“WHY and I chose each other,” says Sora Park, the newest addition to the WHY leadership team.
As head of Interior Design, she brings to the fore her prior experience as global retail designer at Tiffany & Co. and interior designer for worldwide projects at Rockwell Group. Sora has kicked off her tenure here working intimately with the Buildings and Museums Workshops; informed by her practice of customizing furniture solutions for everything from flexibly programmed, highly populated commercial settings to private, uniquely catered residential spaces, Sora likewise sets her sights on expanding the Objects Workshop.
With resounding subtexts of ambition and optimism, Sora discusses how a pause from her fast-paced career was in fact the inciting moment that allowed for a step back, and the ensuing refocus that lead her to WHY.
What were you up to before WHY?
2021 was a pivotal year for me. I joined WHY in August after two years at Tiffany & Co. Before Tiffany & Co., I worked at Rockwell, creating narratives, working a lot with hospitality clients and on international projects in Dubai, in China, Japan, London, Paris – everywhere. So I have done more commercial interior design and office work, global hotels and restaurant groups. I’ve worked on a lot of concept developments, drawings, even furniture design. I can jump into any kind of project. Some people are kind of scared when they’re not familiar, but I don’t live like that.
How will these more expansive aspects of your expertise, like furniture design, play into the interiors strategy for WHY?
Furniture and interiors are always tied together. I do custom furniture for my projects, for commercial and for private clients, so I’m excited about building out the Objects workshop. That is my roadmap.
And over the years I’ve gotten to work with expert consultants from all over the world: metal makers and furniture designers in Italy, a gilded plaster artist in Paris. There’s a big network to tap.
Do you subscribe to any specific design style or philosophy?
I always say that I work “with clients” – I don’t have a philosophy, necessarily. It depends on the project and the client; I ultimately want them to use me like a tool. They have ideas, but they may not be able to visualize or form them structurally. I am the tool to form them, to make it all happen. Some clients are really good at concept and narrative, but let’s put that into shape and color. That’s my role. That’s my philosophy, I guess you could say.
Some designers have certain styles and don’t want to try certain things. I don’t work like that. I’ve done contemporary hotels, but also traditional landmark spaces. It all depends on the client and where they’re coming from. Right now, as an example, we’re working on the Nazarian Gallery in L.A.; but we also have some more commercial projects in the pipeline.
Do you have any standout clients or projects that have been particularly formative?
I worked with José Andrés, a Michelin-star chef and humanitarian, on one of his restaurants in Dallas, and his first one in DC. His team, the chefs, José himself – they’re amazing people. Positive, chill, and trustful.
Also, at Tiffany & Co., the store in Stockholm was my last project before I came to WHY. It was a brand-new concept. There was a big transition after LVMH bought the company, and the new creative director came from merchandising so, for being a heritage brand, I had a little more freedom for the interior design. I was able to create a new concept for the overall retail design for Tiffany’s. It was an interesting process.
Did you always have a vision for yourself as an interior designer?
I had an engineering background – I was not an arts student at all. Growing up in Korea, I was always an arts kid: I spent a lot of time playing piano, took lessons for painting. My close cousin became a furniture designer and he influenced me a lot. We practiced sketching, he taught me how to do pencil drawings.
Then you felt set on the path to interior design?
I didn’t think about my future yet. My mom pressured me to get into medicine or engineering, so when I came to New York I didn’t even know what I wanted to study. I went to language school, partied, was having fun. I then got to know some interior design friends, and I realized what they did was interesting to me. It was a little bit engineering, a little bit math. It’s not fine art, though – it’s an in-between, a middle ground.
How did you get from simply interested, to where you are now?
I got into the Fashion Institute of Technology, and finished school there. Since then, I’ve just been working and working, though I’ve explored different practices over the last 15 years. Then during COVID-19, my work vision changed. I had a “burned-out” moment. I took time off and focused on finding the “right” firm for me. Something more creative than what I was used to. I spent a lot of time researching, and I could feel that people didn’t want new, fresh movement. Then I found WHY, and WHY and I chose each other.
This has been a year of changes, it sounds like.
I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone this year. I was afraid of a knee injury, so I didn’t play tennis for a while. But I finally started again, and it has been a joy. I’m playing tennis 2 or 3 times a week now. I love it because it relieves stress, and it was something small, something tangible that I could approach to get to the next level. Having this hobby was really great for me; it was challenging, practicing over and over. I’ve learned that life is short, and today is younger than tomorrow! I’ll continuously be pushing myself to explore.