John Willey combines the Unique with the Practical to Create Perfect Interiors
Written by Joseph Montebello
Photo by Zlatko Batistich
It’s been a busy year for interior designer John Willey. After living in New York City for over 20 years he and his husband sold their apartment, moved to a rental, sold their house in Dutchess County, bought a new one in Lakeville, and experienced the birth of their daughter. And yet he is still smiling.
“I think Covid-19 made me realize it was time to slow down, get out of the city, and start to carve out some father time,” Willey explains. “I am taking on fewer projects and trying to avoid any in the city. I am hoping to get more design work locally.” Willey is extremely outgoing, talented, and always up for a challenge. Since his childhood days in the Midwest he has considered himself a design freak. “I adored Legos and graph paper. One of my favorite Christmas gifts was Terence Conran’s The House Book,” he recalls. “I loved to study design and architecture and knew that was the field I wanted to pursue.”
He got his Bachelor of Fine Arts in design and had considered going on to get a degree in architecture, but instead began interning for The Gettys Group in Chicago, a hotel design and development firm. He was offered a full-time job as a junior designer and worked his way through the ranks. From there Willey moved to New York City and worked for such stellar designers as Vicente Wolf and Jeffrey Bilhuber. He launched Willey Design in 2006 and has been in constant demand ever since.
Known for his use of bold colors and mixing classic and modern elements in the same room, Willey evokes sophistication with a touch of irreverence. “Every project is a true collaboration with my clients,” Willey says. “First, I walk through the space with them, listening to their practical needs while trying to read between the lines to decipher what they may not be able to express. Once I have a theme, it’s a fairly quick and easy process coming up with the design direction and palette, but then the real work begins—implementing the ideas into reality. I love planning out the space, the flow, the discovery from room to room, the sense of surprise.
“Making it pretty doesn’t happen until later,” he continues. “The practical items have to be in place first. Later on is when you get to the exciting part with rugs, chandeliers, tables, chairs—the icing on the cake.”
Willey has designed so many diverse projects, but on his wish list of things he has not done yet is a space for communities to come together. “A small bed and breakfast,” he explains, “or a lovely inn. Something that is engaging and would welcome family and friends.” For the moment, though, Willey is renovating his new home, adjusting to having a daughter, and settling into a new lifestyle.
340 Main Street, Lakeville