Supon Phornirunlit wants his home decor to make you smile. Mounted papier-mâchépeacock heads. A Leaning Tower of Pisa teapot. And throw pillows, lots of throw pillows. Throw pillows emblazoned with the London Eye or Chairman Mao or the two-part image of a dachshund — front end on one pillow, back end on the other.
Phornirunlit was running a modest design business from his sunny brick rowhouse north of Dupont Circle when his work space won the 2006 Metropolitan Home Magazine Home Office of the Year competition. The magazine liked the office, but they loved the pillows — featuring bright silk-screened prints of Queen Elizabeth’s profile — that sat atop his white office chairs. They asked where he’d bought them.
“I giggled, honestly,” Phornirunlit remembers, “because I had just done them myself because I wanted pillows like that. So I told them that they were from this new company idea I had, called Naked Decor, and then the calls started coming in.” Phornirunlit’s design studio, Supon Creative Enterprise, had been dabbling in graphic design and home goods, but it was the Metropolitan Home award and subsequent demand that kick-started the new enterprise.
Seven years later, those Queen Elizabeth pillows are still a bestseller, but the company’s products have expanded to include everything from wall clocks to serving trays. Her Majesty’s timeless appeal notwithstanding, Phornirunlit says topicality is the key to Naked Decor’s success. They made “Vote” pillows during the 2012 presidential election and created the Royal Baby line when Kate Middleton announced her pregnancy in the fall. “We’re always thinking just a little ahead of our time,” Phornirunlit says. “We’ve been lucky — we’re usually right on trend.”
Phornirunlit works with graphic designer Jae Wee, who has been with Supon Creative since its inception. “We’re evolving constantly and trying new things all the time,” Wee says. “It’s never been boring, and since the team is so small, we can take risks that work.”
And work they do. Naked Decor designs have been featured in Martha Stewart Living and Family Circle and on “Today.” They are sold across the country and featured on trendy design Web sites such as Gilt.com and Fab.com. “We’re focused on a bright aesthetic, so Supon’s designs have been great to have,” says Katherine Walters, a textile buyer at Fab.com. “His designs are fun, accessible and affordable, and our customers really respond to what he does.”
Affordability is at the heart of Phornirunlit’s egalitarian design philosophy. “I want to change how my rooms look all the time,” he says, “but I’m not ready to spend $125 for a pillow.” The designer says he shops at high-end stores but also at retailers such as Ikea, Wal-Mart and eBay. “I always believe that good design doesn’t have to be expensive,” he says. “It’s everywhere.”
Phornirunlit’s foray into home decor is a relatively recent undertaking. He has nearly 25 years of design experience, starting with his first graphic design company, Supon Design Group, which he started at 25 after emigrating from Thailand. In just a few years, he was designing graphics for Reagan National Airport and George Washington University, along with several other big D.C. names.
By 1999, Phornirunlit’s little company had gotten too big for his taste. “We were doing a really great job, and I was young,” he explains, “but the company grew so big that I became a business person and not a designer, and I wanted to be creative again.”
He sold the company but stayed on staff as a designer, traveling extensively all the while. In 2005, after being graphically inspired by places such as London and New York, he started Supon Creative Enterprise. “I had come back to the United States, and I wanted to basically create my own souvenirs,” he says. “I wanted pillows that reminded me of London and things in my home to remind me of things I loved, like dogs.”
He silk-screened the queen’s profile on a pillow, and one thing led to another.
“We make designs that everyone can smile at,” Phornirunlit says. “And over all of these years, that’s what I go back to — making people smile.”