A Conversation with Marc Houston, Designer

marc-houston-1I was fortunate enough to cross paths with the talented Marc Houston, of Marc Houston Lifestyle & Interiors, while I was living in London. We have both since moved back to the United States, I to Florida and he to New York City where his business is based, but I have kept up with his comings and goings and successes these past several years. I am so glad I have, because this man is producing some seriously gorgeous work. He has a fine taste for luxury that is translated into his interiors, yet maintains a contemporary vibe that keeps him on the cutting edge.

When’s he’s not jet-setting around the globe, he is crafting for his clients uniquely tailored, bespoke designs that reflect his global inspirations and perspective. I had the chance to catch up with Marc recently, and used this opportunity to pick his brain and get a glimpse of the story behind the man behind scenes. Here is our conversation.

Can you tell us about your background? Where you are from and how you got to where you are today?

I grew up in the Boston suburbs and my design tendencies definitely had an early emergence. I remember incessantly rearranging my bedroom furniture and escaping to the housewares department at Marshalls during work breaks from my high school grocery gig. I had aspirations of owning a hotel chain so pursued a business degree in college, but finding little interest in my business courses changed my minor from economics to art my junior year. At the same time, I chanced upon a job at a contemporary lighting studio where my hands-on design education began in earnest. I had very little knowledge of the industry prior to that position but my time there proved to be a career defining experience. My daily interaction with architects and designers sparked an interest in furniture and interiors and I realized I wanted to create hotels, not manage them. Knowing no firm would touch me without a degree, I moved to London to pursue interior design training at Chelsea College of Art & Design, advantageously situated adjacent to the Tate Britain which served as an invaluable resource for studying British Art. I also interned with the acclaimed studio Fredrikson Stallard, working on a wide range of installations and interior, product and furniture projects for Bernhardt, Milla, Swarovski, Tai Ping, David Gill and the London Design Festival. I had planned to stay in London forever, but the Home Office had other plans. With the expiration of my visa, I was forced to return to the States at the height of the financial crisis. Finding work in the field took over a year but I ultimately landed a job with a Soho studio and shortly thereafter was hired by an architectural firm with a burgeoning interiors department. The adage that everything happens for a reason seems to ring true perpetually for me. I was subsequently fired from that job, but shortly thereafter two independent projects fell into my lap. I knew that was my chance to strike out on my own, so I incorporated officially and have since had commissions in Boston, New York, DC and Pennsylvania. It has certainly not been easy and work is never done but nothing compares to having creative control over a project and being your own boss.

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How has your experiences living, working, and traveling overseas influenced your creative style?

I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak and strong urge to explore. My parents will recall stories of me as a very young child opening the front door of the house and walking out alone without telling anyone. When I was deciding between studying here in NYC or in London, it was no question that I was going overseas. Aside from being an Anglophile, I wanted to cast a wider net and surround myself with an international sphere of influence where I would be forced to examine my own perspectives while being introduced to new ones. Creativity can flourish when you take yourself out of familiar environments because you are given an opportunity to try something new, to experiment, to place a bet and possibly fail. But triumph can come from failure if you find the value in it and great outcomes are often a result of great risks. Uprooting a comfortable life to move abroad was probably the largest risk I’ve ever taken, but from it I learned to trust my instincts and not be afraid to take on a dare which allows me to design with confidence and freedom. I love to travel internationally as a means of personal development through exposure to new cultures, people and places but also because it makes accessible a world of unique and exciting resources that might have otherwise been unavailable which, in turn, allows me to infuse each project with individuality and global character.

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Can you explain to us a bit of your process and methods? How do you take a project from concept to fruition?

Though I enjoy the decorative aspect of every job, I’m a fairly pragmatic designer so before diving into any aesthetic considerations, I start with problem resolution by addressing the functional needs of a space. How does the client live? What are their daily routines? Do they cook often or never? Do they leave their shoes by the door or keep them tucked away? Where do they house their toothbrush? The answers to these programming questions inform the design concept which is supported by any number of factors – project location, client experiences, existing materials, a specific piece of furniture, a favorite piece of art, etc. I certainly bring my influences and inspirations to the table to explore and refine the scheme until every detail has been tailored to the client’s tastes and needs. And I rely heavily on my talented team of artisans and craftsmen with whom I work closely throughout the specification, fabrication and installation process to bring a scheme to life.

