Nine years ago, Maxwell Ryan was known as the “apartment therapist,” traveling by scooter to his clients’ homes to help them make their spaces beautiful, organized and healthy. Today, Apartment Therapy, the website he started as part of his design services, helps more than 15 million unique readers per month accomplish the same goal for themselves. Along the way, Apartment Therapy has helped define and facilitate a new approach to the good life.
HOME: FORM AND FUNCTION
Soft-spoken and charismatic, Maxwell brings his readers and clients a nurturing aura and a well-honed philosophy of homemaking with origins in his childhood. When he was a kid, his next-door neighbors had one of those houses where everyone loved to hang out. Even at a young age, Maxwell knew he wanted to make that kind of a home for himself when he was older – one that felt good, that was welcoming and comfortable, that invited lingering and laughter.
After graduating from Oberlin, Maxwell landed a job at a prestigious NYC design firm. While he worked on many beautiful projects he soon started to feel disillusioned with the industry’s emphasis on form over function. Looking for a more meaningful career he decided to go back to school for a Master’s in Literature.
LIFE AT HOME
Maxwell has the kind patience of a teacher, and, in fact, he taught for 7 years after finishing grad school. As part of his teaching duties, Maxwell made home visits to meet with his students and their families. During these meetings, Maxwell began to notice how space affects how we live and perform. The students who were best behaved, well adjusted, and high achieving invariably came from the nicest homes – not the biggest or most expensively decorated homes, but the ones that were best cared for, most organized and which felt the best.
THE APARTMENT THERAPIST
Maxwell’s personal design philosophy began to take shape, and he decided to start his own design service to help people make their homes beautiful, organized and healthy. His touch points were simplicity, comfort, and lack of clutter. Unlike typical designers, he didn’t want to dictate where things should go or how people should live, he wanted to arm them with the tools and the confidence to decide for themselves. Shortly after launching in 2001, he started a weekly email where he would send tips and recommendations to an increasing distribution list, combining education with decoration.
At the same time Maxwell’s brother Oliver Ryan who worked in digital media, saw the potential for Apartment Therapy to embrace a new kind of media. They partnered to turn the weekly email into a daily blog post, reviewing stores, offering tips, posting photos of Maxwell’s design projects and answering readers’ questions.
As the readership grew, so did Apartment Therapy. Between 2004 and 2008, the site launched sister sites – the Kitchn for food and cooking, Ohdeedoh for family and children (the name inspired by Maxwell’s now 6-year-old daughter Ursula’s first word), Unpluggd for technology, and ReNest for green decorating. Maxwell hired full-time staff, and soon an expanding pool of freelancers. The blog expanded across cities, starting in New York, and adding Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC.
Maxwell also wrote two bestselling design books during this time, Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure in 2006, and Apartment Therapy Presents: Real Homes, Real People, Hundreds of Design Solutions in 2008. In 2010, Clarkson Potter published his most successful book to date, New York Times best selling Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces.
THE NEW LIFESTYLE
In 2008 when the recession hit, readers flocked to the site, giving Apartment Therapy a record year. Magazines were folding, but blogs had taken off, and Apartment Therapy was on the vanguard of the new media, as well as a new lifestyle. Apartment Therapy offered a personal model, which presented tools, inspiration and resources for people to figure out their own path.
In January 2012 Apartment Therapy relaunched, compressing to better serve its readers, and resulting in a huge increase in traffic. Because family, technology and green living have tremendous overlap with the original design site, these separate sites were absorbed into Apartment Therapy (lifestyle), while The Kitchn (cooking) remains separate. Streamlined and easier to navigate, Apartment Therapy continues to offer its readers different ways to build their own “good life,” based not just on style but on lifestyle.