James Huniford, known to everyone as Ford, is the founder of Huniford Design Studio in New York. His vast portfolio of residential design projects is renowned for its signature balance of elegance and comfort. Eschewing formulas and fleeting trends, Ford’s style is recognized for blending new and old, and rustic with refined to create timeless, distinctive, and thoughtful environments that reflect the personalities of his diverse clientele. He is a leader in the design industry, and an active philanthropist in the design community and beyond.
CovetED Magazine: Can you tell us about the beginning of your journey in the design world?
James Huniford: I was always interested in art and furniture. I used to go to museums a lot, looking for art and understanding the sensibility of an artist or a painter, the color palette they work with or even the mood and feeling. And it was always inspiring to me, I used to spend summers 7 hours north from here and the incredible turn-of-the-century architecture there was always a big influence for me. I was able to visit some of the houses inside when it was a different period. So it was always interesting for me, to grow up outside New York and have this interest in the countryside. When I was young, I went to Europe and I took a long trip there. I went to Germany, France, England and Italy and I absorbed a lot, these trips were very inspiring to me.
CovetED Magazine: You’re one of the top international references in today’s design industry thanks to your iconic designs. How would you describe your design signature?
James Huniford: I primarily do residential work. I think it’s very creatively driven, there’s not a formula. Each project is approached from a different sensibility and all clients live in different ways, the structure of the house is different from each place, the setting and even the location. So I always try to adapt to the client’s needs, lifestyles and where the house is.
CovetED Magazine: How does everything start when you have a new project in your hands? Tell us a little bit more about your creative process.
James Huniford: The project starts with an idea or a concept, a reference. Sometimes a historical reference, sometimes a piece of art that I love, the color or even some interesting materials. And my taste is constantly changing and evolving. I think if you have a relationship with a client you’ve worked with before, you have more trust and you feel you can be more bold or take bigger chances. We’re doing a house in Rhode Island, we’re doing all the interior architecture, interior design and the gardens. So it’s a big project for us, it’s kind of a dream project, inspired by a turn-of-the-century house. These are all references/inspirations for me that I like to look at and think about, for example, a specific teal is in turquoise and that’s not a color that I’ve worked with, so how do I use that color? So that has been very interesting to me, the whole project that I am now working on is going to be a very colorful and bold house, which is not what I’m known for. Usually, I do white or softener background colors, but I thought: “why not?”.
CovetED Magazine: If you had to name the project of your career, which one would it be and why?
James Huniford: This one that I’m working on would be one of them. I’m also doing a modern house, it’s all glass, steel and stone, so it’s the complete opposite. They’re both very interesting. But the interesting thing about Rhode Island is that people who have houses there, they have usually summer houses whereas people in the Hamptons, it’s a summer house but it’s something that they use maybe year around. For my clients in Rhode Island, there’s not going to be mid-century furniture, and for a lot of the houses in the Hamptons, that’s kind of the vibe there. It’s more interesting because I’m working with a lot of furniture that is very unfashionable (early 19th-century English furniture, painted pieces, etc.), it kind of feels like someone traveled back in time and collected these things.
CovetED Magazine: You also have a furniture collection. Do you usually incorporate your pieces into your projects?
James Huniford: Not always, that’s different. People come to me because they want something different and I love to find vintage sofas and recondition them.
CovetED Magazine: In your opinion, what is the big change that the pandemic brought to the design world?
James Huniford: In some ways, the pandemic gave people a chance to pause. More like an opportunity to process information. The job in Rhode Island is one of the top 3 biggest jobs in my entire career, and I negotiated that job in the early stages of the pandemic. It was incredible to know that that work was cemented in for 3 years. I did a house in Connecticut for a client and in the middle of the pandemic, the wife called me up and she said, “You know Ford, I have to thank you”, I asked her why and she said, “I had no idea what this house you created for us was gonna mean and what important role you were gonna have in our lives, and I really appreciate that”. And it was very interesting. I think now people are thinking about authentic sensibility.
CovetED Magazine: Can you tell us more about Design on a Dime, your organization?
James Huniford: Design on a Dime is a charity organization. We have every major designer involved and there are a lot of group causes. It’s for like educating women to get back into the workforce after they’ve been on the street or being homeless or HIV positive. So this is a big part of it, it’s a women shelter with a job training program that gets them off the street, gets them back into their home independently. This organization exists for 15/16 years now, and we have every major advertiser, like Gucci, a lot of big supporters behind it.
CovetED Magazine: Will you continue focusing on residential projects?
James Huniford: I love the idea of doing a hotel. I have had my own business for 16 years and I haven’t done one on my own, but I would like to. I would like to do one within a resort.
CovetED Magazine: Which piece of advice can you give to our enthusiastic followers and young professionals?
James Huniford: I think it is very important to focus on what your passion is and what your interest is, develop your own point of view and gather information. I think today you have so much information, like on social media, but it’s more about creating your own point of view rather than doing what the other person does. Clients are drawn by my work because there’s no formula, but a lot of people want the formula. There’s a consistency that a lot of people want, but the people I work for don’t want that.