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What is the main feeling or sensation you want your clients to experience in the spaces you have designed for them?

One of the reasons I was drawn to hospitality management early on is because of the sense of fantasy, theatre and escape that hotels engender. I look forward to vacations because of the transcendental state that can be achieved, much in part due to the thoughtful fabrication of environments that allow me to suspend obligations and live fully carefree in the moment, even if only temporarily. Mundane activities – meals, showers, dressing – become celebrated events in well-designed hotels. Life as you knew it just a short while ago continues in your absence, but dissolves into insignificance. When you return, and the reality of routine sets in, it’s almost as if you’ve awoken from a dream. Yet, you rehearse that memory over and over until it fades and the countdown to your next holiday resets. I want my clients to feel, on a lasting basis, that same anticipation of coming home every time they step out of their front door and same fulfillment of being home every time they turn the key. Design is very much an emotional experience. I am investing in the very fabric of my client’s lives and defining a space in which they will create lifelong memories. In that regard, I feel great responsibility to design a space that is personally precise.

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You recently participated in the Housing Works Design on A Dime 2013 project. How was that experience? Any favorite memories or lessons you took away with you?

Design on a Dime was a complete whirlwind guerilla design experience. Rather than crafting a response to a brief, which typically allows for strategy in project development, I had to rely entirely on chance donations through much begging, groveling and tap-dancing. Assembling a room in that manner was terrifying because what you conceive may not be what you ultimately implement and there is no guarantee of the final product. Thankfully, I have worked with some amazing vendors who came through for me and I was thrilled by the caliber of contributions. A William Sweetlove sneaker-wearing, water bottle-toting bronze bulldog sculpture and a stunning geometric silk/wool rug from Edward Fields were especially showstopping. Every project has its stresses, delays and dilemmas and this was certainly no exception but due to the contributions of so many generous benefactors, Housing Works raised $1.1 million to house homeless persons living with HIV/AIDS and I was honored and humbled to participate.

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Other than your own experiences, what are your creative influences? Any other designers or sources that are particular favorites?

I love the futuristic craftsmanship of Iris van Herpen’s couture, the fantastical architectural silhouettes of Santiago Calatrava, the sumptuous layering of the late David Collins’ interiors, and the imaginative extravagance of Tim Walker’s vignettes. They all push the boundaries of the expected with beautiful execution. At present I’m obsessed with British firm Based Upon’s intricate handmade surfacing. And I could live in Bottega Veneta.

What advice would you give to other aspiring designers trying to find their own way?

Work hard, then work harder. Don’t be afraid to experiment – there is always value in experience. Invest in yourself, market yourself and BE yourself. Glean as much as you can from those who inspire you but follow your instincts. Not everyone will like what you do, so do your thing and let them talk.

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Any new projects or endeavors in the works for you recently?

I’m currently working on several apartments in Soho, Battery Park and Williamsburg and another commission in Boston. I would love to add commercial projects to the mix so I’m on the hunt for a restaurant or hotel project.

And for the traveler is us all, any recommendations for a “must see” list from your travels?

I’m not a religious person but standing at Machu Picchu amongst mountaintop ruins that were built thousands of years ago by human hands unaided by modern technology was a truly magical experience. I also love Madrid’s blend of old world charm and cosmopolitan polish. And who doesn’t love Brazil?

  • I seriously believe you’re out of my league. 😉 Lovely post!

    • Not at all!! I just happened to met some very talented people in my various travels and design studies. Thank you so much though!!

  • Karen Ragsdale

    Very much enjoying your blog!

  • I really enjoyed the design images, but the conversation with Marc and how he approaches life and handles adversity is truly inspiring! Thank you for sharing 😉

    • You’re very welcome! He’s quite an inspiring individual, and I so look forward to watching him move up to the top in the design world.

      • Don’t watch him, follow him! Better yet, lead him 🙂