Peter Max Bowden’s design resume includes a roster of jaw-dropping projects, from restaurants and private residences, to spas, luxury condos and an urban high-rise (the interiors at APEX in L.A., to be exact). After studying Architecture at The University of Colorado, Boulder, he worked as the Director of Design and Development at Dodd Mitchell Design for five years where he focused on industry-shifting hospitality projects and now runs his own firm, P E T E R M A X. We were lucky enough to catch up with this busy creative genius to chat about his diverse background and how he finds inspiration. Check out his site petermaxco.com and follow him on Instagram @petermax_co!
Were you always interested in design?
It’s hard for me to really say. I feel passions and interests evolve over time. As a child, I believe you are naturally drawn to your strengths and with encouragement those strengths can flourish into something amazing. Like most young kids, my days were spent surrounded by LEGOS. I was drawn to developing new concepts and the endless possibilities and configurations that could be created. From animals, to elaborate high-rises, I quickly learned that I had the ability to make something amazing from something so simple. All I needed were my two hands and a bit of imagination. I knew from a young age that the ideas were there and that creativity came naturally to me. It was the encouragement of my family growing up to pursue these natural talents that really pushed me to follow my passion.
How did you get into it?
There are three distinct moments in my life that I feel ultimately lead me to where I am today.
ONE: My family was in Real Estate and Development in Colorado since I was about 5 and I was inundated with the culture of design, sales, real estate and the sacrifice of it all. Risk was inherent. I saw my father take those risks, push, create, build, innovate, gain intrigue among buyers and investors and I was hooked upon the idea of holding all the cards. I think in our culture, people inherently seek design in their life. It’s human nature to desire beauty and when its achievable, life is better. Before I entered Architecture school, I worked as a contractor and had no vision of being an architect or designer. Day in and day out I would come to the job site, hammer in hand, and make other people’s ideas come to life. The architect’s would show up to the job site, redirect concepts and implement new ideas which would ultimately effect the course of what I did on the daily. It wasn’t until then that I realized how influential architects are at sculpting our environments and I knew this was something I wanted to pursue more seriously.
TWO: Architecture School taught me critical thinking about design challenges and a different way to look at pushing the boundaries of new concepts. Rarely are things what you see on the surface. Concepts are the driving force behind the final ‘product’. Over time instincts become more clear and you begin to trust your ‘out of the box’ thinking, which is what will set you apart in this industry. I found a passion for the creative process and was inspired by a handful of my studio instructors. This made all the difference in the world in where I am today.
THREE: In my twenties I dabbled in the real estate market. I did well until the crash and I was forced to redirect my career path. Through a short series of events I had the serendipitous opportunity to meet one of my design heroes and eventual mentor, Dodd Mitchell of Dodd Mitchell Design (DMD). Fast forward, I soon became his Director of Design and Development for his company for over 4 years. During that time, I learned many things from Dodd but most importantly he taught me that ‘There is no Spoon’. In other words, there are no rules, merely parameters and boundaries that should always be pushed. Most people don’t understand that vision is only inhibited by themselves or lack of vision. Nothing else. I have taken this with me in every project I worked on since. It is empowering to know I have no limits other than my own creativity and passion.
How would you describe your style?
I’d like to think that my design style is organically modern with a strong sense of texture and typically quite masculine. I also think that my style is diversely consistent. I know what I like and what I don’t like throughout the creative process and learning to trust my gut has been critical. My objective on all projects is to create a timeless, worldly and sophisticated product or environment. I have always been inclined to create within a modern framework and have been drawn to the likes of Brazilian Architects such as Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan. These are my Architectural heroes, so to speak. At least a few of them. I have always loved how they blend the modern form with amazingly organic textures and materials. I also know the power of walking into a space and feeling like I have been transported to something different. It may be a different time, a different part of the world but I know it will always be a different experience. This is really powerful if you think about it. If done correctly, design has a great effect on culture which motivates me more than anything. This is why I have been so drawn to the hospitality world. I avoid trends when possible and I’d like to think this helps inform my style. I keep this in mind and attempt to create spaces that will remain relevant over time.
Has it changed over the years? Can you give any examples?
