In the world of interior design, having a design project featured in Architectural Digest is the industry equivalent to scooping a slot in Vogue. And for New York-based interior designer Neal Beckstedt that prestigious spotlight came last September. Having watched his progress since founding his eponymous studio in 2010, we decided it was about time that we caught up with the rising master of laid-back luxury. Here the interior designer opens up about early influences, working with fashion designer Derek Lam, and the best design lesson he’s ever learnt.
Neal Beckstedt Q&A: New York Based Interior Designer
The Manhattan-based interior designer on his rural upbringing, style inspiration and design secrets
Can you remember the first space that really made an impact on you?
Growing up on a farm in rural Ohio, our rough-hewn, timber-framed barn had a large impact on me. The purity of the framing and the very natural elements instilled within me a curiosity of wanting to go to architecture school. The barn still plays a large role in my affinity to very functional yet natural spaces.
So it’s true to say that your rural upbringing had a large influence on your interior design work?
Well, my upbringing had a large impact on my interior design work as one of [the] first spaces that influenced me was our family barn. In addition to being surrounded by the barn vernacular, having such supportive parents that let me explore my creativity was a giant leap in giving me a leg up on fostering my career I have today. I spent most of my childhood constructing woodworking projects, refinishing furniture, painting and drawing, cooking and gardening – all before the age of 10 and with parents that fostered and supported all my interests.
You designed the Fire Island beach resort and Gramercy Park apartment of fashion designer Derek Lam and businessman Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann. What was it like working with the pair for a second time?
Working with clients a second time around is always very rewarding as the ‘dating’ period is over and you can quickly dive into a project faster and easier. It was especially rewarding with Derek and Jan as they are so delightful to work with as well as great friends. They give a tremendous amount of freedom to run with a project that allows creativity and design to be taken to the next level.
For their latest home in Gramercy Park, we wanted a space that was not as minimal as their beach home yet still retained warmth and sophistication. I inserted cerused white oak paneling to give the existing generic apartment a sense warmth while also adding a touch of tradition. The other big gesture was to constantly play with mixing modern and traditional elements in both the furniture and architecture to create a very forward, contemporary home that was eclectic, refined while still relaxed and comfortable.
Who inspires you inside and outside the interior design world?
My clients are huge sources of inspiration. Naturally, it is their home that I am building for them, so finding out who they are, how they live and what interests them is fun for me to translate into spaces. Other designers and colleagues are also great sources of inspiration. It is great to see how my peers transform spaces. I get incredibly inspired by seeing their work in person or in the pages of design publications.
In a nutshell, I aim to create spaces that are warm, layered, comfortable, and have a laid-back ease to them as though they have been curated over years.
Are you seeing any particular style requests trending amongst your clients?
I am seeing more clients not being afraid of colour lately. Clients are also more open to incorporating more traditional furniture styles into their home.
Your projects have a modern look but often incorporate carefully selected vintage pieces. What qualities do you look for when choosing furniture and accessories?
Yes, another feature of my work is mixing styles and different vintage and antique period pieces together. Every space needs some vintage elements to give some sense of history and authenticity and I look for pieces that are graceful, rich in detail yet very functional in its purpose.
Having projects appear in design publications like Architectural Digest and Elle Decor within my first five years of opening my office has been a huge career highlight. In addition to completing some great projects recently, I am excited to launch my namesake online vintage furniture boutique. I hope to grow this into a brick-and-mortar store soon and build on this to create an entire lifestyle brand of custom furniture, linens, and lighting products.
What’s the most treasured item in your own home?
Oh, I have so many treasured items – I love collecting! My latest prized possession is a Jean-Michel Frank bronze table lamp I found shopping on Kings Road in London. It’s on my desk at home and the first and last light I turn on and off every day – a perfect way to end the day.
Creating spaces that are both beautiful and comfortable is something that’s inherent to your entire portfolio. What’s your secret to achieving liveable luxury?
Well, I hate to give secrets away, but I guess it’s not really a secret! I guess it’s just my affinity for mixing styles and textures, yet always thinking how comfortable or practical something is. Of course, you have to always keep beauty and comfort in balance.
Bold hues or subtle neutrals?
Both, of course! I love an overall neutral palette but with bold pops of colour here and there. Whether a library, foyer, or powder room, I always tend to use smaller and more intimate spaces for the moment to add a large gesture of colour – either through lacquering the entire room or a fun wallpaper. I also love pulling schemes together, but then substituting one or more of the pieces in an unexpected colour or pattern. This pulls the room away from being too precise and stiff.
What’s the best interior design lesson you’ve learnt?
The best lesson is that to always trust your vendors – they have a wealth of knowledge on their particular trade that you can truly take a project to the next level by working with them to foster projects that are not just great, but spectacular!