We’ve long admired the soulful and refined spaces crafted by New York-based interior design firm Bespoke Only, founded by Melissa Lee in 2012, serendipitously the same year CULTIVER was. Over the years our linen has graced many of the studio’s projects, from an industrial two-storey home in Williamsburg, to a Cape Cod-style home in Connecticut. Each of their designs are so varied, from soft, airy and light-filled, to moody and experiential, but underpinned by the firm's signature employment of texture, warmth and materiality. It’s their curated approach when designing each individual space - the architecture, how it is used, how light moves through - which results in such beautiful, bespoke spaces.

 

We got the chance to chat about inspiration, the practice’s design ethos and were delighted when Melissa had some lovely, poignant things to say about linen.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Melissa

Like many others, I didn’t always know what I ought to do or achieve in my career. My path leading to this day was not a linear one in any way. Having studied cognitive psychology and fashion, there have been different avenues that I ventured into and enjoyed working in. One thing I did always know for certain that’s important to me was the pursuit of harmony and beauty in human life.

Today, I’m the principal and founder of Bespoke Only. My role essentially boils down to overseeing the production of our projects from the start to finish. Some days I’m in our studio glued to the desk all day (rendering is a personal favorite activity), while some other days I’d be logging over 10k steps in one day on construction sites. Periodically, there would be the really intense but fun days where I find myself traveling on a sourcing trip.

The level of activeness can be drastically varied to say the least.

 

Erika

I’ve always been a creative and followed a less conventional path as a homeschooler and painting major. I think my experience reflects that, having worked abroad only to come back to New York to build a boutique restaurant group, Rivers and Hills Hospitality, alongside practicing interior design at Bespoke Only with Melissa. The tactile and immersive experience of both hospitality and residential spaces is something I am keenly sensitive to and interested in exploring and creating. I love food and design so this space is perfect for me!

As a partner at Bespoke Only, I tend to wear many hats from design and research to client management, business development, lifting heavy objects, and sometimes making the office lunch. Getting to exercise all these different muscles is both challenging and rewarding.

Project: Williamsburg. Photographer: Alice Gao

Project: Williamsburg. Photographer: Alice Gao

What does creativity mean to you and where do you source your inspiration?

What does creativity mean to you and where do you source your inspiration?

Melissa

I see creativity as an innate desire to express ones POV through a certain medium -
be it words, sound or visuals. I find my inspiration every day through daily life: the graphics of a product packaging, the signage of a shop, the facade of buildings. I also really love set design in movies and shows.

How would you describe the design ethos and aesthetic of Bespoke Only?

Melissa

The term 'neo-romanticism' comes up a lot when people encounter our work and we would
certainly agree. Our design is driven by exploring emotions to be evoked with a focus on blending in natural textures and elements, antique and modern. We always believe a space is to be felt, not just looked at.

You’ve said “each space is active and organic, unfolding as we study and react to it intimately” - how does one design with the constant evolution of a space in mind?

Melissa

Creating something that can evolve gracefully with people and their life is one of the core ethos
at BO. Knowing and respecting the ever-evolving nature of human life to me means keeping the dweller’s past, present and future in mind. The intentional negative space allows room for growth - a practice that requires humility and restraint.

Project: Southbury. Photographer: John Daniel Powers

Project: Southbury. Photographer: John Daniel Powers

What architecture and design styles are you inspired by?

Melissa

I’m really drawn to the intricate, precise detailing in Georgian style architecture and the
sober atmosphere of the Brutalist interior.

What are your favorite materials and textures to work with?

Melissa

Linen and velvet. In tactility these two fabrics are nearly the polar opposite yet I love
them both dearly. Perhaps you can start seeing a pattern here: the juxtaposing tensions that create the mix often seen in our designs. The sumptuous handfeel in velvet and the way its subtle sheen reacts to light differently at any given angle is endlessly mesmerizing. That said, linen would be my choice if I had to pick only one fabric to live with for the rest of my life. Linen is the type of material that ages beautifully in a personable fashion - the touch of soft washed linen on the skin is pure indulgence.

What makes a house feel like a home to you?

Melissa

The personal narrative told by the design. We like to see a house as a treasure box that holds all our most intimate bits. Through design, we’re able to carefully fold in reminiscence of individual memories and create a footprint incorporating these mementos reflecting the person’s past and present. That’s an irreplicable connection between the space and its dwellers.

Project: Boerum Hill. Photographer: William Jess Laird

Project: Boerum Hill. Photographer: William Jess Laird

What are your daily rituals?

Melissa

I wake up every morning surrounded by my 4 cats in bed. After tending to their individual needs, I go up to BO studio, which is located on the top floor of my house, to start my work day with the team.

What I really enjoy about the studio is a large skylight giving us tons of natural light
throughout the day. You can also hear raindrops, see snowflakes, or feel the warmth of the sunshine. It’s been great starting the day in this environment.

For the rest of the day, I tend to
require lots of caffeine: coffee & tea on rotation, to look semi-professional throughout appointments and Zoom meetings. I often make myself a protein shake for lunch. Most days go by swiftly but I do try to squeeze in an evening workout session.

Then it’s time to unwind and
curl up on the couch with my husband and the cats. The chill time calls for music, books, and sometimes a bath when I'm not feeling lazy.

 

Erika

Perhaps many parents can identify with this, but my daily rituals are now one and the same as my toddler’s. Every morning I make breakfast and have a small cup of coffee while our son eats. We chat about his upcoming day, what activity he has planned, and which friends he will see.

Upon checking into the office, I typically go through emails then head off to a jobsite, dig into some research, or brainstorm concepts with our team. There’s always a point in the afternoon where I like to recline on our office’s daybed with a fresh cup of tea and some sort of snack!

After work, my partner picks me up and I dive into cooking dinner as soon as we get home. We tend to have a leisurely dinner, slowing down and spending quality time together. Our evening rituals include lounging in the living room eating fruit, reading three books, singing three songs, making sure my son has all three of his blankets, both his blue and green water bottle, then it’s lights off - bedtime!