The Boy Wonder of Design, Kyle Schuneman, Talks Inspiration

By Savas Abadsidis

Originally published on Advocate.com September 27 2012 5:00 AM ET

Let’s face it. Not all of us were born with a queer eye. For some, the ability to decorate is innate, for others it’s a skill acquired over the years. Designer Kyle Schuneman, 27, has the perfect remedy for novices: The First Apartment Book. Under his Live Well Designs brand — which combines his interior decorating, art direction, and prop styling — Schuneman has worked on TV series including Giada at Home, contributed to major ad campaigns including Target and Beverly Hills Hotel, and bwwn anointed in House Beautiful's Next Wave of Top 20 Designers. The wunderkind of the design world talked to The Advocate about his new book, design on a dime, and what inspires him.

  
The Advocate: What got you into interior design?
Kyle Schuneman: I've been interested in design my whole life. I would draw floor plans on napkins or scrap paper for my family all the time growing up. It was like an escape for me and possibilities were endless. I started subscribing to Architectural Digest when I was 13 and loved looking at the photos of these completely unattainable spaces. I grew up in a 1,200-square foot apartment with my parents and sister in downtown Chicago, so seeing those kind of crazy, elaborate spaces was just so foreign to me. My biggest concern when getting into the industry, though, was that I wasn't doing something important. And some days I can still feel like that, but, for me, in doing this book especially, I've realized that design is more than pretty things — it's storytelling and it's around us always. Good design can really affect you in creating a positive cycle in your life. If you go into a CEO's office and he or she has this amazingly beautiful space, it tells you where they've come from, but it also makes them have to live up to that space, and that's what good design can do. It can also affect you negatively, so if you're waking up every morning in an unkept, drab, and lifeless space then you are going to carry that with you throughout your day.

What makes you different from your competition?
Obviously, my age is something that makes me different. And for some people that can be looked down upon, but for the people that hire me, I think they realize that it is a big asset. I'm not jaded by the industry. I am really passionate about every job I do, so there is an energy that I have that most designers don't. I also art-direct TV shows, am a prop stylist for ad campaigns and editorial photos, as well as doing interior design, so I get to work on a multitude of different projects. Since I started doing this when I was 20 and having these different outlets, it has given me a ton of experience with projects that rivals people twice my age.  

Do you think the challenges  dealing with male clients are easier nowadays?
I think in general everyone is more excited about the design process, but I definitely think there is a way of going about it with guys. For me, I really treat the experience with male clients as a problem-solving exercise.  Instead of just "picking out pretty things," it's really about How do we make this space work the best it can and look the best it can? When you approach the process this way there's a lot more passion that comes out of men.

There's been a unprecedented democratization of design in the last 10 or 20 years. I'm thinking Target, Ikea, Fab. What challenge does this pose to someone like you if everyone now thinks he or she is an expert?
I think it has its plusses and minuses. In one respect I think social media like Pinterest and design blogs have really gotten people excited about the process. The idea of doing it yourself has become such a movement — I even include 30 DIY projects in the book — that people are really taking ownership of their space, which I think is great. For the profession of interior designers, though, it's hard. People don't think they need them anymore. They want to cut out the middleman, and so more designers are fighting for fewer jobs. Consumers also often see completely unrealistic prices on design shows and networks a lot of times and base their budgets off of that, so it definitely makes it hard for designers to make money. But at the end of the day, access and excitement to design is only going to get bigger and I think it is ultimately a plus. It just means designers have to shift to the new world and fire out a better approach.

How did the book come about?
I was having a lot of friends and peers tell me that they wanted their spaces to look like what I was doing for higher-end clients but couldn't afford it, had landlord issues, or were dealing with strange roommates. I really found that it was a fascinating dilemma and wanted to explore that time in your life when you finally have your own space. I wanted to show people that no matter if they lived in a tiny shoebox of an apartment, if they moved in with their boyfriend too soon and now are trying to balance styles, or were having to deal with landlord restrictions, it was their space and they should express themselves in it. People in their 20s and 30s seem to have it down pat how to express themselves with their fashion because they've been doing it all their life, but for most people their first city apartment is their first real space where they can make decisions, and it's intimidating. My hope is that this book gives the confidence to people that the process is anything but scary. 

Who inspires you?
I get inspiration from everywhere not just other designers.  I have always loved Jonathan Adler for both his fun approach to design as well as business savvy. He is really an example [that] staying true to yourself — no matter how wacky or out there you are — really pays off and people respond to it. I also am really inspired by people like Tom Ford or Frank Gehry. I think both of them have been able to create a branded identity while pushing the boundaries of design and beauty. They do things I never could do, and those are the kind of people that really fascinate me.