Jimmie Johnson, and a client of Shawn, hangs on a wall in the sleeping area.
Shawn's sheepskin topped stool is tucked next to the bedside table. The shag rug is from Mansour Modern.
When you eventually went to study design, having been so certain that you wanted to do it, what did you make of the course?

That’s a funny question because before I went Rochester Institute of Technology, I went to Sage College in Albany for two years — 800 students, gorgeous little campus — I was in heaven. I would leave school, eat dinner and then go upstairs straightaway and start working on my projects. But to back up, before that I studied hotel management for a year because I thought if I studied interior design, everyone would think I was gay … well, they probably suspected anyway. But when I went to RIT, the first time away from home, I discovered a bit of a social life.

Apart from residential projects, what other kinds of projects would interest you?

Well I walk through the Delta Lounge and I see what Thom Felicia did and I think that was fascinating. He transformed it. He divided up the space so that you can be sitting at the gate and the coffee is right there; there’s these great places to eat, great places to charge your computer — everything is sort of mixed in. It’s really genius.

The idea of bringing what is familiar into the public space — that does intrigue me.
Looking towards the front windows of Shawn's studio.
Great city views including the top section of the Empire State building can be seen from Shawn's front windows.
A volcanic rock lamp from Sutter Antiques stands atop a round table attributed to Edward Wormley from Wyeth.
A drawing by friend Tim Sarubbi and a vintage gold bar set purchased on Atlantic Avenue are arranged atop custom bookcases.
Favorite books, photos, objects and storage are neatly arranged atop Shawn's bookcase in a front corner of his studio apartment.
It makes you wonder why that kind of comfort in a public space isn’t an automatic thing.

Yeah, good question, right? Why do airports have to be so bad? Or why can’t office design be beautiful? It doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. I mean if you go somewhere like Copenhagen, design is just a part of their lives.

So this is a small space, let’s be honest. Do you like designing small spaces?

Um … I do both. Even my first apartment in New York was bigger than this. I just sold a two-bedroom apartment in Murray Hill. And this, what I have now, I absolutely love this space. I feel so at peace. There is something about being able to see everything that you have — and that concept of multi-functional furniture to me — I love that. It’s a lot of what my design is about. I personally don’t need a lot of space. This space is cozy to me. I don’t understand why people want these enormous houses with, like triple-height ceilings. I’d feel so vulnerable!

So you designed Will Ferrell’s apartment — was that fun?


Totally fun. His wife is a big collector — she’s Swedish — they have a lot of mid-century furniture. He is one of the most amazing people. For some reason, I’ve met a lot of famous people but Will can remember the last thing you and he talked about.
Adorable Gus and Alfie snuggle up with Shawn.
So what do you do when you have time to yourself?

It seems like I’m always renovating something. I just renovated my house in the country.

And what’s with the sheep? In some of your projects online, there was a pair of stuffed sheep in the corner … and now there’s that picture over there — they don’t look very happy … [a photo of many sheep in a barn].

I’ve no idea but I love those wooden sheep. And that picture … I never thought about it. A friend of mine said, I cannot believe you have that picture … but they don’t live like that — it was just for the photo shoot.