John Rufenacht: Interior Designer Mixes Elements With an Eye for What’s Interesting

“I have always liked combining things. Color and patterning were kind of important to my mother, so I have a feeling that’s where that began,” says interior designer John Rufenacht. “She was always re-papering the house, or sewing draperies and curtains. She made her own clothes, and somewhere in there that became interesting.”
Rufenacht, 70, operates his business, John Rufenacht Associates, out of his home, near the Plaza. Early in his career, Rufenacht worked for other companies, but since the mid-1980s, he’s been in business for himself.
An only child, Rufenacht grew up on a farm in Lowry City, Missouri, and graduated in a high school class of 14 students. Although he had never taken an art class, he always knew he wanted to do design. When it was time to go to college, Central Missouri State in Warrensburg was nearby. Coincidentally, it was the first year that the college offered an interior design program.
But Rufenacht very much credits his success to his years growing up on a farm.
“I learned a great deal of skills that had to do with my design work,” he said. “I learned basic construction — how to make things work, how to meet time schedules, the whole work ethic — all of that came from that farm experience. So I am very thrilled to have come from that background.”
He says he never has more than six or seven clients at once. Most come from California and Texas. He says he gets most of his customers through word of mouth, although he does have a business website (
“I think a lot of younger, fresher designers are doing huge amounts of website promotion and social media. Very honestly, that seems like a great deal of energy,” he says. “We do very little of that. I have gone to conferences on social media, but I’ve found you can spend all of your time working on that, and then you won’t have time to design.”
Rufenacht favors no particular era of design, but rather enjoys a mixture of them.
“I’m not a purist about much of anything — that’s really nothing more than doing a re-creation,” he said. “To me, that’s not that interesting. I like some antiques, I like some contemporary, but I only find the mix to be interesting.”
Rufenacht has been in a relationship with his partner, Richard Lara, for 20 years. Lara works with Bloch Scholarship students at the Penn Valley campus of Metropolitan Community College.
Every Thursday evening, they travel to their eccentric country house in Clinton, Missouri, for the weekend.
“It’s kind of strange,” Rufenacht says. “It’s a stone tower, and we have a chapel and a separate garden library and a guest house that’s a gypsy wagon with a half-bath.”
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