CHATS / Andrew McDonald of Upstairs Design

August 15, 2018

Courtesy of Upstairs Design

Meet Andrew McDonald, the man behind Upstairs Design, an NYC-based interior design studio focused on transforming un-inspired, mundane spaces into masculine homes of sophistication and taste. We sat down with him to talk design and neighborhood favorites.

What led you to interior design?

After graduating with an art degree, I began my professional career in branding and design. Living in the city posed the challenge of finding smaller, more functional furniture both for my apartment. So I began building my own solutions—first for myself, then for friends, and then for friends of friends, which eventually led me to diving full-on into interiors.

Tell us about your creative process.

It takes a while before I get in front of the computer. Even though the entire process is quite fast from initial consultation to the delivered designs, I spend much of the upfront time in my head; visualizing the space, flipping through my inspiration sources, sketching layouts and potential furniture solutions. For me, it’s all about plotting and planning the visuals in the space of my own mind before I start officially pulling together a cohesive design presentation.

Describe your style in 5 words.

Warm, functional, lived-in, non-precious, laid-back.

Courtesy of Upstairs Design

What inspired you to start Upstairs Design?

I’m a guy, and it became pretty clear to me pretty quickly that guys have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to interior design. And the options that exist on the market feel very skewed towards females. Men are finally caring about their clothing and grooming… interiors deserve the same attention. Your home is part of your identity, and the process involved in creating a personal, handsome space doesn’t need to be so crazy expensive and/or mysterious.

How is Upstairs Design different than traditional interior design companies?

There are 2 huge problems with traditional companies that Upstairs is designed to solve. The first is that they’re insanely confusing. There are a ton of hidden costs and the process (and what you’re getting) is often unclear. The second is that most designers seem to design spaces for the beautiful, staged photos. I won’t argue that those shots aren’t important, but the primary goal of Upstairs is to design spaces that are truly functional, that can actually be lived in.

Courtesy of Upstairs Design

Tell us a little more about the different levels of service Upstairs Design offers and the process clients go through:

I created plans for 2 different types of guys. The first is for the guy who wants to be a part of the full process but isn’t sure how to start. For him, we work out a full design plan that’s built to give him all the tools he needs to go out and execute on his own. The second is for the hands-off and hand-it-over guy. Maybe he’s too busy, maybe he can’t be bothered with the details and choices. For him, we do everything from the planning to the purchasing to the physical installation.

When it comes to the process, it always begins with a home visit. We’ll have a beer, see the space and talk needs, timing and budget. We’ll comb through a collection of image boards to hone-in on the design style that feels like the best fit. Next, we’ll share a recommended level of engagement. Once everyone is comfortable—it’s off to the races. We’ll share a first round of the design plan within a week and usually are ready to start making purchases by the 2-week mark.

Courtesy of Upstairs Design

What is your go-to source for inspiration?

Honestly everything. I have quite a large, OCD-organized set of folders on my desktop containing images I’ve been saving for the past 8 years. My style definitely pulls inspiration from Europe (my mom is from Berlin), so whenever I’m across the Atlantic, I try to visit and experience as many design-forward homes and buildings as possible.

If you could design a space for anyone, what kind of space, and for whom would it be?

Roger Federer’s Swiss Alps indoor tennis court and lounge.

What is your favorite piece in your own home?

Definitely my wall-mounted magazine shelf. It’s a prototype I built at the end of last year as a solve for the fact that I have way too many stacks of magazines and books in my apartment. I wanted to showcase some of my favorites, rather than finding/hanging another piece of art. I hope to start producing them later this year.

Courtesy of Upstairs Design

Who do you look up to in the design world?

Commune Design and Donald Judd.

What is a staple in your toolkit?

My collection of design magazines and my Moleskine notebook.

Which design blog or website would you be lost without?

Two design blogs that can really be held responsible for starting me on this design-obsessed path would be Convoy and the late, Blood and Champagne.

Outside of interior design, what are your passions?

Now that it’s summertime, the McCarren Park tennis ladder is taking up most of my time and mind-space.

Courtesy of Upstairs Design

Andrew’s Guide to Greenpoint, Brooklyn:


Five Leaves. It has treated me right for 9 years.


Lake Street. The least offensive sports bar.


Chez Ma Tante. It’s trendy and delicious with non-fussy design.


Enid’s. In 2009 I only came here for the dance parties… now I come for the kale.


Wythe Hotel. Yes, it’s technically Williamsburg, I know.


Home of The Brave. Home stores in Brooklyn usually skew way too cute, this one skews just right.


Homecoming. I always leave with a new plant.


A/D/O. The only co-working space that’s free, chill, and two blocks from my house.

LIVunLtd clients receive 10% off! Contact your concierge to work with Upstairs Design on your next design project.