Q + A
the voice of Nic Leggett and Mark Knudson of Sovereign Design
Inspiration can be found anywhere: in the time-honored patina of a secondhand find, the shifting daylight through sheer curtains and the shine of a lovingly maintained antique car; all of which are moments of intimacy that, in some way, divert our attention from the noise of daily life. For Nic Leggett and Mark Knudson, founders of Sovereign, inspiration is also found in their cherished collaborations with artists and creators around the world. Sovereign is a multi-disciplinary design studio focused on interior, architectural, and landscape design. Based in Denver, they work globally on a wide variety of projects.
We sat down with the design duo to talk about their unique process and their upcoming project, Ghost.
How did you find your calling in design and architecture? What drew you to it?
We both wanted to be designers since we were very little — both of us were drawing floorplans, obsessing over our houses in the Sims and rearranging our childhood bedrooms for as long as we can remember.
How does artistry integrate into what you do on a daily basis?
Today, anyone can walk into practically any home store and walk out with perfectly nice things to furnish their home with — there is a wide selection and a diversity of styles available pretty much anywhere. What we do, however, is truly an art form. Our experience, our sources, our expertise and our partnerships merge with our collaborative approach and our clients’ needs to create a work of art you can live within.
What project(s) are you most proud of and why?
We’re very proud of Franklin Market — a project in Whittier that we designed for Saint Bernard Properties. The front half of the building was built in 1895 as a greengrocer, and then over the years it was haphazardly added onto and fell into deep neglect. Now, it’s a mixed-use building with 12 apartments and a bright commercial space where the greengrocer used to sell produce to the neighborhood.
When we walked the building right before completion, we realized we had unintentionally created a perfect HQ for ourselves — our Denver home, and our Denver atelier. So, we opened Sovereign in the commercial space, moved into the apartment upstairs and immediately started making both spaces into deeply personal expressions of ourselves. The atelier is bright, utilitarian and simple with huge marine-grade plywood shelves and a set of tables inspired by Donald Judd’s Mansana de Chinati in Marfa (and soon to feature a kitchenette from our upcoming cabinetry system with Harlan Jasper). The apartment is moody, cozy, lush — a black-stained plywood kitchen, vintage furniture and decor we’ve collected and restored over the past decade, and an ever-expanding art collection.
How would you describe your signature interior design and architectural style?
We don’t operate within a single style, per se — we have a high level of taste and always create a consistent design language and a clear hierarchy within whatever space we’re working on.
We’re exceptionally observant, with photographic memories and vast archives of inspiration. Our sources can provide any piece necessary: a rare table from a 60s French ski resort, a 20€ oil painting from the basement of the École des Beaux-Arts, a giant light fixture from a town hall in Sweden, a totally custom sofa by-the-inch. We can design a capital-M modernist home as easily as a traditional English manor house — it’s all about pulling inspiration from the right sources and putting our own mark on it. Our home is basically a 70s hotel lobby — chrome, fiberglass, foliage — but that’s not for everyone, nor should it be. The design process should always be a collaboration, not a dictatorship.
When designing a space, what is the most important factor to consider and why?
We constantly talk about “moments” — the little parts of a space that truly make it. Analyzing and highlighting these moments are truly critical for any space. Whether it’s a view down a hallway, the turn of a corner, a cozy pocket of space within a larger space — all of these moments have inherent drama and weight and add immeasurable quality to a space.
How do you work with clients to ensure that your designs fit their lifestyle?
All of our projects are a collaboration — so we start by hyper-analyzing our client’s lifestyles. How often do you cook? How much time would you like to spend outside at your home? What’s your dream aesthetic? Do you love dinner parties, or is your space just for you and yours? Do you have an art collection we’re going to work with, or do you need help curating new pieces?
“The design process should always be a collaboration, not a dictatorship.”
To what or to whom do you attribute your success?
We’ve had so many different jobs: architectural intern, graphic designer, creative director for a luxury events company, landscape designer, lighting designer, vintage furniture salesperson, staging manager, construction project manager — these wide and varied experiences have made us better designers, as we can offer this immense library of skills to our clients.
We also have the best collaborators in our corner, such as millworkers, upholsterers, contractors, metalworkers, real estate brokers and developers, as well as a group of family and friends who are endlessly supportive without fail.
Care to share any details about your upcoming Ghost project?
Ghost is an ecosystem next to Sovereign — full of ideas that we want to explore outside of what the traditional design firm would offer. It’s primarily a retail experience — online soon, with future pop-up locations locally and across the US. Through our travels and research, we’ve found artisans that we want to support by bringing their work to larger audiences through Ghost. We are primarily focusing on home goods — beautiful, useful things for everyone.
Most of our personal furniture and decor collection is vintage, sourced from antique malls, thrift stores and flea markets in the US or auction houses in Europe. We will have a huge, ever-changing library of one-of-a-kind pieces available via Ghost.
Perhaps most exciting is our scent system. We are developing a fragrance series with an expert perfumer in Grasse, France (the world epicenter of fragrance), that will then become hand-poured candles and fragrance oils. We are also sourcing custom incense from the oldest incense houses in Awajishima, Japan, and designing corresponding incense holders in bronze — with our friend and jewelry designer, Lili T. — and lava rock.
Also in development is a furniture system, designed by us and crafted by our local partners Harlan Jasper and Hone.
The end goal is to have a Ghost department store of sorts — furnishings, decor, a gourmet market, an innovative florist, a coffee shop, a fashion department, a book and stationery store…maybe one here in Denver and another that moves around with the seasons and shifts to fit its locale.
Where do you find inspiration in your daily life? Do you have any recommended books, podcasts or publications?
Travel is our biggest inspiration. Getting outside of our daily life is very important to replenish our creativity. We usually go on one big trip a year in the fall. Last year, it was our honeymoon, and this year we are thinking Italy or an extended sourcing trip through Mexico. We also do a few weekend trips throughout the year, usually Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Joshua Tree or NYC.
Learn more about Sovereign’s process, projects and inspiration by visiting their Instagram, @sovereignbysovereign.