podcast | Sep 16, 2019 |
Ryan Korban: Designers need to think more like brands

Some interior designers who come from the world of fashion bring a love of fabric, others an adventurous sense of style. Ryan Korban, who rose to prominence designing showrooms for Alexander Wang and Balenciaga, took away something more fundamental: an obsession with brands. “I look at everything from a brand perspective,” he says. “Every project is a brand for me.”

For the latest episode of the Business of Home podcast, sponsored by High Point Market, Korban spoke with podcast host Dennis Scully in front of a lively crowd at the EJ Victor showroom during the New York Design Center’s What’s New What’s Next event last week. The young designer shared a thumbnail sketch of his upbringing and early career, and offered pro tips for others who might follow in his footsteps.

Rely on partners to help grow.
Korban has always trusted his taste, but lacked the formal training in interior design or architecture to translate his vision into working documents. When great opportunities rolled around, he was quick to partner around what he didn’t know. “I always knew I needed strong people—architects, lighting designers, structural engineers, people around me who really know what they’re doing,” he says. “That’s the key to being able to work at the level that I was able to work at so quickly.”

Think positively, and outside the box.
These days, it’s easy to feel like interior designers are getting squeezed from both sides. Trade protections are eroding, margins are slimming and clients are pushing back. Korban, who is developing a furniture line with EJ Victor, publishing a book with Rizzoli and pushing into real estate development, chooses to focus on the positives and think less like a decorator, more like a brand. “I think what a lot of people get hung up on in this industry is there’s only two ways to make money: by your time, and a percentage of what you sell,” he says. “We’re in such a unique time, [and for] someone who works in aesthetics or design, there [are] so many other avenues to grow and make cash flow and you don’t have to be stuck. It’s a really great time for creative people.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re on the AD100, or just getting started: the hustle never stops. After finishing a development project, 40 Bleecker, Korban managed, with a little finagling, to insist that a living room from the project appear on the cover of his first Rizzoli monograph. He sent the developer a copy of the book—the hint being, Let’s talk about my next building. “I told [him], ‘This is a gift for you,’” says Korban. “Even though it was the best picture for the book.”

Accept that the trade is changing.
Korban is in the midst of launching a new furniture line through EJ Victor. Inspired by the custom pieces he’s done for fashion showrooms, the line will be sold in showrooms and online, direct to consumers. Korban acknowledges that price tags and direct sales might ruffle some feathers in the trade, but he’s ready to push things forward: “The jig is up. People know what things cost. Cat’s out of the bag. Let’s hurry up, we’re losing customers.”

Homepage photo by Kevin Lau

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