In the new book “Modern Americana”, interior designer Max Humphrey introduces his take on the style in clients’ homes across the country.
DESIGNS BY MAX HUMPHREY | PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTOPHER DIBBLE
Max Humphrey wasn’t always a collector, but he’s always enjoyed exploring. “I had some time to kill on a work trip layover in Ohio when I wandered into an antique store that was going out of business,” he recalls. “The owner said she was closing up shop after forty years to travel the country in an RV. When she noticed me flipping through a stack of rolled-up yard-long photos from the ‘20s and ’30s, she said, “If you’re interested in those things, come back here into the storage room.’ I got to go through her personal stash and that was the start of my years-long collecting crusade of these yard-long panoramic portraits. I didn’t know whether I would use them in a client’s home or my own; I just knew I had to have them. Like any good collection, it has to start somewhere. Now I’m always collecting something.”
Reclaimed furnishings, such as this dresser, are a mainstay of Modern Americana. Nothing’s ever perfect in Humphrey’s rooms, as seen in the mismatched drawers.
Today the interior designer and author is the go-to source for a lived-in, layered look that puts a fresh spin on classic American style. From a modern-retro knotty pine sitting room with a built-in daybed to a wood-paneled wall hung with tramp art mirrors, in Humphrey’s hands every room shows signs of life and personality. His modern Americana style is also accessible. It’s not about expensive light fixtures, custom-made furniture, and museum-quality antiques; it’s about thinking creatively and reinterpreting classic elements, from bandanas to flea market finds. It’s about layering with texture and color, showcasing objects with meaning, and celebrating the thrill of found treasures. As Humphrey puts it, “I believe style is about knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn!”
One section of Modern Americana is devoted to outdoor living. Here, camp cots are topped with custom made national-park-striped cushions and accessorized with pillows and a retro Coleman cooler.
In his first book, Modern Americana, the Portland-based designer explores the elements of the style, reinterpreted for today and available to anyone with a DIY spirit or who simply loves the joy of discovery. Seventy elements, from fabrics to pattern, from flags and banners to wall treatments, from fixtures to painted furniture, are organized into chapters with titles like ‘Stick ‘em Up’, ‘Bricks and Mortar’ and ‘Educate & Illuminate’.
Left: Pink can be western when paired with gingham, as in this basement rec room. Middle: Humphrey’s book highlights elements of the style, including baskets, paint-by-numbers and Pendleton. Right: A DIY fireplace makeover provides the perfect backdrop for an Old Hickory arm chair. Photo by Kaitlin Green.
Humphrey loves to play up history and nostalgia. In ‘The Wild West’ section of the book, for instance, a vintage cowboy painting comfortably defines a windowseat reading nook, seeming to offer quiet company while gazing westward out the window. Sliding barn doors—great looking and especially convenient in a room with a tight configuration—get a shout-out in ‘Into the Woods’, while camp cots with National Park-striped cushions are featured in ‘The Great Outdoors’. Humphrey loves collectibles like pottery and baskets, whimsical items like indoor swings and dice, and vintage textiles like bandanas, trade blankets, grain sacks, and quilts. “These can make a colorful graphic statement on a blank wall,” he says, “and they can also be cut up and repurposed as throw pillows, seat cushions, or even framed art.”
The designer is known for his casual, lived-in look. Every room is suitable for books, guitars and collections.
Iconic American brands like Pendleton Woolen Mills and Old Hickory Furniture Co. are highlighted in the book, alongside newer made-in-America companies like Schoolhouse Electric, Lee Industries, and Loll Designs. Humphrey celebrates the thrill of hunting for vintage in the rooms he designs. The tireless flea market and antique mall scavenger can get as excited about a paint-by-number work by an unknown artist as he can about a collectible mid-century treasure.
Growing up in rural New England, Humphrey didn’t know about interior design. It wasn’t until he’d gone to college, worked in TV and movie production in LA, and spent a few years on the road playing bass in a punk rock band that he discovered he had a knack for pulling a room together. Once he realized he might make a career out of it, he was all in. Humphrey immersed in any literature he could find on the subject then worked for a LA design firm for eight years. Since 2016, when he moved with his young family to Portland and hung out his own shingle, he’s designed everything from a laid-back beach house in Oregon to a traditional town house in Boston, plus mountain homes and urban lofts. Commercial projects include a hotel, a winery, retail shops, and a food truck. He’s even designed an Airstream trailer. A sought-after art director and stylist for retail catalogs, Humphrey has created many campaigns for home décor brands and global big box stores.
The designer sees Modern Americana as a resource that gives readers confidence, whether it’s gathering natural materials from their own backyards, exploring neighborhood estate sales, visiting antique malls when traveling, reusing things they already own, shopping locally, or finding regional artisans to collaborate with.
Humphrey’s main piece of advice for DIY decorating? “When it comes to decorating your own home, don’t overthink it,” he says. “If you buy things you love, you’ll always find a place for them.”
Buy the book here and visit Max Humphrey’s website here.