Studio 5 at Alt Design Summit: Meet Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan

It’s a blog all about transforming super-small spaces into super-stylish ones!
Studio 5’s Brooke Walker catches up with Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan of the
popular blog “Apartment Therapy.”

Eight years ago, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan was known as the “apartment
therapist,” traveling by scooter to his clients’ homes to help them make their
spaces beautiful, organized and healthy. Today, Apartment Therapy, the
website he started as part of his design services, helps more than 8.5 million
unique readers per month accomplish the same goal for themselves. Along
the way, Apartment Therapy has helped define and facilitate a new approach
to the good life.


Soft-spoken and charismatic, Maxwell brings his readers and clients a
nurturing aura and a well-honed philosophy of homemaking with origins in
his childhood. When he was a kid, his next-door neighbors had one of those
houses where everyone loved to hang out. Even at a young age, Maxwell
knew he wanted to make that kind of a home for himself when he was older –
one that felt good, that was welcoming and comfortable, that invited
lingering and laughter.

After graduating from Oberlin, Maxwell landed a job at a prestigious NYC
design firm. While he worked on many beautiful projects he soon started to
feel disillusioned with the industry’s emphasis on form over function.
Looking for a more meaningful career he decided to go back to school for a
Master’s in Literature.


Maxwell has the kind patience of a teacher, and, in fact, he taught for 7 years
after finishing grad school. As part of his teaching duties, Maxwell made
home visits to meet with his students and their families. During these
meetings, Maxwell began to notice how space affects how we live and
perform. The students who were best behaved, well adjusted, and high
achieving invariably came from the nicest homes – not the biggest or most
expensively decorated homes, but the ones that were best cared for, most
organized and which felt the best.


Maxwell’s personal design philosophy began to take shape, and he decided
to start his own design service to help people make their homes beautiful,
organized and healthy. His touch points were simplicity, comfort, and lack of
clutter. Unlike typical designers, he didn’t want to dictate where things
should go or how people should live, he wanted to arm them with the tools
and the confidence to decide for themselves. Shortly after launching in 2001,
he started a weekly email where he would send tips and recommendations to
an increasing distribution list, combining education with decoration.


At the same time Maxwell’s brother Oliver Ryan who worked in digital media,
saw the potential for Apartment Therapy to embrace a new kind of media.
They partnered to turn the weekly email into a daily blog post, reviewing
stores, offering tips, posting photos of Maxwell’s design projects and
answering readers’ questions.

As the readership grew, so did Apartment Therapy. Between 2004 and 2008,
the site launched sister sites – the Kitchn for food and cooking, Ohdeedoh
family and children (the name inspired by Maxwell’s now 5-year-old
daughter Ursula’s first word), Unpluggd for technology, and ReNest for green
decorating. Maxwell hired full-time staff, and soon an expanding pool of
freelancers. The blog expanded across cities, starting in New York, and
adding Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC.

Maxwell also wrote two bestselling design books during this time, Apartment
Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure in 2006, and Apartment Therapy
Presents: Real Homes, Real People, Hundreds of Design Solutions in 2008.
Last year, Clarkson Potter published his most successful book to date, New
York Times best selling Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces.


In 2008 when the recession hit, readers flocked to the site, giving Apartment
Therapy a record year. Magazines were folding, but blogs had taken off, and
Apartment Therapy was on the vanguard of the new media, as well as a new
lifestyleApartment Therapy offered a personal model, which presented tools,
inspiration and resources for people to figure out their own path.

In 2012, Apartment Therapy is relaunching and compressing to better serve
its readers. Because family, technology and green living are integral parts of
modern life, these separate sites are being absorbed into a more
comprehensive site that focuses on the two centers of life at home, living and
food. Streamlined and easier to navigate, Apartment Therapy will continue to
offer its readers different ways to build their own “good life,” based not just
on style but on lifestyle.

To see more of Maxwell’s projects, visit

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