Stewart Horner of Penny Black Interiors Shares His Journey

Stephanie Thornton Plymale
5 min readJun 23, 2021

“I was unhappy creatively and realized the only thing keeping me at my job was the pay check.”

After a successful career at Nike, Stewart Horner decided to follow his everlasting passion for interior design. He brings extraordinary design experience to Heritage and is now an accomplished interior designer. Stephanie Thornton Plymale recenntly interviewed Stewart Horner at his home in Portland, Oregon.

Stephanie: Were you inspired at an early age to become an interior designer, like so many are?

Stewart: I was born in Sheffield Northern England in 1969, an only child. I struggled academically but discovered a talent for art and design at an early age. My passion for interior design goes back to my early teens. My Grandfather was a builder and my dad was an electrician. They would re-decorate the house every three years religiously. They made a point of allowing me to decorate my bedroom exactly as I wanted. This freedom brought about my creativity.

Stephanie: Do you have any role models that inspired you to be a designer?

Stewart: I was a huge Adam Ant fan in the early 1980’s and his flamboyant and anarchic sense of style inspired me and led me to my path towards fashion. I later discovered Vivienne Westwood, one of the UK’s most iconic and prolific designers. I have been pretty eccentric most of my life when it comes to what I like to wear and I’ve had a passion for clothing, hats and shoes for as long as I can remember.

Stephanie: What was your educational path to becoming an Interior Designer? What do you wish you would have done differently?

Stewart: I studied general art and design at college and went on to study fashion illustration at a bachelors level, with the hopes of being a fashion illustrator. Following my graduation I was torn as to whether I should pursue a career in fashion or lean more towards interiors. I had a brief stint with fame while considering my future when I entered the BBC Interior Designer of the year competition that ran on the BBC in 1999. I won the competition and filmed three episodes of “BBC Home Front” in 1999–2000. In hind sight I should have used this to springboard my interior design career. Instead I followed my passion for snowboarding and fashion and decided to start a British based snowboard clothing brand, Lie Snowboard Clothing.

I ran this company for three years before being drafted by Nike. I joined their European design team in Amsterdam designing sportswear, which is where I met my wife, Lauren. I was married In Las Vegas in 2006 and went on to have three girls. Hudson, named after the Philipe Stark designed Hotel in NYC, Monroe, named after the icon herself, and Parker, named after the Jonathan Adler designed Parker Meridien Hotel in Palm Springs.

Stephanie: Tell us about your position as Director for Nike All Conditions Gear

Stewart: Within four years from the time I started working for Nike in Amsterdam, I was transferred to Nike here in Oregon to head up the design team as Design Director for Nike All Conditions Gear (ACG).

My Nike career went on to put me in Nike sportswear, Nike skateboarding, Nike snowboarding, Nike women’s training, and finally for the past three years in the Nike Explore Team (NXT) as Apparel Innovation Design Director. In this position I directed design projects to create innovative performance platforms for various categories including running, basketball and training. During my 16 years at Nike I worked with many athletes, designed the Olympic medal stand uniform for the Vancouver Olympics, and designed collaboration work with Pendleton and The Timorous Beasties, to name a few, and have traveled the world representing Nike Design.

I also fully renovated three homes and worked on numerous interior projects with Nike. The past few years left me pondering my future. Nike is an incredible company and provided me many luxuries in life but I was unhappy creatively. I began to realize the only thing keeping me there was the pay check.

Stephanie: What was the breaking point that inspired you to pursue an education at Heritage School of Interior Design?

Stewart: Finally I had enough and I thought that at 47 years old this may be the only chance I have to make a change. I discovered Heritage while looking for part-time Autocad and Sketchup classes. It seemed like the perfect way to get some of the technical education I needed for my new career without needing to return to full time education. I left Nike back in November to start up my design business with my wife, ‘Penny Black Interiors and Penny Black Home,’ and enrolled at Heritage.

Stephanie: Why did you name your company Penny Black Interiors?

Stewart: The name Penny Black comes from The Penny Black Stamp. It was the first ever postage stamp and the design depicted Queen Victoria’s head, printed in black ink. It is a very rare and valuable stamp. The reason I love this namesake is that the stamp as designed back in 1839 has remained pretty much the same for well over 160 years. Every stamp we know today, from a design standpoint, is based on that first stamp. It’s a design that has developed but stayed the test of time. I like to think the same will be said for our designs.

Our vision is to build a home brand, producing and collaborating on a variety of home products. We will focus on residential projects to start and will expand into hospitality. In the next two years we will open a design studio and a store that will give the business multiple revenue streams. Long term, we would like to develop a hotel and a cabaret club and expand our business internationally. We live by the quote “All or nothing” and our mission is to disrupt the interior design business in the Portland and surrounding areas, to provide unique interior solutions and product sourcing to suit the lifestyle of a discerning few (with some compromise along the way I’m sure).

Stephanie: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We love how your journey from Nike to founding Penny Black Interiors came from several years of refining your life until you finally found what fulfilled you.

Stewart has been featured in multiple publications. For the entire list click here.

© Featured photo by Christoper Dibble