By: Joe Lyman
Photo Credit: Landon Vonderschmidt
“I have always liked combining things. Color and patterning were kind of important to my mother, so I have a feeling that’s where that began,” says interior designer John Rufenacht of John Rufenacht Associates. “She was always re-papering the house, or sewing draperies and curtains, she made her own clothes, and somewhere in there that became interesting.”
The 70-year old John Rufenacht operates his interior design business out of his home located nearby The Plaza on Wyandotte Street. Early on in his career, Rufenacht worked for interior design companies, but since the mid-1980s he’s been in business for himself. In previous years, he maintained a showroom in Westport, but in the last two years he’s been working strictly from his home, more so now in a consultant role.
Rufenacht grew up as an only child on a farm in Lowry City, Missouri. He graduated in a high school class of 14 students. He had never even taken an art class, but he had always known he wanted to do design. When it was time to go to college, Central Missouri State in Warrensburg was nearby. Coincidentally, it was the first year the college was offering an interior design program, however, Rufenacht very much credits his success to his life growing up on a farm.
“I did not want to do farming for a living because it was so unpredictable, but I learned a great deal of skills that had to do with my design work. I learned basic construction—how to make things work, how to meet time schedules, the whole work ethic—all of that came from that farm experience. So I am very thrilled to have come from that background.”
He says the number of clients of John Rufenacht Associates varies from one point in time from another, though never having more than six or seven clients at a time. Most of his clientele are not local. The majority of his business coming from California and Texas. His business website is Rufenactinteriors.com, but he’s proud to say his clientele mostly comes his way by word-of-mouth.
“I think a lot of younger, fresher designers are doing huge amounts of website promotion and social media. Very honestly, that seems like a great deal of energy,” he says. “We do very little of that. I have gone to conferences on social media, but I’ve found you can spend all of your time working on that, and then you won’t have time to design.”
Rufenacht describes his interior design services as very much a team effort between himself and his customers. He favors no particular epoch nor era of design, but rather enjoys a mixture of all eras.
“I’m not a purist about much of anything—that’s really nothing more than doing a recreation—to me, that’s not that interesting. I like some antiques, I like some contemporary, but I only find the mix to be interesting.”
John Rufenacht has been in a relationship with his partner, Richard Lara, for twenty years. Lara works with Bloch scholarship students at Penn Valley, and aside from their professions, they both love to garden. Every Thursday evening, they travel out to Clinton, Missouri to their eccentric country house called ‘Evening Place’ to spend their weekends.
“Evening Place—it’s kind of strange,” he says, “it’s a stone tower, and we have a chapel, and a separate garden library, and a guest house that’s a gypsy wagon with a half bath.”
Rufenacht jokes that because his weekend retreats, this does not make him a very good member of the Mid-America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce which its meetings are scheduled on Thursday evenings. He admits, however, that he’s benefited greatly from the panel discussions offered by the MAGLCC that he’s been able to attend.
“I really wish I was around more,” he says, “because I think that whole concept is terrific. I have often tried to get interior design people to get together to have some sort of cooperative base where they share information and find out how business is going. I think that whole sense of support, camaraderie, and communication is great, and I think that it is now being done among gays and lesbians is terrific.”
Rufenacht has lived in Kansas City since the early 1980s.
“I think the city has continued to improve. The idea about Kansas City being a terribly livable city is terrific,” he says, “especially about the arts. I think there’s an incredible amount of talent here. I think there’s an incredible amount of product actually being produced in Kansas City that people aren’t actually aware of.”
“If we have a slight downfall,” he says, “it’s the notion that something has to come from somewhere else.”
Rufenacht refutes the idea that product used for interior design would need to come from outside the city. He is impressed by the abundance of great textile production in and around K.C. He’s amazed at the numerous hand-painted textiles and designs that are available locally, as well as the high level of craftsman labor in Kansas City.
As far as his personal design preferences, Rufenacht says he’s attracted to anything that’s interesting—which might mean as to how it’s woven or patterned. He sees a huge trend now in metallic and synthetic thread, with laser cutting and laser printing. These new technologies, he sees as creating a whole new world for the interior design industry and for its customers.
“I believe very much that a house is your only sanctuary on earth. It ought to reflect you. It needs to function for you. It needs to delight you. It needs to be the thing you look forward to coming home to. I think that is only done if the homeowner is personally involved in the product.