The FORM Questionnaire: Talking to Mallory McDonagh

Mallory McDonagh, of Studio3877, approaches her design work holistically. Image courtesy Studio 3877. As part of our on-going series of conversations with designers and architects, delving into what makes them tick, we chatted with Mallory McDonagh, of Studio3877 in Washington, DC, a firm with an expansive hospitality portfolio. Mallory, as we quickly discovered, is an old soul at heart but with an approach to design that is forward-looking and innovative. She filled us in on where she finds inspiration (hint: she’s analog and digital) and how she gets her ideas out (it often starts with words).

What direction do you see the profession heading?

I see designers really focusing on the complete design package. In hospitality, this can be an extraordinarily powerful strategy in branding and concept development. When designers are able to be involved in each aspect of a project, for example, menus, branding, interior, exterior, signage, way finding, etc., not only do lines between architect/designer/graphics/marketing, and other disciplines start to fade, but the final product is something richer and more developed.

What buildings inspire you?

Historic spaces, whether they have been refurbished and re-conceptualized, or are in disrepair. I feel like the intent of older buildings, regardless of function, is something stronger, yet somehow more subtle, than simply constructing something harder, better, faster, and cheaper, which is how many new buildings are conceptualized today. There is a certain romance in older buildings that gets lost in the immediacy of our industry. I love the Ottoman Bank Museum in Istanbul—it perfectly blends a historic building with contemporary interiors through white washed giant coffers and pilasters, super graphics and bright yellow accents. It’s fun and beautiful, but still maintains the integrity of the original space.

Where else do you find inspiration?

Website likes and Interior Design magazine have phenomenal photography and relevant topics to the hospitality design industry so those can be really helpful when researching a project, and pulling some precedents. More tangibly though, brainstorming and working with a partner or team on a new project and having ideas feed off of one another—there’s nothing better.

Courtesy Studio 3877.What are your three favorite objects?

A perfect pair of sunglasses, a huge purse, and my Danish chair poster.

What do you collect (furniture, records, t-shirts, etc.) ?

Without meaning to, I’ve become a collector of my friends clothes, and not the cool stuff that I secretly covet, but items like old college t-shirts and hoodies from places I’ve never been. A good, worn-in t-shirt from somebody I love means more to me than any random trinket. 

Who are some of your favorite young designers?

Kristina Ninivaggi, the recent recipient of the Contract Magazine Designer of the Year award, is super influential, not only in the breadth and variety of her portfolio, but in her drive and passion in developing the interior design discipline at SHoP Architects. She has some incredible experience and has been a part of a number of fantastic high concept spaces.

If you could live anywhere, where it would it be (a location or specific structure)?

Location wise, I would love to live in Copenhagen. I spent a semester there and completely fell in love with the city. That being said, it was horrendously freezing, so I might be happy in a sunnier place like San Diego.

A decade from now, what trends will be cringeworthy?

Crop tops. But also, I think the midcentury look has been, and is, very much on its way out. There’s retro, and then there’s copying the Mad Men set.

What currents trends will stand the test of time?

The Scandinavian aesthetic is a really classic look. In any “trend” I feel that the use of natural materials can make the style feel less ephemeral and less anchored in an isolated moment in design history. What’s great about Scandinavian design is that there are iconic elements, natural elements and new trends that fit seamlessly together. It also doesn’t hurt that simply craft beautiful birch table reminds me of being young and free, roaming the streets of Copenhagen, and desperately pooling my kroner to buy an Elderflower cider.

What are you reading?

Emails. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is always by my bedside.

What are you wearing?

Jeans, a giant sweater and heels (that I really want to change into flip-flops as soon as possible).

What are you eating?

A juicy, medium rare hamburger and sea salt truffle fries with an enormous glass of wine.

Do you listen to music while you’re working?


Are you a sketcher or a computer person?

I have to start with sketching, or writing, before doing anything in the computer. I tend to do a lot of word diagramming and free associations in the beginning of a project, and from there I move onto developing an imagery collection. Throughout the entire design process, I always go back to sketching or writing. Everything is very fluid—I think it’s impossible to finish a project linearly.

Social media—yes or no?

I’m mixed on this one, because while I have Facebook, I truthfully only use it to look at pictures of people I kind-of-sort-of know. It’s greatest for that. Beyond the casual, innocuous stalking, I’m a little bit of a social media Luddite and don’t completely know how to use Instagram/Twitter.  Obviously for marketing, those platforms can be great tools, but it’s hard me for me to view social media as anything more than a great base for a Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake skit.


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