Professional Portrait: Joseph M. Matthews

“Everyone can afford an interior designer.” So says Joseph M. Matthews 3d, model, business owner and all-around good guy. “Most people have the idea that you have to be rich to use an interior designer. They think that unless you make over $200,000 a year, you have to do it all yourself.” But according to the owner of Matthews Interior Design, working with a designer might actually save you money, as he can get items for cost, not to mention the benefit of working with a design professional. A board member of the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, Matthews is also the chair for “Toy,” the annual holiday toy drive that raises funds for DVLF and collects toys for kids living with HIV. Mark your calendars early for this event, Dec. 4 at the Marketplace Design Center.

PGN: You’ve made a career modeling as an “All-American” guy. Where are you originally from?

JM: I was born about 20 minutes east of Indianapolis, Ind., and grew up on a private farm. It was for family use only with cows, pigs, chickens, roosters, horses, etc.

PGN: Any siblings?

JM: My parents got divorced when I was about 18 months old, so we had one of those, “Yours, Mine and Ours” families. Combined, I have seven siblings: With me, that’s eight. I pretty much lived 50 percent of the time with my father in the middle of a cornfield in New Palestine, Ind., and 50 percent of the time with my mother in a small town in Pennsylvania called Beaverdale.

PGN: What were you like as a kid?

JM: I was always very sensitive. I was very loving and a huge mama’s boy! Day-to-day life at the farm was cultivating grain, rototilling potatoes and cleaning stalls. I knew things could only get better. I had a lot of big dreams even as a kid.


PGN: Are you an animal person, or was it just for necessity on the farm?

JM: I consider myself an animal person. We had the animals that were for farm use and for sustenance, but we also had dogs and cats and horses. I’ve always had animals around. I have a retriever now named Jordan and a cat named Stella.

PGN: What were some of the fun things you did?

JM: I loved helping my grandmother bake pies. I also loved three-wheeling and dirt-bike riding. In the wintertime, we would hook up a toboggan to the three-wheeler and go down these steep inclines. It was an interesting balance of “hetero” off-roading activities and my quieter pursuits at home. My mother had some health problems, so if she and my father had to go into town, I would take care of the house. While they were away, I would thoroughly redecorate the house. I was only 8 or 10 years old and I loved it.

PGN: And was milking a cow the closest you got to being a heterosexual?

JM: [Laughs.] That, and shoveling horseshit.

PGN: When did you come out?

JM: Not until I was in my 20s. Living in Beaverdale wasn’t too bad, but the time I spent in Indiana was rough. I lived there with my father when I was really young and again in high school. It was an extremely racist area. I think if I’d tried to come out there I would have been the next Matthew Shepard; it was that bad. To give you an example, the Ku Klux Klan owned the land that the school was built on and when they sold it to the school, it was with the stipulation that African Americans be barred from attending. And the school upheld the policy. I attended the school with a bunch of John Deere-hat-wearing racists that were still into cross burning in people’s yards. It was awful. Our school mascot was a dragon, as in Grand Dragon.

PGN: So how did you manage to stay open-minded with such bigotry around you?

JM: My grandmother was a very loving person. But I think a big thing that helped me was that in high school, I used to DJ. I used to travel around to different schools and events, so I got exposure to all sorts of people. I made a lot of different friends from different communities — African American, Asian, Hispanic. Of course, I was also struggling with my own sexuality, which made me feel an outsider status even though I kept it hidden. I certainly didn’t know anyone else who was gay. I didn’t think there were any gay people in Indianapolis! It was unheard of. But the most important reason why I didn’t fall into the bigotry around me is because I didn’t have hate in my heart. It wasn’t a natural feeling to make fun of people.

PGN: Did you face the bigotry yourself?

JM: I obviously wasn’t out, but everyone could still tell. I was called faggot and other derogatory names. Some of the guys called me Lamar, who was the black, gay character from “Revenge of the Nerds,” and on a number of occasions I got jumped and beaten up at parties. Back then, there was nothing to do about it, I certainly couldn’t call the police in that area.Funny thing is, I look back at my yearbook and I was voted “Best Dressed,” “Best Looking” and “Best Dancer,” yet still had to deal with that stuff. Go figure.

PGN: So when you came out it must have been quite a change, from outcast to new kid on the block.

JM: Yeah, I was 21 and a nice looking corn-fed naïve country boy, so I was a bit like meat on a hook!

PGN: Well, you’ve made it work for you. You’ve had quite a modeling career.

