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Passion for Design Infuses Every Aspect of Miles Willis McDermott’s Life

McDermott, on one of the first chairs he designed.

A passion for design infuses every aspect of Miles Willis McDermott’s life.

There’s not really one word or term that totally encapsulates me,” says Miles Willis McDermott, a young creative with an almost punk-rock edge. “Designer probably comes closest.”

He’s not being coy or pretentious. In fact, in conversation, the 29-year-old comes across as completely without artifice. It’s just that his passions cover the design gamut. At any one time his clients may include an entrepreneur who needs a logo and packaging; a salon owner who enlists him to do everything from designing a hip, inviting space to building her website; and a couple wanting a new look for their home.

1. A covered patio area at designer Miles Willis McDermott’s home shows off a handful of his creations, including a pair of Neoclassical Mace lamps, a hand-patinated hanging brass sculpture inspired by Japanese comics and a sofa he designed and crafted. 2. McDermott’s Target Practice chair sits companionably by a 19th-century Rococo marble-topped side table in the den. 3. McDermott designed the wet bar’s cabinetry and hardware, as well as the shelves that hold his collection of antique bottles of liquor. The lamp above the vintage metal flower-base table and rosewood chairs is also his design, as are the hanging tapestries; the panel with the white polka dot, inspired by Japanese noren curtains, disguises a closet. 4. The Beacon chair, crafted of raw and polished brass, mixes classical and space-age details and a faux shearling seat that makes a cozy contrast with the hard metal frame.

Phoenix entrepreneur John Cardosa hired McDermott for help with branding for his fledgling tool company. “Miles is super-intuitive, and he has an aesthetic gift that’s really quite amazing,” Cardosa says.

McDermott’s typical day is anything but predictable. “It’s an ADHD dream/nightmare,” he says with a laugh. “I turned my short attention span into my business. For a few hours I’ll work on a branding project. When I don’t feel like doing that anymore I’ll work on an interior design project. Then I’ll mess around with a lamp or some brass parts in my workshop. I try to let it be a natural flow.”

His attraction to design was probably inevitable. “The house I grew up in was always really well-decorated,” he says. “We didn’t have a ton of money, but my mother was a designer, and she was the queen of thrift shops and garage sales.”

At his first job in a thrift shop, McDermott fell in love with all things midcentury. “There was this crazy walnut hutch,” he recalls. “I went home after work and Googled it and I was so mind-blown; I didn’t know the style existed.”

When he moved out on his own, he turned his Phoenix apartment into a virtual midcentury time capsule. “I had a turquoise fridge from the ’50s, and I restored all the 1960s details of the apartment,” he says. “That’s where I learned a lot about the basics of interior design.”

A midcentury John Mascheroni sofa, reworked in McDermott’s signature white, black and gold theme, sits in his office in the Eye Opener antiques gallery in Sunnyslope.

Still, it took McDermott a while to make interior design part of his career. He earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Phoenix, then joined an agency, where his first project was a rebranding of downtown Tempe. “It was a small agency, so each person had to do everything. I did a lot of creative and art direction and web design,” he recalls.

The longer he worked at the agency, the more he found something was missing. “A lot of the projects I worked on were in hospitality, hotels and restaurants that would have exuberant interior spaces, but there wasn’t a connection between us and the interior design firm, so when the branding and the interior came together it didn’t always work,” he explains. “That weirded me out. If it’s not coming from the same brain, the two brains at least need to be talking.”

For someone who seems to have an almost perfectly equal balance between right and left brains, the solution was simple: learn how to do it all and become a one-man operation.

“There’s this German word, ‘gasamtkustwerk,’ that means ‘total work of art.’” McDermott says. “It was originally used in musical theater in the 1800s to describe everything—music, acting, set design, costume design—coming together. I subscribe to that concept religiously, because when you unite all aspects, the end result is so much more impactful.”

The Phoenix home he shares with his girlfriend and Disco Inferno, their Pomeranian, is the testing ground for his evolving design practice. Like the man himself, the house is on the quirky side. It’s a bold study in black, white and gold with lots of playful, graphic accents and a big nod to neoclassical style. “Now that I’m doing more custom furniture and lighting, the house has become kind of a canvas to see what things look like,” he says.

Everything for sale on McDermott’s website was created in the tiny garage behind his home. Pieces can be inspired by just about anything. A collection of vintage arrows led to the creation of his Target Practice chair, crafted of recycled PET plastic and brass. A wooden flamingo found in an antique shop became a floor lamp (with one of those vintage arrows piercing its breast).

Entrepreneur Cardosa, who calls McDermott “one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet,” plans to have the young designer work his magic in his home next. “I’ve sometimes thought I’m going to turn every aspect of my life over to him—my house, what car I should drive, what clothes I should wear,” he says, only half joking. “I don’t have words to describe how supremely talented he is.”



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