Interiors Grad Tanner Morgan Featured in House Beautiful Magazine
By Michelle Aiello
The work of Tanner Morgan `18 of Morgan Madison Design was featured in the Winter 2023 issue of House Beautiful magazine. The article, entitled “Welcome to the Clubhouse” chronicles how Morgan and his business partner Jennifer Laouari “turned a boxy, cramped 100-year-old house into a gentleman’s lake retreat.” Tanner spoke to the College of Design about his process, what inspires him as a designer, and how to hit all the right notes when working with clients.
College of Design: Tell the story of your employment history after graduating from the School of Interiors.
Tanner Morgan: After graduating, I briefly worked in marketing and sales for a national jewelry company. I loved it. I worked extremely hard and I learned a lot, and fast. Ultimately, the company closed that sector of business and I had to dig deep to figure out what should come next. I fell back into interiors, almost like, “What else would I do?” Thankfully, I really believe that interiors is what I was always destined for. I just needed an aligning of the stars, so to speak.
You say that “At Morgan Madison Design, we design spaces that we hope feel more like experiences.” Can you describe that process?
Clearly our process revolves, and often evolves around the needs of the client and the project. By creating a space as an experience, I mean that we take an extremely custom approach to a project, really getting to know the client, their loves, their life. The things that speak to them, the way they go about their day, their habits, the things that set them off, and the things that conjure up wonderful nostalgia for them. We work with all of this in mind, with the hope that we design spaces that make an emotional connection with the client, rather than a banal but beautiful space that feels unfamiliar and generic.
It seems like you and your business partner Jennifer Laouari have put a lot of work into developing your personal design philosophy. Do you find that helps you to attract the type of client you’d like to work with?
I do. I think it speaks to the depth of the work that we do. Authenticity and integrity are core values for us, in the way we conduct ourselves as businesspeople, in the vendors we choose to work with, in the work we do, and in the very materials we use. I can’t help but feel that this “energy” that we put forth ultimately connects the right people to us.
You recently relocated to Kansas City. What inspired that decision?
After nearly 4 years just south of Cleveland, Ohio, I decided it was time to move. I have had a wonderful support system in Kansas City for many years. I knew that it was time to take a leap, and KC just felt right. Jennifer is still in Shaker Heights, Ohio and we will continue to take on work there as well as all across the country. As a firm, we don’t feel particularly constrained by geography. Jennifer jokes that I look at the nation as my neighborhood as I am quick to jump on a plane. Coincidentally (really, completely unplanned!), our publication in House Beautiful, the launch of the brand, and our arrival in KC all happened simultaneously.
Why were you compelled to pursue this career?
I simply couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. It just comes so naturally. My partner says that I was born to do this, and that I was likely once criticizing the architecture of my crib and lamenting the pattern on my onesie. Hah! I can’t say I disagree.
How do you know when interior design is “good?”
When the work taps into a good feeling like peace or comfort, you know the designer has hit the right note. Add on proper scale (no dinky chandeliers please!), balance, and an artist’s sense of color and form, and you have a winner.
As an interior designer, you must be constantly looking to the future. What do you see for the future of design?
Hmmm. That is a tough one that can be addressed from a few different angles. From an industry perspective, I hope that the design profession regains the respect it had in the days of Angelo Donghia and Parish Hadley. I could go on, but when every home-oriented retail store has a “design department,” the profession is being diluted.
How do you combine beauty and function?
Very simple. We never sacrifice beauty for the sake of function and vice versa. This often can mean delving into the world of bespoke, or custom, design. In order to solve problems of function within a certain space while maintaining beauty, one may need to literally design the beautiful solution.
Can you give an example of this?
You have a winged headboard, and therefore difficulty accessing your bedside table surface. By designing a bedside table with a pull-out brass tray atop the topmost drawer, you extend the table surface forward, and ta-da! You have a lovely, functional place to set down your drink.
Which space in the house is most overlooked?
Lots of spaces, actually. Clients always want to start with common spaces because those are the spaces that are seen by the majority. Private spaces such as the principle suites are often taken for granted or attended to last.
What advice would you give to students wanting to enter the field?
Be prepared to work hard, and in everything you do in life, you must care the most. If you are deeply connected to your “why,” then you will be able to keep climbing, even when the path forward seems impossible.
What drives you crazy?
What we refer to as “phoned-in design” or pulling a page from the book. It also drives me crazy to see the art of interiors and design watered down. Great interiors are so much more than sofas and pillows.
What’s your favorite color?
I can’t say I have a favorite, but anything warm and moody. We tend to veer away from primary colors, preferring undertones and complexity in our color palettes.
What are you working on at the moment?
I can’t talk about it quite yet, but I can say I am very excited and am feeling extremely fortunate. This is a difficult business to “make it” in, on your own, straight out of the gate. It can be done, but it takes guts and commitment above all else. Success isn’t singular. So many people have poured into me over the years. That isn’t lost on me, and it will never be forgotten.
Photo by Stephen Karlisch