I would say it has definitely evolved since I began doing this in my early twenties. Ive always trended towards a clean, modern aesthetic, but once I began working with along side Dodd Mitchell, who’s background is actually set design for TV, I starting learning the value of quality layering, varied textures, and most important, the discerning use of lighting. I have always understood the value of creating mood but, I have definitely have grasped this concept whole heartedly in the past few years.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by true ingenuity in any field. When I see something that ultimately changes the game or shifts the status quo, I am inspired. I am not only talking the design field, rather anything that pushes the envelope in any industry. I see what Tesla is doing for multiple industries and I am inspired to do the same in my industry. I find seeking inspiration outside of your own world or expertise is the most rewarding and often the most relevant. As it relates to the design world, I am always inspired by the rich history behind us as well as truly ground breaking designers that seem to create outside of the rules. This is risky and when done well, worth a blue ribbon.
Do you ever hit road blocks? How do you overcome them?
Roadblocks are the name of the game. Every project is a new design challenge and new opportunity to create outside of your comfort zone. Design is problem solving if nothing else. If I look back on all the projects behind me, its rare I have taken on the same type of project twice. So it seems in every new project, I am pushing my own creative limits as well as professional ability. True roadblocks are common but you have to trust the process as well. Usually, if you focus on a challenging issue with the right intentions, a solution will present itself. It might not always be the right solution, but it only helps you grow and improve as a designer. I really despise the saying, ‘analysis paralysis’ but unfortunately, every creative role faces it from time to time… gotta learn to trust your instincts. They are always right, for you…
Do you have any rules?
Normally, I like to play by certain set of rules that I have accumulated over time but in the end, my success has been based on keeping an open mind and always open to new ideas and never saying an idea is bad. I hope to continue this mindset. It also really helps to know what you like and what you don’t like so you can make decisions quickly and move forward. No designer has ever broken down any walls by copying other creative ideas directly. Influence is inevitable but, you always have you create with your own voice.
How has the economy affected your work?
I was fortunate to have been completely obliterated by the economy in 2009. I knew nothing but ‘NO’ for several years. This taught me that passion over money was something worth fighting for and I allowed passion to lead the way. It afforded me many amazing opportunities that I would have missed if I was choosing the safe route. I can look back at those years as the adversity that carved the stone, as I know many people can. I came out of that era as a better designer, more savvy entrepreneur and stronger man. thanks wall street..
Do clients comparison shop?
As a younger designer, clients will shop you of course, but this is the same with anything of value. Once you have established your value or place in the market, by all means shop all you want but, as they say, you get what you pay for.
What is the best piece of advice you were given?
In my experience, hard work, consistency and passion are what pay off. If I had to narrow down one consistent approach to my work, which was definitely handed down to me by my mentors in life/work, it is that the second you sell yourself out, is the second you give up and might as well stop playing the game. Design is 100% subjective and always open to the interpretation of the most influential voice in the room. Its hard to be that voice ALL the time, but when you allow for your vision to be watered down or influenced too heavily by others, game over. If I ever stop craving design or creating every day, I’ll start doing something else. I need to always have that edge. Bad clients are not worth much and good clients are worth everything.
Another piece of wisdom I gained from my mentor Dodd Mitchell was, ‘Mother Nature will always beat me’… so, don’t compete with her, embrace her, celebrate her and spaces usually design themselves once you get out of the way. Creating spaces that people love is an honor and privilege. No better feeling in the world than knowing you have created something that will move a total stranger without ever saying a single word.
What is the best piece of advice you can give?
If I am asked, by another designer some sort of advice; I would say. Find your voice. Find your passion. Find your path… Without this, design is better suited as a hobby. With the right voice, designers have the ability to affect entire experiences in so many ways. Design is meant to be an additive to our everyday experience. As designers, we have the opportunity to shape the surroundings of peoples’ lives, we are charged with the task of framing peoples experience, like a movie, we set the stage and can affect an evening, a moment, a memory, a lifetime. Everyone has a memory that has been effected by the atmosphere, the surroundings and the design of something. Find that voice and you will have a fruitful and rewarding career.
Peter Max Bowden is the principal of PETERMAX which focuses on industry shifting hospitality design, branding and concept development. With a diverse background in Architecture/Design, Construction, Real Estate Development and Marketing, Peter’s approach lends a sophistication and edge to the experience after grand opening. As the former Director of Design and Development for DODD MITCHELL DESIGN (www.doddmitchell.com) from 2009-2014, Peter has a strong history with industry giants such as MGM International, Starwood Capital, The ARIA Hotel, The Light Group and the Viceroy Hotels. With project diversity from Hotel, Restaurant/Bar, Nightlife to Residential and Multi-Family development, Peter brings vast knowledge and instinct to the table which can clearly be seen in the final product. Peter prefers to take a concept from inception to delivery, touching everything along the way including Interiors, Exteriors, Branding, Marketing and down to the Uniform design and the full Guest Experience.