Designer Wesley Moon has come a long way since his early days living in an unheated Mott Street tenement and tending bar to make ends meet while he slaved away at an entry level job at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill—not that he wasn’t grateful for the ticket it gave him to come to New York from Atlanta. Designing trading floors is something of a distant memory and now with his own firm growing at a pace, he’s already looking for a bigger office space in order to accommodate the larger projects that are coming his way. He’s also, we think, quite possibly the only designer we’ve interviewed who is unfazed by CAD—so those years at the corporate desk paid off in more ways than one.
Your name is very cool—where does it come from?
I get accused all the time of making it up but it’s what I got. Moon is an English name like Keith Moon. I used to hate it growing up. I’m part Cherokee but that’s not where the “Moon” comes from. My grandmother was half Cherokee. I get mail from the Korean Society all the time too.
And we hear that apparently you’re really busy—tell us about being busy.
Well my business is just like, going crazy, which is good. I’ve really been getting a lot of press and new clients and higher tier projects. I’ve really outgrown my office space so I’m trying to find a bigger space.
To what to do you attribute this increase in growth?
It’s really been ramping up since the start. I’ve been in business eight-and-a-half years. I started at my dining table and it just seems to be growing exponentially. It’s totally word of mouth.
It’s interesting how being published is important but doesn’t really lead directly to clients.
It’s really funny. I think I got one client out of thirteen that found me from a magazine. It gives you a little cred. It’s a big ego boost.
Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in Atlanta and my mom when I was growing up was a designer—not a big designer—she was a decorator.
What would say was the distinction?
I personally don’t have this hang-up but a lot of people think that if you’ve gone to school and went to an accredited institution, then you are designer. People see decorators as like, a bored housewife. I had a boss once who said that the difference between a designer and decorator is that [being] a designer is considered a vocation and a decorator is considered as [someone who presents] an invoice for $100,000 and the client is happy to pay it. It’s more fantastical, and more dramatic.
Wow. What did that entail?
Oh. What precisely was the nature of the torture?
What you end up being is “AutoCAD Operator Number 42.” And you work a hundred hours a week and you’re working on a little piece of a big project so you never really get to see the whole project. But it got me to New York. And it was really good to have it on my resumé.
It’s still interior design.
It is … but you’re deciding how many desks you can get on to a Goldman Sachs trading floor. But I made my best friends there. They’re still my best friends to this day. Everyone was kind of going through this struggle. It was new to me to be in this corporate environment. It was new to me to be in this giant city. I had no money. I had to bartend on the weekends to make ends meet.
Where did you live?
I lived on Mott Street between Grand and Broome, which was nice but not what it is now. I lived in a second floor back tenement apartment with the tub in the kitchen and no heat. Sometimes in the morning I would open the oven and just leave the door down while I showered because it was right next to it! But I redid that apartment! I faux painted everything and I went to IKEA and I bought discount fabric. I also had some of my grandmother’s furniture, which I used. And it actually got me my job at Martha Stewart! Kevin Sharkey told me that when he saw what I did with that apartment, he instantly wanted to hire me.
It wasn’t during the interview but he later told me that when he saw that [apartment], he knew I was for them because it was such a DIY [effort] … you know I’d pulled these tricks out of my hat, which is very Martha Stewart. It’s all about being able to do things on your own on a budget in a sensible way.
And yet, I think you may be the first designer we’ve interviewed who is proficient at CAD.
Really? It’s my thing. I design that way now instead of sketching. I love to draft. I have over my desk—my mom had it framed for me—all these houses that I designed when I was fourteen years old on my drafting table in my room.
What do you think makes you passionate about designing residential rather than say public space?
I don’t know what makes me passionate but I know that my dad says ever since I was three years old, I would say I have to go to the bathroom but I really just wanted to see the house. If I go to someone’s house, I find a way to look around! I mean it’s not even about the beauty.
I know what you mean, that curiosity.
I used to have this obscene obsession with campers and trailers! There was this place called Camper World. My grandmother used to literally drive me there, park in the parking lot and I would go into every single one. And then I would build them with my Legos … I mean I haven’t toured one in a hundred years …
So do you think your interest is more in the structure and less in the people living within, which is my motivation for looking around other people’s houses?
I’m definitely interested in that but that wouldn’t have been my original drive. That’s something that’s developed from interior design.
I wonder why nice rooms matters to us and they don’t necessarily matter so much to other people. People can live happily enough in messy rooms or whatever.
I think’s it DNA. And fluorescent lighting … anyone who can live with fluorescent lighting isn’t normal.