In My Shoes – With Garry Cohn Design

Hooryah! I’m so glad you all enjoyed my new column’s debut In My Shoes with the lovely Rebecca Leviars and guess what… it’s back for its second edition. The feedback has been immense – Thank you folks! I’ve been searching for a designer who was fun, playful and created the most exquisite spaces.  I literally stopped in my tracks when I discovered duo Garry Cohn and Aoife Rhattigan, the wonderful tag-team behind Garry Cohn Design. With award-winning Aoife amped up with over eight years in the biz and Garry with over 20 years working his creative magic, this duo are unstoppable! I grabbed a moment of Garry’s time to discover what makes them tick and what they look for in a new recruit. So grab that hot cuppa tea or that well deserved coffee and read on…

HOP: Did you always know that you wanted to become an Interior Designer

GCD: When I was a kid I really didn’t want to be a designer. The fact is I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I graduated from High School. I knew that I wanted to do something big with my life but had no idea what to do. I was always good in art but didn’t know what to do with it. I would always draw buildings and houses and thought that maybe I could go into architecture but I was advised not to because I would need to have higher grades. 

In the US there are 4 years to high school and during your 3rd year is when you start sending your applications to universities and during your 4th year you start visiting universities that have accepted or you want to check them out. 

My sister who is 2 years older than me started going to The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City for fashion illustration. She suggested that I use my design skills and apply at FIT for the interior design program. I thought why not, I didn’t think of interior design as a profession but it was related to architecture. Nonetheless, I had an interview with them and took an acceptance exam and showed my portfolio of my art work. I was accepted with flying colors on the spot! I didn’t have much confidence in myself during high school and it just goes to show that if you are given the right opportunities you can really shine. 

Once I started at FIT I became an “A” student. I was lucky to find what I really enjoy to do in my life. All the pieces seemed to magically fall into place or maybe they were always there but I just couldn’t see them.

HOP: What has your career path to date been

GCD: Once I graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology I was hired by and small architectural company in New York City and started working right away. I decided that I wanted to know everything about being an interior designer and made a promise to myself that I would work for a company for about two years then move to another company to learn a  new different aspect.


HOP: You’ve been in the industry for over 20 years so how have you seen the industry evolve over the years

GCD: To be honest there is always evolution in design, that is how we move forward and create new designs. If we look past the obvious global economic recession that we have been thrown into, I would have to say we are at the best of times in the design world. Yes we are! We are at a cross roads in design. If you look you will notice an emerging shift to new design trends and style because of a gap due to large companies closing or shrinking in size.  New designers, unknown designers and small design companies shadowed behind the muscles of formerly big companies can now get the opportunities to express their work and point of view in our industry. We are more creative and more resourceful today, which in turn opens our minds to new and innovative ways of reinventing our industry. This is classic Darwin’s theory of evolution at work, survival of the fittest and adaptation to your environment.

HOP: Do you feel that the industry has become even more competitive now and harder for new designers to break into

GCD: I think just the opposite in fact, it’s easier to get a break and make your mark. Clients are looking for a new approach for their companies but at the same time they are looking to spend ½ or even a ¼ of the budget that they did in the past. That is the hard part, how to give a spectacular design with all the bells and whistles on a cut throat budget. Don’t forget that if the budget is reduced it may still take the designer the same amount of time or even more to create an innovative design. So the trick and it is a real conundrum of innovation, how to spend less time working on a project, create an innovative design create a new style in the industry and make money on a small budget.

HOP: What has been your biggest challenge thus far in design in terms of projects

GCD: I think that the biggest challenge thus far is to get clients to see that they need to move their projects to the next level of design. Most of my clients not all but most seem to have become more conservative over the last few years. It is only the ones that have let us push them further in design and let us break the mold by reinventing them, only these clients can see a drastic increase in profit. If only numbers run a project, you have lost the game before you even start. This is not to say that budgets are not important they are very important but it is more of a marriage where there is a lot of giving and taking to achieve a common goal.

HOP: Where do you draw your inspiration from for each project

GCD: Aoife and I get bored very easily, we never know where we will get our next inspiration for our projects. It could be a vacation we went on, it could be from internet surfing, sometimes it’s just the mood we are in. Wherever it is we always come up with an idea for our concept and look for the odd twist that will make it different. In other words, where the SEX in the project is, we make sure that there is something in the design that will turn your head and make you say, now why didn’t I think of that.

HOP: So describe what a typical 24hours is like in the world of Garry Cohn Design

GCD: When we first arrive in office in the morning we get our ticket and hop in to our little car equipped with seat belts and a safety support bar. There is a countdown clock that announces how much time is left before we depart. 10 – 9 – 8………………..3 – 2- 1, LIFT OFF, we then proceed upwards, once we arrive at the top we are released for the rollercoaster ride of the day to begin AAAHHHHHHHHH. We love rollercoasters and we love our work too. You just never know where the ups and downs on the ride are going to take us. It is a real adrenalin rush. New clients call presenting new projects, problems with a builder on site, furniture delivery delayed from Italy, a magazine with a great review. It really has the elements of a psycho drama wrapped up in a beautiful designer chocolate box.


HOP: Many of my readers including myself are keen to break into the industry. What advice would you give to those either hoping to start their own studio or hoping to land their first role a designer

GCD: Ok if you are planning on breaking into the design industry my advice is to check your mental health first………….no really, it is the most rewarding thing that we have done in our lives.  It can be a very glamorous job and at the same time glamour is the last thing on our minds when we are on your knees picking up the pieces of an expensive antique vase that the movers broke and you need to explain it to the client. It sounds like a cliché but designers have no choice but to follow their dream and to express themselves though their work. There maybe many challenges but in the end it’s your life and if you want something bad enough and work hard to achieve it you will be successful.  We regularly employ a mantra – We’re here for a fun time not a long time! so bear that in mind no matter what you are doing, it helps keep things in perspective.

All images supplied by Garry Cohn Design

HOP: What do you look for in a new recruit and likewise in their digital portfolio

GCD: The first thing we look for is a person’s personality, really no joke. If that person does not fit in the methodology of the company how are you going to get your design work completed. I can’t stress how important this is. We have to spend so much time in the office and you need to make sure that it is with people that you enjoy being with  and have fun with. After that we are looking for talent and a unique design edge that separates them from the norm. They also need to be well rounded in their design profession for example drawing, drafting and computer skills are important too.

Image Credited

Image Credited

HOP: What are your top three items you couldn’t live without

GCD  1) A 1960s sofa by Adrian Pearsall, 2) 1980s vinyl record of “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” which currently can’t be played in the office due to lack of a record player!!!! 3) A birthday card I [Garry] received 15 years ago that has the quote from Joseph Campbell on the front. “Follow Your Bliss”. He reminds himself every day before he leaves for work.


HOP: What is your fantasy job

GCD: To be a cabana boy on a tropical island! Of course since it’s a fantasy I look like a model and I’m independently wealthy, the job is just a hobby since I own the hotel.


HOP: Who do you admire in the design industry

GCD: Vivienne Westwood: She does what she wants, and she breaks the rules, pushes boundaries, reinvents herself and is just mad. 

Mark Jacobs: He is a master of style and proportion and he combines it all together elegantly. His designs are young, fresh and so beautiful to look at.


HOP: What makes you happy

GCD: Pancakes on a Sunday morning (not cooked by me, otherwise we would not be happy with the end result of a questionable food substance in a frying pan that only CSI could decipher). 

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