Thomas Juul-Hansen didn’t discover design until college, but the Copenhagen native, who founded his eponymous firm in 2003, has masterminded interiors for many of New York’s most buzzed-about developments. One example is the 75-story One57, home to New York City’s most expensive residence—it closed for a staggering $100 million in 2015.
Other recent projects include 505 W 19 on New York’s High Line, 300 Collins in Miami, and 50 West in Lower Manhattan. But despite a propensity for affluent clients, the Harvard-trained architect espouses a decidedly egalitarian approach to running a business—his team of 25 is strictly prohibited from working weekends, and family time takes priority.
Lately, Juul-Hansen has kept busy with the Beekman Residences, a high-rise residential building that overlooks the Best of Year–winning hotel of the same name whose restoration by GKV Architects and Martin Brudnizki Design Studio made headlines in 2016. Its shining moment is the 51st-floor penthouse, which Juul-Hansen inflected with the Danish modernism that influenced his formative years. The unit boasts 16-foot ceilings, marble fireplaces, a 155-square-foot private terrace, and furnishings by Scandinavian greats. He elucidates his design process below.
Wifijerez: How did your firm initially start designing luxury developments?
Thomas Juul-Hansen: Our first endeavor with luxury developments was with HL 23 on the High Line. The developer approached us to design all interiors for the building, designed by Neil Denari. It was a difficult undertaking because the building has three faces that move in and out as the building goes up, so no two floors were alike. We learned a ton about vertical MEP coordination from this project.
ID: How does your Scandinavian heritage influence your design approach?
TJH: The search for simplicity and purity grounded in practicality is definitely something that you find in the Scandinavian culture. As I was born and raised in Denmark, this has remained a strong value in how I approach everything in life.
ID: Tell me about your experience designing the Beekman Residences.
TJH: When we got involved with the project, the exterior and structure had already been designed; so the first task was to figure out how to plan the units accordingly without changing any of these components. It was a great challenge which we always enjoy taking on. In terms of interiors, we sought a design that on one hand was modern, but also had a slight classic influence knowing full well we needed to respond to the landmarked structure. It was a great experience and we manage to custom design many of the apartments’ features ranging from kitchens and bathroom cabinets to the interior doors et al. We have since then completed the James Hotel in NoMad for the same client, with whom we have a very strong relationship.
ID: Given the site’s historical significance, what were the most challenging and rewarding aspects of this project?
TJH: We had to work with an exterior and structural design that was already conceived, which is never easy. But we’re very proud of the outcome and greatly enjoy that it’s only two blocks from our office so we can visit frequently. And now that the Alley Cat Lounge is open downstairs, I predict the visits will be increased.
ID: How do you stay inspired in the studio?
TJH: Every project has a different DNA so it’s never the same that we design. We make sure every project is completely bespoke and relates to its surroundings. This is why the most exciting project is always the next one. We’re a small office of 25 people so I remain intensely involved with all design that we execute.
ID: Is there a milestone in your history that has really influenced your career?
TJH: Many! Designing Perry St for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as well as his residence, was an initial game changer for me. A few years later, 505 West 19th for HFZ was an incredible opportunity that brought our work to include designs of the exteriors of the buildings that we work on. Lately, we’re designing an 850-foot tower on East 58th Street, which I also predict will be a game changer… if we don’t screw it up!
ID: What’s a piece of advice you would give to an emerging architect/designer?
TJH: Focus on quality and put aside ego and PR. Avoid thinking that your designs need to seek attention and that this is a way to have a fruitful career. Put your head down and make designs that can stand the test of time. Stay as far away from pop as you can. If your work is strong, it’ll speak for itself. Make sure it’s strong!
ID: What’s something you’ve learned about running a business that you didn’t know when you started?
TJH: Getting paid and paid on time is very difficult. Sometimes people don’t consider the business aspect of design and this is the reason most can barely keep their head above water. New York developers are a tough bunch so make sure you do what you said you were going to do and on the schedule that you promised. Being truthful even when it may not be what your clients want to hear can never fail. I pay great attention, often to a default, to speak the truth.
ID: What’s the best thing about living and working in New York?
TJH: Not spending your life in a car. I can walk or bike (I Citibike to most meetings) to work and our projects and I find this a very efficient way to accomplish more in the few hours available for work.
ID: Can you describe your first memory of design as a child?
TJH: Ironically, I fumbled into architecture at 20. I studied business and HATED it so I figured I would try something very different. By pure luck, I happened to be pretty good at it.