Brand Royalty

From waterfalls to Latin funk, design force Denise Korn finds ingenuity just about everywhere.


YOU MAY NOT KNOW DENISE KORN — but if you’ve ever stepped into the Charles Hotel, dined at Jasper White’s Summer Shack, or checked out the new Boston Ballet logo, you know her work. Korn runs a 19-year-old strategic design and branding firm, Korn Design, with her business partner Javier Cortés. Their clients are all very different — ranging from Ivy League institutions to rock-star restaurants — but Korn sees a strong thread running through them all: “People who are curing cancer and solving the world’s problems are also culturally involved, supporting the arts, and engaging the community around big ideas.”

Korn herself pulsates with an intelligence and a civic responsibility that galvanizes creative types. She loves to work with strong thinkers while enjoying the little things in life — fresh flowers in her office and a meal at her favorite lunch spot, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t draw a lot of lines between my personal, professional, and philanthropic life,” says Korn. “I try to approach life in a holistic way. I’m a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person.” Here, Korn shares eight things that keep the ideas coming.


ONE   “I grew up swimming at Warren Falls [in Vermont],” says Korn (pictured at the swimming hole around age nine). Visiting the series of pools lined with massive boulders has become a family tradition for her and her children, Malcolm and Lucy, now in their teens.

TWO   Korn finds an outlet for her philanthropic passions in Youth Design, a volunteer program she founded in 2003. Not only did the nonprofit inspire her to write a book, 10 Who Mentor, but its success has also kick-started similar programs in Denver and Rhode Island.

THREE   Korn and Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe share something special: Both are recipients of James Beard Awards. (Korn Designs won the Outstanding Restaurant Graphics Award in 2009, and Charlie’s the America’s Classics Award in 2005.)

FOUR   With 10 musicians who play everything from timbales to turntables, and a discography that includes a release named Pork Scratchings, Florida-based improvisational Latin-funk band Spam Allstars rocks Korn’s world. “Every time I go to Miami, I try to schedule around seeing them.”

FIVE   Offering shrimp and grits and old-school cocktails, Denver-based Steuben’s is her first cousin’s homage to their great uncles’ Boston restaurant, which thrived in the ’40s. “[My cousin] built the menu around strong memory foods,” Korn says. Steuben’s recently started a retro-food-truck business as well.

SIX   “I’ve been a huge flea-market scoundrel forever,” Korn confesses. She discovered vintage Fortune magazines in her early rummage days and prizes issues dating fro
m the ’30s and ’40s. (Cover art from this period showcases works by artists such as Antonio Petruccelli and Joseph Binder.)

SEVEN   “She’s fucking amazing,” says Korn of Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola, who created the interiors for the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona. “She’s an intensely focused artist and businessperson who has great taste and style.”

EIGHT   Designer Eva Zeisel’s fluid, curvaceous ceramics “are just incredibly gorgeous,” says Korn, who discovered the 104-year-old’s work early in the game. “Her forms are so pure, honest, clean, and lyrical.”


Images courtesy of Denise Korn (1,2,5); Photograph by Brian Cantrell (3,6); Photo credit: Istockphoto (4); Photo credit: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Barcelona (7); Photo credit: Kleinreid (8)