Interior designer Brad Ford didn’t seem to mind it when we, somewhat patronizingly, called him ‘a little ole country boy’ – just because he grew up in Arkansas – a place that still seems to be his first love. He is easygoing and thankfully free of New York neurosis but has, nevertheless created his life and successful design business in New York, having discovered his true métier when he was building his own house in Arkansas with the money earned from his first job working for a big marketing company. He plucked up the courage to move and study at FIT and found that he was just fine in the big city. He has, incidentally, one of the best dogs we have interviewed – and we have interviewed as many dogs as designers.
You said you just got back from High Point furniture fair – why did you go?
Okay, I’ve never been to High Point … I don’t know I just wanted to check it out … I’ll be honest, at some point I’ll definitely be interested in product development and licensing my name. So, I’ve been talking to a couple of people and the first thing they tell you is to go to High Point and do your homework.
It’s just really hard to make any money that way, I’ve heard.
I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It depends on the contract that you end up getting and how you negotiate it. I think in the bigger picture it’s about building a brand, an image, a distinct point of view. I think in our business, it’s becoming more and more difficult. First of all obviously, there’s the economy and then I think consumers are just becoming more and more savvy and sophisticated.
Does that mean interior designers are all going to become redundant?
No, no I really don’t. There’s a big difference between liking something and then knowing how it fits into the context.
I do want to get back to this whole thing of brand marketing because I’m seeing it more and more, that designers, especially young designers like you, you’re trying to present yourself as a package … it’s becoming a promotional business.
You know what, I agree with you and it’s probably the first time we’ve seen it to this magnitude with interior design, but it’s gone on with fashion for years – I mean look at Bill Blass.
I don’t think anything’s wrong with it – it’s just really a switch from the Sister Parishes of the world. You’re going for volume…
I agree. My original degree is actually in business and economics, so I’ve always been really passionate about design—but you have to remember, it is a business. We live in New York City, it’s very expensive, I like to travel, I like, you know … if an opportunity presents itself you might as well take advantage of it.
Quite a few of the designers we’ve interviewed have studied business – I’ve always wondered, if they were passionate about design and not business, why they didn’t just nod off during the lectures and so forth.
It was tough, I’ll be honest. I went to a very competitive school, a small private liberal arts college in Arkansas, and it was tough. I had to study probably twice as much as everyone else did.
Is that where you grew up?
Yeah, I grew up in Arkansas.
What was your perception of New York, about coming to New York?
I had been to New York one time but you know, you heard stories … Central Park is scary. I was scared to death … so then I came here and I loved it.
Tell us about Arkansas. I don’t know anything about Arkansas other than Bill Clinton comes from there.
Oh I love it! I miss it terribly. It’s just one of the most beautiful states, full of natural resources. That’s one of the things that really inspires me and I think comes across in a lot of my work, very natural organic shapes and materials. We have lake in our hometown, there are rivers, we’d go hiking …
You’re just a little ole country boy! How do you deal with the New York personality? You seem so sweet and gentle … you seem like the type that would get mugged in Central Park.
[laughs loudly] I can handle myself!
You seem to know yourself very well – is that a fair comment?
I think so. I was just on a panel discussion with Michael Bruno from 1stDibs and he said, “When one door closes, a window opens”
What does that mean? That you jump out?
No, just that if something’s not working, try something else. At this point I’ve had my own business for ten or eleven years and I’m very content. It’s not a bad gig.
What’s the first thing you do when you go back to Arkanas?
Oh God! Eat. My mother is just an amazing cook. Every time I go home she almost always makes the first meal: fried pork chops, which she knows I love, mashed potatoes, lima beans, some sort of salad and biscuits.
So you like food?
I think about it all the time.
You don’t think about sex all the time then?
Well, I mean …