MONTEREY, Mass. — It didn’t take long for the pandemic to disrupt careers for Christopher Riggleman and Jonathon Loy in New York City.
Riggleman had been dug-in as a senior designer at top interior design firm Pembrooke & Ives, and Loy had a dream post as a guest stage director and staffer for the Metropolitan Opera. Together for over 12 years and married for almost 7, they lived and worked in the city, and things were looking up.
Then, the coronavirus hit.
At Riggleman’s workplace, adjustments were made to deal with the pandemic; for Loy, March 12 was a hard anniversary, “of being asked to gather belongings and evacuate the Met’s rehearsal room.”
“It was going to be one of the biggest years of my life. It was going to be my debut at the Teatro Real in Madrid with Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, and my debut directing Elektra with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I had tons of projects coming up.”
“Just like everyone else, I'm not special. It was gone in a flash,” says Loy, also the co-founder of the Berkshire Opera Festival.
Perhaps it was heaven-sent, then, that the men had bought a country house in Monterey in 2019.
“The point was to spend weekends here,” says Loy. “The joke between the two of us when we bought the country house was, ‘Oh, maybe we should just leave the hustle-and-bustle of NYC behind and go live in the country house. Ha ha ha ha. And then it was presented to us on a silver platter.”
The home rapidly became permanent, as they transitioned out of New York City, and Riggleman began to work remotely from Monterey.
“That got me thinking. ‘Maybe now, despite the world being turned upside down, maybe it's a good time to build something, to build our own business,’” says Riggleman. “The pandemic was really the catalyst for this change.”
“It just made sense. It was almost survival mode. We needed to make a living. ‘You’ve been designing for years now. I've started businesses before. I know how to do this, let me help you start your own interior design studio.’” Loy recalls telling his business and life partner.
Adds Riggleman: “With everything that was happening in the world we decided to create something positive for ourselves.”
The birth of a studio
Thus, in October 2020, Studio Riggleman was born.
Loy is its chief operating officer, and Riggleman is its principal and lead designer; their mostly silent partner is Che, a very happy-looking rescue dog from Puerto Rico.
“She was the other pandemic decision. We got her in May,” says Riggleman.
From their rehabbed 1780 schoolhouse, which will be a showhouse for clients to visit, the duo offers interior design services, custom design plans and installation of work to the highest standards.
To Studio Riggleman, each client is unique, and Riggleman works as a partner with the client, to execute their visions and apply his deft touches when sought.
Riggleman says his work will often have “a luxurious undertone to it. The firm that I worked for was super, super high end. Even while working there, I always said I liked sophisticated casual. I want someone to walk into a space and feel a sense of calm, to feel like the space was really thoughtful but approachable.” “To some degree, I like living spaces to feel timeless.
Studio Riggleman creates one-of-a-kind roomscapes, collaborating with homeowner clients, local artists, craftspeople and contractors, who all contribute to refreshing, brightening and re-inventing your living and work spaces.
Most frequently, homeowners come well-equipped with their own aesthetic for their interior design.
“I had one client who had her own art dealer, someone she worked with to source all of her art. She only wanted input on how it could be incorporated into the space,” says Riggleman.
In the case of an ongoing project at a home in Hillsdale, N.Y., the client has a specific aesthetic.
‘Where’s the marriage?’
“It's our job to figure out, ‘OK, this is what they like, these are their colors, this is the design that Chris wants to do. Where’s the marriage between them?’” says Loy.
“For example, you will have a client who really likes Cindy Sherman and another who really likes Takashi Murakami,” says Riggleman. “I find that the clients usually have an idea of the type of art they like, and I have to figure out how to make it work.”
In some cases, clients already have their whole art collection, and they’re solely figuring out how to place it; in other cases, Studio Riggleman will need to buy new pieces at the client’s behest.
“There’s a lot of dialogue that happens, from beginning to end,” says Loy. “In Hillsdale, we’ve taken all the art off the walls. We have to repaint all the walls and ceilings. Then there’s a discussion of what needs to be reframed to fit in with the new colors, and where things will go back.”
Riggleman says he loves to work with artists, that makes new interior installations unlike any other, such as a custom designed venetian plaster wall they just installed.
“To find people who are so skilled in their craft, it’s inspiring and it also elevates the design and the process of the design,” says Riggleman.
“I think clients love having something in their house that no one else can have, a truly one one-of-a-kind piece, whether it’s a venetian plaster wall or a World War I propeller that we just installed,” adds Riggleman.
As the pandemic wanes in the Berkshires, the men are looking forward to building new relationships with the region’s many artists and craftspeople. Meanwhile, Loy has family in the Berkshires, and three of his cousins are in the design world: Karen Shreefter Landscape Design; Chris Blair Design and Planning; and Bill Talbot of Asia Barong. Let’s not forget 95 year old Great Uncle Gene Talbot, a retired Psychologist and former selectman for Stockbridge.
“If we’re ever looking for, let’s say, a specific piece of pottery, among the cousins, they know everybody,” says Loy.
The work Studio Riggleman does is relationship-based, and Riggleman specializes in the interpersonal ebb and flow needed in the partnership between client and designer. In any business, he notes, there’s a psychological element to client relationships.
“Sometimes you become a bit of a therapist. They will tell you things you’re not expecting to hear. But, if you’re that person they feel comfortable telling, then fine,” he jokes.
Loy notes that not all couples agree on their aesthetic. He and Riggleman say that there’s no real dividing line between who calls the shots for design at home, and that it varies from client to client.
“At times, I’ve worked solely with one spouse while the other says, ‘I don't even need to know about it.’ I have also had situations where a spouse is passionate about architecture and design and becomes very involved in looking at the drawings and knowing every step of the design process, and even come up with their own ideas,” says Riggleman. “And then I’ve had clients where the couples are so engaged about everything, they’ve given me all of the information, and trust me to do what I do.”
Get in touch for a consultation
Since incorporating in October, Studio Riggleman has completed a commercial project, several consultations, and are currently working on two residential projects. The design studio is able to assist homeowners and businesses with a full-scale remodel or ones that are eager to refresh their living and work spaces for spring. The studio can also perform color and other consultations either in person, or via video-call, should clients wish.
“Everyone is looking to get their homes refreshed for spring, and certainly they're looking ahead to when they have family and guests,” says Riggleman. “We can help.”
Studio Riggleman begins each client relationship with an initial meeting, with a Q&A to make sure it's a good fit for both parties, and to get the scope of the work. One agreed upon, Riggleman puts together a proposal and contract.