A Tete-`a-Tete with John Lyle
By Design Perspective on November 28, 2012
John Lyle, a renowned furniture and interior designer, has been in the business for over 25 years. He is a New York transplant from Jackson, Mississippi, and a true Southern New Yorker. While he still does interior design, his main focus is on his furniture brands, John Lyle Design & Inox New York. His designs are sophisticated, fresh, modern with a touch neoclassicism.
John Lyle Design features handmade creations from many mediums such as hand-cast bronze, shagreen, wood, steel, and parchment. While John Lyle Design features several different mediums, the allure of highly polished, reflective stainless steel, has always intrigued John, thus Inox New York was created, a furniture line made only of stainless steel. In both lines, custom creations are highly encouraged, and all his pieces can be customized. His furniture brands are to-the-trade. John has been featured in many magazines, such as Architectural Digest, Traditional Home, Elle Decor, etc.
John Lyle Design
Inox New York
And for the best part, our little tete-`a-tete on his furniture lines and career.
L to R: John Lyle & Christy Davis
DVB: What/Who were major influencers in your decision to do what you do?
JL: My first introduction to Interior Design was a summer job I had during my college years working for two Interior Designers in Jackson, MS. It was the late 70's and they were very unique in their approach in comparison to what was going on Down South at that time. They had a totally modern approach using minimal lines and high end textiles and furniture pieces…their speciality was upholstering walls…I got a lot of hands on experience that summer…I was bitten by the design bug. Another big push was my former business partner Mark Umbach. Just hearing him say "John you can do it!" gave me confidence and strength. While he was not involved in the furniture designing, he was always there with an attentive ear and kind, wise works of encouragement.
DVB: You're a Southern man, any strong Southern-root influences seen in your collection?
JL: In my collection, I am not so sure that is hugely evident, however, it was the beautiful Antebellum houses I grew up around in the South that gave me a firm root in Neoclassicism. Also there is a charm and grace found in the South that I have not seen elsewhere in the country. Where else does one acturally use finger bowls when setting a table?
DVB: What is your favorite style of design? Or era of style?
JL: I have a few. My roots are in Neoclassicism, but I am also seduced with the Modern….and amused by Art Deco.
DVB: Where do you find most of your inspiration?
JL: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and my world travels .
DVB: You encourage custom creations. Is your business mainly custom or products you offer? Can you customize the products you offer? How does the custom process work (with you and the designer)?
JL: Most of my business is not custom. Designers often tend to buy what they see…I guess it is the fear factor of the unknown and also the fear of their clients…but…when I do get approached by a fellow visionary it is a little bit of Heaven. I can customize most of my designs and many times I have been approached to make something completely new from one of the materials in which I create…it's always fun and often quite a challenge. I love a challenge and I love collaboration.
DVB: How long does it take to make a piece?
JL: Depending on the size and material, standard lead time is 12-16 weeks, but we do have pieces that we make in advance, which can take 2 week lead time. If it's a completely custom piece, the lead time is 6 months, especially if the medium is bronze.
DVB: What is your favorite medium to use?
JL: Bronze as well as rare and exotic and stimulating tactile materials such as shagreen and parchment and snake skin…
DVB: Are there any mediums you want to use, that you haven't tried just yet?
JL: I'm dipping my toe into REAL Lacquer. I'm not talking lacquer that is chemically sprayed, but the lacquer technique that is an eggshell process. It dates back centuries and is very laborious, a process that takes months to do.
DVB: Are there any mediums you feel are on the wane in terms of trends? On the upside of a trend?
JL: Throw-away pieces are on the wane…clients are buying for keeps these days. They want something to leave to their Children and Grandchildren. They want enduring quality and style….(Now if we can just instill in their minds that this does not happen over-night.)
DVB: I'm really drawn to your fireplace accessories--the variety ranges from unique to modern to classic to whimsical. I love your modern approaches to classic style. Was the lack of great andirons and fire screens your reason for you beautiful creations?
JL: Yes indeed you are correct. I approached Holly Hunt at a cocktail party a long time ago and asked her "What do you want me to make for your showrooms?" She said , "Do what you are best at. Create sculpture for the hearth. Make andirons, fire-tools and fire-screens." Again, all I need is a few words of encouragement…I listened and I delivered…in a big way.
