New York, New York
Having cut his teeth as a lieutenant for boldface names such as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren before taking up the creative mantle at Related Companies, Stephen Earle is now bringing his discerning eye to bear on one of Manhattan’s most ambitious residential development projects to date.
“When I was little, there was this girl, Emily, who lived across the street and we would go play in a sand pile,” he says. “Those were the days when parents would just open the door and say, ‘Kids! Go play!’ and you didn’t worry about it. Emily had this big bucket of plastic furniture and we would empty it out into a little pile, pick out our individual pieces and then create a floorplan. Emily always drew a big square with furniture stacked around the edges. For me? Well, I was angry. I distinctly remember saying, ‘That’s not how you do it!’
These days, Stephen plays in a much bigger sandbox, overseeing residential interiors for Related Companies’ twelve New York City developments, but he maintains the same aesthetic confidence.
Related’s properties span a broad spectrum—from luxury residences to affordable housing complexes (of which they are the largest developer in the US) to thirdspace ventures such as the Equinox Fitness Clubs. When Stephen joined the company in 2014, his newly created post reflected Related’s commitment to prioritizing superior design in its residential spaces, including two monumental residences located at 15 and 35 Hudson Yards.
An epic reinvigoration of midtown Manhattan that spans 30th through 34th Streets, where the High Line disembarks, Hudson Yards is a city within a city. From the beginning, the vision for Hudson Yards was ambitious and long-term: a collection of multimillion-dollar residences, retail experiences, new and future architectural landmarks and open-air gathering spots that would all launch within the same time period and become an instant touchstone for visitors and locals alike. It worked, and Stephen presides over some of the most stunning living spaces at the center of it all.
Born into a family of gentlemen who attended, with few exceptions, Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia—many when it was all-male—Stephen was an outlier. “They all went there—uncles, grandfathers, everyone—and they just assumed I would, too,” he says. “Fortunately, my brother went and represented for my generation. I was free to go where I wanted, which was the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).” With supportive parents, Stephen set out to study textile design. His passion for textiles took root early. “In the town where I grew up in Michigan, there was a famous weaver,” Stephen says. “My mother took classes there so, naturally, I wanted to. Later, after spending a summer studying textiles at RISD, I was officially hooked on both the craft and the school—and when I found out how few men applied to the program, well, even better. It increased my odds!”
At RISD, he fell even more in love with the pursuit and, upon graduation, found work with GEAR, one of the original American textile houses, where he worked under the direction of industry legend Raymond Waites. A chance opportunity to step in for a stylist during a photoshoot at Waites’ house led to work creating vignettes and spatial narratives. From there, he learned the nuances of interior photography and how styling and staging influenced perception, which led to positions at both Ralph Lauren Home and Martha Stewart in the days when those now vital tastemakers were just honing their residential visions and establishing their spheres of influence.
Today, through his work at Related, Stephen remains on the trajectory he established for himself at his earlier posts, and continues to create stories for a living. “Getting where I am now was definitely not the result of anything I had planned,” he says, “but it makes so much sense for me.”
He collaborates with Related’s in-house architecture and design group to oversee partnerships with interior designers, celebrated architects (including Robert A.M. Stern, David Rockwell and Frank Gehry) and artistswhose pieces he personally selects to outfit the residential spaces. The end result is a fully realized presentation of spectacular art and articulation.
“Whether working in publishing, product design, interiors, photography, even television, I’ve been fortunate to hone my craft at organizations whose core values and goals embraced the importance of design and the drive to be best-in-class,” Stephen says. “My work has always been less about ‘Here’s a blank canvas and go create something from it,’ and more about chess and challenges. I order things. I make them talk to each other. And, above all, I connect the dots.”