05 . 09

Designers We Love: Nick Spain of Arthur’s

By Eimy Figueroa

Say hello to Nick Spain, the founder of Arthur's, a design firm that works on interiors and gardens. His design process is collaborative, imaginative, and research-heavy, and he believes in honoring the spirit and history of older homes while still bringing them into the 21st century. He values the humane treatment and fair compensation of trades on construction sites, stressing that a design is only as good as the people who build it. Today, he’s on our Journal sharing some of the projects where he’s incorporated some MINNA fabrics and rugs. He also walks us through his process of infusing sentimentality into his designs, allowing spaces to evolve with their occupants.

Photos by James John Jettel
Journal | Designers we Love

Designers We Love: Nick Spain of Arthur’s

Hello! What’s your name & what are your pronouns?

ANSWER: Nick Spain, He/Him, I’m a designer and the founder of Arthur’s, a firm that works across interiors and gardens, primarily in the Northeast, but sometimes other places too :) 

How would you describe your design process?

NICK: Collaborative, imaginative, joyful and pretty research-heavy! Our bread and butter is renovations of older homes and gardens, so we do our best to make sure that we’re honoring their original spirit and history while still bringing them into the 21st century and also meeting the needs and tastes of our clients. We don’t ever just do things because it “looks pretty”, believe that every project should have an element of the unexpected and strive for our designs to be driven by thoughtfulness and wit over conventional ideas of beauty. 

The name of my company was stolen from a family friend, but I chose it because I think Arthur is infinitely modular in its connotations. Arthur could be a big-hearted best friend, the slick villain, a knight in shining armor, a curmudgeonly grandpa, a nerd who goes by “Arty” for short and so much more. In that sense it pulls from my theater background and speaks to how we approach each project as a role to be played and aim to give each space we touch its own unique vernacular. We’re not someone you come to for a singular “look”, though there are certainly through lines since everything ultimately gets filtered through our brains. 

I also believe a lot of design is way too serious, so we like to create fun little narratives for each project that engage our clients and bring levity to the process. For example, we’re currently working on a project on Stockbridge Bowl in Massachusetts where the design narrative is “That weird dude from high school who threw ragers at his parents' funky lakehouse now lives in it and actually has pretty good taste?” I’m really excited by it, and I think the clients are too.

At MINNA we believe in creating beautiful, ethically made products and using business to do good - how do these concepts relate to or inspire your process?

NICK: I love this ethos, and it’s something that we think a lot about in the work that we do. One thing that comes to mind around the word ethical that has become increasingly important to me is the way we interact with and compensate trades on construction sites, many of whom are immigrants. I always try to lead with humanity and kindness when working with any contractor, just because there’s so much that I can learn from them that will make the designs that much better. We also stress the importance of respecting trades to our clients and the value of paying people what they’re worth, since for some reason a lot of dumb cues from capitalism teach us that it’s okay to spend $10,000 on a range but that we should spend as little as possible on the humans who are actually installing it. It’s so silly because a design can only be as good as the heads, hearts and hands of whoever builds it, and the way you treat them and pay them is ultimately going to show in the end product.

What about the spaces you design makes it feel like home? 

NICK: I really strive for there to be sentimentality in our designs, but not preciousness, which is what home means to me. I believe that homes were ultimately made to be lived in and are for creating memories, so things should get dinged up, stained, moved around, etc. Nothing makes me more bummed out than seeing people living in a beautiful space that functions more like a museum than a house, or people who choose synthetic materials because they’re worried about patina developing over time and they want things to be perfect forever. Buildings may be static, but the spaces inside them should grow, change and evolve with the occupants. The only thing stagnation ensures is decay.  

What are some of your favorite items that can instantly elevate the design of a space?  

NICK: I think taking the time to do anything custom that speaks uniquely to you or your home is what elevates it. And by “custom” I don’t mean that it has to be super-duper expensive. We had a project in Stuyvesant recently where we hand-painted little sun designs by Alexander Girard onto the curtains, and it really activates a space that would otherwise be an all-white bedroom. I think doing something unique that you can’t buy off the shelf, even in the smallest of ways, instantly makes a space more special, and therefore elevated.  

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

NICK: My grandmother was a firm believer in the restorative power of walks and always told me to take one when life got rough. It’s something I still practice to this day. Allowing yourself to ramble, without purpose or meaning or a particular destination in mind, is one of the best things you can do for yourself and is a lovely way to experience the world because it changes the way you see it. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Megan Thee Stallion’s latest album while on my walks recently, and man are there some good tidbits of advice in her lyrics. 

Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Nick!
If you'd like to see more of Arthur's projects, click here for their website and follow them on Instagram here.

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