DVB: Your furniture pieces are exquisite. What have been the most fun to create and the most challenging?
JL: Resourcing the perfect shagreen skins took me many years. What sets my shagreen apart from others working with this material is the skins themselves. I have a top-secret resource that farms HUGE skins and knows how to prepare them the French way…I also use natural dyes I get from England…other folks just paint their (smaller) skins which is not so pretty to me…it is like taking a beautiful child with radiant skin and piling on pancake makeup…the true beauty, the iridescence and unique reflectivity of the skin is masked…and therefor not appealing . The items that resulted from this challenging search have been some of the most fun to create.
DVB: What has been your most favorite project to work on?
JL: My favorite work is always when I can work with my family on their houses. The trust and confidence and love from one's family is fundamental and joyous to me…I have also done interior design for some very fancy, fancy folks…having all that money to spend is quite stimulating.
DVB: Inox New York is exclusively through Donghia. How did this line come to fruition? Did Donghia approach you or vice versa?
JL: It was born out of my discovery of unpolished stainless steel imported from Germany. I love this material! Our connection came through social media, Facebook, with Jeff Jenning, Creative Director for Donghia.
DVB: How has working with Donghia affected your business?
JL: Donghia is very down to earth, friendly, humorous, encouraging, energetic, and extremely professional. I truly enjoy working with them.
DVB: How often do you come out with new pieces for Inox?
JL: evera Not as quickly as John Lyle Designs; I introduce about a dozen pieces a year. Inox is only a year old.
DVB: Happy 1-year anniversary!
DVB: Your Inox line is completely made of stainless steel. What made you decide to use only one medium?
JL: Like I mentioned before, I love stainless steel, and Inox is a better way for me to show these Stainless Steel pieces because there was no room to grow in John Lyle Design, thus Inox New York was created. However, the pieces in Inox can be fabricated in bronze and other steel finishes.
DVB: Your mirrors are amazing. Are there more to come?
JL: Thank you. I'm introducing more mirrors in this collection, about 5 designs. The mirrors can be custom-sized, up to 8-feet tall.
DVB: When did you first realize you "made it" in this industry?
JL: Several moments come to mind. First when the lovely Ellen Hanson of the legendary showroom LCS (Luten Clarey Stern)looked at my collection (three bronze table lamps) and said…"OK we would like to represent you!". And….The first time I had a whole page editorial spread in Interior Design Magazine….It was around 1987 and I was just a year or two into the biz…that was a confidence booster….Also when my first Interior Design project was published in Architectural Digest…to me, at the time, AD was the Bible of shelter mags.
DVB: You have been in the business for over 25 years, how do you see the furniture business changing? And how are you adapting to the changes in your business?
JL: One must always adapt adeptly or perish. Right now I am seeing people wanting to spend their money on the most high-end product available…as I said before, no more throw-away furnishings.
DVB: How has social media affected your business or has it?
JL: It has and I love it. I love the total eye-candy immediacy of it ….I have met many new friends and business associates through gifted Bloggers and FaceBook…(again, now we have to stress to clients and the Social Media world, that art doesn't happen as fast as sending an email….there is a bit of a skip in clients grasping that concept. Art isn't easy and besides ….do you really want something that can be cranked out in a couple of weeks?)
DVB: What is your favorite social media platform?
JL: I love to read design blogs; it's great to get another point of view from designers' perspectives. My second, would be Facebook; it's like cable TV--so much eye candy, so much to keep up with. I'm on Pinterest, but haven't spent as much time on it yet.
DVB: Any quotes have inspired/motivated you?
JL: A few…from my Father…"Winners never quit, quitters never win", from Miles Redd "Buy once, cry once" From David Sutherland "It is up to us to set the trends and never follow the trendy."
DVB: Lastly, as a local New Yorker, you essentially have everything around you, what are your local favorite places in Manhattan? Food? Shops? Parks? Etc?
JL: I love Mexican food…La Palapa is the best. Shops…Bergdorf Goodman (and my secret tailor) , Parks…my favorite is The Conservatory Garden in Central Park..
I hope you enjoyed our tete-`a-tete! I would like to thank John Lyle for his time in giving DVB this interview, and also Andrew Joseph setting this lovely interview up!