JM: I’ve been lucky enough to do it for over 16 years now. I’ve done a lot of runway for Tommy Hilfiger, J Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, anyone looking for the “All American” look. I’ve haven’t done a lot of the glamour Gucci, Armani-type of jobs. Ironically, I’ve done a lot of sports campaigns for Finish Line, Foot Locker, etc. I get cast as surfer guys, etc.

PGN: Are you sports-oriented?

JM: I wasn’t a big sports player, though I played football my freshman year and ran track and played tennis. I love watching sports though. Being from Indiana, I’m a big basketball fan. I’m pretty good if you challenge me on any sports trivia.

PGN: Modeling disaster story?

JM: I was in Cosmopolitan magazine a number of times. Typically, they don’t tell you what the story is about, you just do the session. I did a photo where I was on top of a girl, kind of simulating sex, and when I got the magazine a few weeks later I saw that the article tag line was, “Every time my boyfriend and I have sex, I break out in a rash.” I couldn’t believe it: I wouldn’t have done the shoot if I’d known the subject matter.

PGN: How did you end up in Philly?

JM: I went to Indiana University to study marketing. But about halfway through school, I stopped and moved to Philadelphia to be closer to New York while I was pursuing my modeling career. Then I moved to New York for two years but returned to Philadelphia after 9/11.

PGN: So changing gears, you are the owner of Matthews Interior Design LLC. Tell me a little about the company.

JM: My firm is based upon the notion of timeless design, whether or not it’s modernist or traditional in inspiration. I design everything from kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, the whole house and every part of it, from lighting fixtures to flooring. There really isn’t anything I won’t take on. I’ve done small makeup studios, restaurants and both commercial and residential properties. If you have clutter issues and need organizational help, I can aid you with that as well. Anything to make your home happier, more efficient and an aesthetically pleasing environment for you.

PGN: I’m a “Top Designer” junkie. Which is your favorite design show?

JM: I don’t watch any of them! That’s what I do all day, so if I have a minute to watch TV, I want something completely different like “24” or “Cheaters” or “Heroes.”

PGN: Favorite job you’ve done?

JM: I did David Adamany’s house. He is the former president of Temple University. He’s a great guy — very interesting to have a conversation with and he has an amazing art collection. It was great being able to work with such great pieces and the end result was spectacular.

PGN: Your most unusual possession?

JM: I have a life-size suit of armor in my living room. I’ve had it for 10 years and it almost feels like a protector to me. Finding a way to make it work with the rest of the décor is always a challenge, but everyone who comes over loves it. Except my partner Michael!

PGN: What’s the most difficult part of owning your own business?

JM: There are so many different aspects of the business that you have to juggle. You have to handle the marketing and PR, business development and networking, ordering what you need, meeting with clients, developing dealers you can rely on, taking care of bills, everything. The hardest part is making sure nothing falls through the cracks.

PGN: Mr. Designer, what are your three favorite colors?

JM: Hmm … chocolate brown, ice blue and taupe. It’s a combo that makes me happy.

PGN: You came from farm area; what’s cow tipping all about?

JM: Just what it sounds like. Cows sleep standing up so the idea is you sneak up on a sleeping cow and push them over. I know people who have done it, but I couldn’t — I would feel awful. I would never want to frighten or hurt an animal. I don’t see the fun in it.

PGN: What’s your favorite section of the museum?

JM: I like the modern abstract painters. I have a friend, Ross Bleckner, who has some amazing pieces of art. His work has been featured on “Sex in the City” and he’s one of the youngest artists ever to be shown at the Guggenheim Museum.

PGN: What was your worst clothing disaster?

JM: I was Jay McCarroll’s model for his submissions to “Project Runway.” For the shoot, he dressed me in these pink square cuts that were underwear, which I wore underneath a fur coat. It could have been hot, but the squares were too small so I ended up with a huge camel toe. It was crazy.

PGN: How did you and Michael meet?

JM: We met at a “Boys in the Country” party a few years ago and we clicked right away. We live together now and it’s one of those things where we were meant to be together.

PGN: What does Michael do?

JM: He publishes a trade publication, Greetings etc.

PGN: Any wedding bells?

JM: Yes, we’re planning to get married in New Jersey in the fall. I’ll tell you a beautiful story. We were at “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Walnut Street Theatre and I turned to him and said, “You know, I never thought about this; should we talk about names? Hyphenating or me taking your name, or the other way around?” It had just occurred to me and he looked at me and said, “I’ve already thought it through and I am planning on taking your name. Michael Matthews has a nice ring to it.” It just really made me feel good inside that he had already thought it through and was ready to take my name. It was taking two people and making us one.

For more information on Matthews Interior Design, visit www.matthewsinteriordesign.com.

To suggest a community member for “Professional Portraits,” write to: Professional Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].