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Sofa detail and Silverware in Bohn’s Bucks Country farmhouse
At the age of 19 Bohn moved to New York City to pursue not interior design but modeling, a career that eventually took her to Paris where she spent several years as a house model at Nina Ricci. Bohn’s formal design training didn’t begin until she was 32 and back in New York. Spurred on by members of her women’s lib group, she attended Pratt Institute. “I was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says, but the opportunity was life altering for Bohn who studied under Joseph D’Urso, famed for his high-tech minimalist interiors. “He was a brilliant teacher, very demanding and challenging,” she remembers. “But sometimes it’s the difficult ones you get the most out of.”
Bohn set up her own full-service interior design firm in 1980. Like her former design professor, she is a modernist. “But,” she insists, “I never do cold, and I never do austere.” Rather, she describes her aesthetic as Soft Modern. “I want every residential interior to really feel like someone’s home.” While she likes to keep her rooms pared down, they only become interesting for her once she begins layering them with different textures and colors—though you’ll rarely see very bright hues in any of her projects.
Bohn is married to the developer Richard Fiori, whom she often collaborates with on building, remodeling and design projects. In the late ‘90s, the couple took the then pioneering step of acquiring a 1907 bank building in the Meatpacking District, transforming the property into handsome condominium residences, one of which they still live in today. Her apartment is her sanctuary and her calling card: the comfortable custom sofas and settees are her own design, and subtle gray tones and muted colors prevail. The living room is bright and sunny and opens up onto a quiet lush garden terrace in the back of the building that offers respite from the bustling neighborhood.
As a designer Bohn has perfected an ability to walk into a room and see it entirely transformed according to her vision. In recent years she’s also began consulting on the pre-design phase, helping clients find the space that’s absolutely right for them. Whether it’s a Manhattan apartment or a house in the country, Bohn uses her trained eye and long-developed instincts to identify and analyze the property under consideration—or to propose one that wasn’t even on the client’s radar. “In some cases, the visuals may turn them off at first,” she says. “People need to be talked through it, need to have the potential and the possibilities of a space pointed out to them.” She’s always on the lookout for diamonds-in-the-rough: “If I see a ‘For Sale’ sign, I slam on my breaks.”
These days Bohn divides her time between her New York apartment and her property in BucksCounty, Pennsylvania, rolling countryside that reminds her of Tuscany. Her rural spread includes a 19th-century brick farmhouse, a historic Pennsylvania Standard Forebay barn—both of which have been renovated, mostly by Bohn and her husband themselves—and a 1930’s Sear’s Kit House, which she is currently working on. The property is something of a laboratory, where Bohn often tests out new materials, appliances, hardware and plumbing fixtures before she considers specifying them for her own clients.
As part of the Sear’s house renovation, Bohn is adding a double-height kitchen with a flagstone floor. She’s installing 32 feet of top-of-the-line white-lacquered cabinetry, stainless steel countertops, integral sinks, and Electrolux appliances. That said, Bohn is also a big fan of Ikea kitchens and sometimes suggests them for her client’s beach houses. She’s particularly impressed by their functional design, a quality she values greatly, perhaps thanks to her studies with D’Urso, whose work is renowned for its superb practicality.
Bohn has earned her stature in the design world by at once listening carefully to her clients while appearing to know intuitively what they want. “Designers often ignore their clients and create spaces that are too manicured and impractical,” she says. “It’s about taking them further than they are capable of seeing, all the while paying close attention to what they want and say.”
-Written by Danny Kaplan
Below are Laura Bohn’s picks from Dering Hall that help bring a Soft Modern look to a home.