Marguerite Rodgers is entrenched in the Philadelphia design community. The interior designer has done both residential and commercial work in the Philadelphia area (and elsewhere), designed furniture collections, curated vintage collections and opened up her office to other Philadelphia creatives. Rodgers chatted with EAL about some of her latest work at the historic Bellevue Hotel and how she ended up in the interior design industry.
“I thought I wanted to study fashion design; I had been a pretty accomplished seamstress, and I thought that was what I wanted to do,” Rodgers tells EAL. “But when I took an introductory course, I wasn't very stimulated by the coursework.” She jokes that it may have been because she was only 19 years old at the time, but she also discovered that she loved working with wood and metal after doing an internship with an accomplished sculptor in Maine.
She subsequently changed her major to textiles, but had the same reaction to the coursework. She didn’t want just theoretical courses, Rodgers wanted to be making things, which led her to a furniture-making program at another school in Philadelphia.
“I loved designing furniture, I loved the program and I loved working with tools, so it was really a perfect fit,” she says. “It wasn’t anything I thought I would do, but it came about really from exploring and not being afraid to take chances and to change course.”
Rodgers also discovered a love for designing spaces while building what she thought was going to be her woodworking shop in Maine. The post and beam structure she began working on in between her junior and senior years of college ultimately became a residence for her parents and the focus of her thesis project for the interior design classes she took after completing the furniture program.
As her career developed, she knew that she needed to be in a collaborative and stimulating environment, which ultimately led to her settling in Philadelphia and opening her firm. As much as she loved Maine, which is where she grew up, the time she spent in Philadelphia while in school truly made her realize her affinity to an urban lifestyle.
In establishing her career as both a furniture designer and interior designer, she purchased a 25,000-square-foot warehouse that she renovated. Unfortunately, a financial crisis in the late 1980s threatened her financial security, and she had many clients canceling projects. In order to keep her space, she made her warehouse a cooperative workspace—long before WeWork or The Wing—and rented out her workbenches to six local woodworkers. This in turn allowed her to focus on her interior design business, because she needed a smaller staff and there were fewer overhead costs. To this day, she has other Philadelphia creatives renting workspace in her space, ranging from metalworkers to musicians to printmakers.
“I personally don’t like to work alone, so there is a sense of community,” Rodgers shares. “I love that when I come in the morning, I am talking to other people, and I find out what they are doing. I’ve always worked for myself; I can only teach myself so much, so I need to have other people teach me stuff, too, to foster my imagination and creativity.”
When she started to focus more on the interior design side of her business, the moment that launched her career as a residential interior designer was when she was given the opportunity to design a model apartment in a new condominium building in
Rittenhouse Square, a prominent neighborhood in the center of Philadelphia. “I had been doing some restaurant design, and that was also flourishing, but the residential interior design really blossomed after doing that model,” she says. Today, the residential part of her business accounts for more of her business than the commercial projects.
One of her firm’s commercial projects has been an ongoing project with the historic Bellevue Hotel, which is currently undergoing a re-brand to The Unbound Collection by Hyatt next month. The design project began with the restaurant on the 19th floor, and has since moved on to the Rose Garden ballroom, meeting rooms, guest rooms and hallways.
“In our design for [the rooms], we really wanted a modern interpretation of a classic Philadelphia treasure,” she shares.
A special design element that was incorporated into the hallways was unique photography representing the city. Rodgers and her team worked with the performing arts institutions on the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia to create photography from original set artwork and costume sketches. They also incorporated black-and-white photography of Philadelphia celebrities. They are continuing their work on the hotel in the former check-in lobby, where there are plans to bring in more Philadelphia icons and references.