Home is where the body of a space truly comes together.
Maxwell Ryan is more than just an interior designer. He is a self-described “apartment therapist,” who, since 2001, has been helping clients and an ever-growing list of readers make their homes more “beautiful, organized and healthy” by sharing his expertise, ideas and resources across two online communities, apartmenttherapy.com and thekitchn.com.
What makes Ryan’s approach to design so unique is his background. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College & Conservatory, and interning in the design world, Ryan went back to school to get his Master of Arts in English Literature from Columbia University and began teaching in New York’s Waldorf School system. There, he learned a great deal about the way an environment can affect how its occupants learn, grow and live, and, through home visits, he realized the impact that a child’s home life had on his or her ability to learn and thrive.
“My teaching career gave me the framework I needed to think about the way one’s home affects his or her wellbeing,” Ryan says. So in 2001, he took what he learned at the Waldorf School and merged it with his design background to put his process into a language that consumers could understand. The result was his four-tiered approach to designing a home space, which he describes as “the bones, the breathing, the heart and the head” of a home or room.
“This is the foundation,” Ryan explains. “We’ll see whether anything is broken or in need of repair; see if the paint is peeling; or just get the room itself to a clean state.”
Ryan describes this as the “flow” of a room and identifies whether furniture needs to be rearranged or organized. “We look at how you’re able to move through a room and, ultimately, how energy moves through a room. Too much clutter equals dead energy, or a room that is too empty has too much energy with no clear direction.” Ryan says he is inspired by feng shui expert Karen Kingston, and he says her book Space Clearing is “genius.”
“The heart of a home or room is made up of all of those elements that affect our emotions, such as color, texture and light,” Ryan says. “This is where you express yourself and a space becomes unique. We follow the 80/20 rule, using 80 percent neutral colors and 20 percent accent colors. We also look at the use of warm and cool colors, preferring warm, stimulating tones in social rooms, and cool, relaxing colors in bedrooms and offices. Lastly, we look at contrasts and variation, moving from dark to light to dark.”
“The head is the spirit of a home,” Ryan says, “and includes those things that speak to your highest aspirations, like pictures of family, friends, any religious beliefs or artwork that you respond to. It’s an expression of your highest self.”
Since its launch in 2004, Apartment Therapy has grown from a simple e-newsletter to a blog to a full-fledged media hub with more than 11 million monthly readers. Between 2004 and 2008, the brand launched sister sites devoted to cooking, family, technology and green decorating, and also added a full-time staff and an expanding pool of contributors. In early 2012, Apartment Therapy relaunched to become a more comprehensive site, focusing on family, cooking, technology and green living, with the goal of offering readers different ways to build their own good life, based not just on style but on lifestyle.
Full of photos and stories, the new book Apartment Therapy: Complete + Happy Home ($35, Potter Style) profiles 30 homes across the United States. It is brimming with inspiration and full of actionable lessons that readers can use in setting up their own homes. Authored by Ryan and Apartment Therapy executive editor Janel Laban, Complete + Happy Home is the fourth book in the Apartment Therapy series.
“What I really wanted to achieve with this book is to document how people are living today,” Ryan explains. “This book has all the information to show you what’s emerging in our homes throughout the country. We have become so self-expressive, and that is reflected in this eclectic collection of real homes.”
The team recently wrapped a 13-city, cross-country tour (including a stop in New Orleans) to promote the book, visiting readers and completing home makeovers with the help of wayfair.com. Apartment Therapy: Complete + Happy Home is available through Amazon.com, as an e-book and in stores wherever books are sold. apartmenttherapy.com, thekitchn.com