Michael Bonomo ’99

Designer. Director. Innovator.

Michael Bonomo helps mastermind interior spaces for fast-paced, edgy clients.

Growing up in Crystal Lake, just outside Chicago, Michael Bonomo would trace over the architectural plans his father brought home from his building industry job. “I’ve been drawing and designing since I was about 7 years old,” he says. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work with the spaces people occupy and have an impact on how people use them.”

Today, Bonomo is the director of interior design and a principal for Francis Cauffman, a global design firm with offices in New York and Philadelphia. As an award-winning interior architect with an extensive portfolio of retail, commercial and institutional projects, he shapes the work environments of trendsetting clients such as Bloomberg, Spotify, HuffPost and the New School.

Healthy Competition

By nature, the global design field is both collaborative and competitive. When Bonomo reflects on his time at Columbia, he remembers diversity, small classes, interactive studios—and lots of healthy competition. “We all wanted to have the best solutions. We were all pushing each other to be the best we could be,” he says. “But what drew me most to Columbia was that Chicago, as a city, is a campus. All the midcentury modern masters … provide this amazing mosaic of experiences and sites to learn from.”

By the time Bonomo graduated in 1999, he had completed two internships at local firms and secured a full-time position at Horn Design Architecture. In 2000, he moved to New York to work with Berger Rait Design Associates, a job he describes as “very exciting and challenging for the speed of business.”

But after 9/11, the economy of Manhattan changed overnight. In the midst of uncertainty, Bonomo launched his own practice. “It taught me a lot about business development … working very efficiently and very nimbly,” he says. He worked solo for about a year before he was recruited by TPG Architecture, then by Mancini Duffy, where he worked until he joined Francis Cauffman in 2011.

An Innovative Workplace

“My particular affinity is for fast-paced clients with edgy design interests,” says Bonomo. But regardless of the project or sector, he will often “push clients outside their comfort zone.” He is the co-author of a 2012 book, Phonebooths & Mailboxes: the Way We Work Now, which explores the future of workplace design in a “tech-forward mobile world.” When working with clients to reimagine their offices, he asks: “How do we make it innovative? Attract and retain great talent? Create curb appeal for clients who are visiting?”

The answers are fresh, creative solutions such as adjustable standing/ sitting workbenches; “smart bars” for efficient, flexible onsite tech support; and stylish, inviting lounge areas that foster interaction.

In Manhattan, real estate costs are high and square footage is at a premium. But Bonomo sees each project as an opportunity for innovation: “Shrinking real estate doesn’t mean the space has to be boring.”

Adapted from DEMO magazine, issue 21