Gunnar Larson is braving fatherhood in the city with balance, style and a little bit of magical thinking.
Parenting in NYC is all about perspective. What others see as challenges, we see as opportunities--to grow ourselves and our kids, to engage and create, to solve problems and to innovate. What we lack in space, we make up for in passion and ingenuity. And the right design can make all the difference: in the way we organize our days with our kids, in the strollers we push, in the spaces we call home.
This week, we continue our collaboration with our friends at Bugaboo, showcasing some NYC dads who embody passion and creativity, alongside a stroller that’s equally as innovative: the Bugaboo by Diesel. If there’s anyone that can appreciate the high level of design packed into this relatively small stroller, it’s interior designer and visual artist Gunnar Larson.
Gunnar’s knack for small spaces first caught our attention with the impeccable nursery he designed for daughter Ihlen. No detail went unnoticed--from storage to wardrobe to hanging Dutch bassinet--all on the single bedroom wall of a tiny 400-square-foot apartment he shared with wife Sara.
Since then, we’ve followed Gunnar’s work in NYC residences big and small, as well as commercial projects that have spanned from skincare company to restaurant to even short film. His creativity and resourcefulness serve him well as a dad, too, as he navigates playgrounds and playdates, schedules and sleep training, in his North Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn with 22-month-old Ihlen.
We recently accompanied Gunnar on a stroll to one of his favorite prop shops, Film Biz Recycling, and learned about what inspires him as a designer...and a dad. We left big fans of both.
What do you love about raising kids in NYC?
My wife and I always tell people you should raise your kids where you feel at home. NYC is home for us. I love that my daughter is able to experience so many different people and walks of life around our city and community. I also love the fact that we don’t need a car to run errands; we can just get up and go for a walk around the city.
What surprised you most about becoming a dad?
How inspirational a little human can be. I was surprised at how your paternal instincts to protect, provide and share wisdom and truth with your child come so naturally.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A renaissance man. I may have discovered that term later in grade school, but when I was young I wanted to invent, explore and create. I was always building something; a horse out of leftover building materials, a jump rope and a hockey stick; a coffee table and side table out of my drum set; and lampshades out of rabbit fur pelts.
How did you end up doing what you’re doing?
It just happened over the course of time. I grew up outside of a small rural town of 650 people, so there were not a lot of career path options. I have always strived to have a beautiful home that is welcoming to all, and as a kid, I was building and repurposing things for my bedroom and around the house. I went to school to be a chiropractor and quickly switched over to art classes and graphic design. Throughout the years, I ended up working in set design, photo shoot propping and store visuals, which all lead me to interior design. My diverse background really has helped me to view homes and commercial spaces with a unique perspective. People want their homes to be a statement of creative inspiration, and commercial spaces want to be inviting, and have the ease and warmth of a home. It is a balance of an artistic eye and the effective use of space. I have evolved to where I am because of the people around me that see what I do as special, and hire me to create magical spaces for them and others.
What are some things you hope to teach your little one about your craft?
The power of perspective and risk. When designing any space you need to stick to your perspective and effectively communicate your vision to the client. You also need to take risks. Risks are hard but rewarding. My father taught me to take wise risks, and I want to teach my daughter to do that same. On the flip side, I definitely want to teach my daughter how to sew, saw and drill. The joy of being able to install a shelf properly or hem a curtain is rewarding and pretty practical.
How has becoming a dad impacted your work and creativity?
When Ihlen was about to be born, I finished her little nook in our old 400-sq-foot apartment in the East Village. It was then that not only me but everyone I knew affirmed my talents for small spaces and spacial design. Having Ihlen was what really made me stop and reflect on my own life, career and talents. I was able to understand my parents’ love and sacrifice for me as I was becoming a father. As I reflected on the past and looked forward to the future, I felt the freedom to take even larger, more creative risks in the name of being a father. There is power and strength in having the title of father, husband and best friend; it was becoming a dad that allowed me to stop and see this for the first time.
What’s your best strategy for achieving a family/work balance?
Schedule, schedule then let everything go! I secretly (now publicly) wish I was a yogi. I love yoga and had the best teacher several years ago in the East Village. I always loved doing poses and moves that were structured and difficult, and then the instructor would say, “Now let everything go!” Scheduled sleeping (sleep training) for our daughter was life changing! Everything she does is pretty much on a schedule. As two working parents, we need to be on schedules to get it all done, but then the best part is when you let it all go! We have set up our schedule to allow for some impromptu living. You need to schedule life, but then you also need to just live it. It is a balance, and sometimes it gets a little messed up, but then you just get back to your schedule and start over again...then let everything go.
How has your style changed since becoming a parent? Do you have a dad uniform?
My wife and I love fashion! My style has become even more crazy, elaborate and bold. Maybe it is because it is so fun dressing Ihlen up in fun outfits, and that is inspirational to me. The one uniform aspect I do have is my slippers. I have two pairs: my work-from-home black slippers and my off-work-at-home brown leather slippers. It is weird, but it helps me know when to relax and when I need to be focused on a work task.
What everyday things have made you realize that being a parent involves bravery?
Playgroups and the playground. These activities can be overwhelming and scary. You have the parent cliques, the nannies that don’t care, the kids who bite, the parents who freak out at everything and then the parents who are nonchalant in just about every way of life. It takes bravery to break through to other parents and caregivers and also to let your child interact with other kids. One day your kid is getting pushed and bitten, and the next day your kid is the one biting and pushing. You need bravery, thick skin, patience and love for everyone--both children and parents.
Photography by Justin Borucki.
This post was brought to you by Bugaboo.