We were swept away by Laura Bohn’s loft in a Beaux-Arts former bank building in the Village. Instead of decorating, she almost seems to sculpt interiors. She is in love with texture, strange contrasts and the play of light. She sees potential in all kinds of modern materials, including the most lowly or unyielding –concrete, plastic, finished metals – and turns them to her advantage. There is a luminous, organic quality to the colors with which she works, resulting in a space that is somehow simultaneously dramatic and serene. She is totally unafraid of a bare space, adores gut renovation and, by her own admission, is a workaholic.
You grew up in Texas – were you very young when you moved to New York?
I was 19. I was a model. I modeled for 11 years. I also went to Paris for three years, which I loved. I used to work for Nina Ricci as a house model. I went back to school when I was in my thirties, to Pratt, daytime, with the other students who were all kids. It was fantastic. I was the oldest but now when I go to schools to teach, it’s amazing how many people in their fifties and sixties have decided to change professions. Usually people are intimidated to go back to school but it’s the best thing in life to do it, especially at that age – you’re smarter.
What was it that drew you to design?
I just loved it. But you know it was a profession that didn’t exactly exist when I was a kid. I was good at math and my father was an engineer and I love architecture. The decoration side of things didn’t thrill me all that much. At Pratt, when I saw the presentation of the Environmental Design Department, which is extremely architectural, I thought ‘Oh my God! That’s it!’
So you prefer something more rigorous than choosing cushioncovers.
I used to fill in with traditional work but now I really don’t bother. Actually nobody comes to me anymore for it. I’ve been around so long and either you like what I do or you don’t. I get people who want to start from scratch, to start over.
What do you do with those kinds of clients? Sometimes it seems as if they don’t seem to have any history – or want any.
They haven’t developed their taste by moving up, a studio, then a two-bedroom and so on, buying stuff and throwing stuff out. They have made money so quickly. It’s all hedge fund-type money. If I show them things, they say they don’t know if they like it or they don’t like it. They have no reference. They just know it’s a trend. They’re only into impressing their friends.
How do you feel about that?
I think it is absurd. But they do learn. You know I had one client who said, ‘I know towels go in the bathroom but I don’t know how to fold a towel.’ So I showed her. You really have to take them through ‘Living 101’.
Is there a particular kind of project that you would like to do but haven’t yet done?
Yeah! Our barn [at our country house in Pennsylvania]. I just went to the Milan Furniture Fair and while I was there I saw this light fixture. It’s ten feet across, kind of an amorphous shape with this very soft luminosity, really sexy. It works like a hot air balloon. The barn is 18th century, made in stone, real pure, but it needs to be gutted. And I’m going to put the light fixture in and design a whole space around that.
You worked for John Saladino quite soon after you graduated. What was that like?
Everybody said to me ‘You’re not up to that job’ and I said ‘I know, but they hired me.’ It was a senior designer position. But I just figured it out! I was older so I looked like I knew what I was doing, even though I didn’t!
Did you make mistakes?
Oh God! Horrible! Horrible! John was a screamer anyway. He’s got one of those personalities that’s really over the top. [When he was talking to clients] we used to sit next to him and kick him because [otherwise] he’d say horrible things.
How does a designer prevent their style from becoming dated?
I constantly look for new materials. Plastics, different and strange metal finishes…there’s always something new. At the moment I love these hatbox toilets. Have you seen them? It literally looks like a hatbox shape but the tank and everything goes in it and then you have a mechanical seat…I mean it’s a $2000 john…but it’s gorgeous. Gorgeous!
Is there anything currently in fashion that you detest?
Oh there’s this stone, God it’s horrible! Sort of fake-Italian, cobbled, pinky, taupey… it’s in every builder’s house, you see it on TV all the time.
What do you think of IKEA?
I love IKEA! I adore IKEA! I mean you can’t use the furniture because it doesn’t hold up but the design is impeccable. Their kitchens are just beautifully designed. Those handles on my kitchen cabinets are from IKEA. I showed something like them to a client but when she found out they were from IKEA, she didn’t want them.
So you’re not a snob then.
Oh not at all. In fact I think I’ve lost clients by being like that. They don’t like bargains because they want to impress their friends. They don’t want a deal! They don’t! That couch isn’t leather. This fabric is fake, $22-a-yard vinyl and I fell in love with it. This is a great material! That pillow [points]…it’s a dog bed but I just loved it.
What do you do at the weekends?
Work. I’m a workaholic. We go to our country house where we have horses but we don’t ride. My husband [Richard Fiore, a developer] loves them and mucks them out and everything.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished reading a page-turner, The Queen’s Fool [by Philippa Gregory]…the dialogue… oh my God! I have some more [by her.] Here, [takes the books off the shelf] …you can have them. Are you sure you’re going to read them? If you are, you can have them. I pretty much read ’em and get rid of ’em…why? I’m not going to read them again!
I guess you prefer to move on?
I love moving. I love a blank canvas and to purge and re-organize. I really don’t find it stressful.