About The Author

Believing In Design As Storytelling, Kelly Wearstler Has Revolutionized Modern American Design

Design is largely intuitive for Kelly Wearstler, which she describes as “a sort of falling in love over and over again”. Her signature sumptuous and vibrant interiors may be found in grand residences and luxury hotels internationally, from Beverly Hills to the Caribbean. Inspired by travel, nature, architecture, fashion, graphic design, literature and art, she’s particularly fond of the work of Pierre Cardin, Oscar Niemeyer, Carlo Scarpa, Louis Kahn, Gio Ponti and Carlo Mollino. Her eponymous luxury-lifestyle brand spans from residential, hospitality and commercial interior design to collections of furniture, lighting, rugs, fabrics, wallcoverings, tiles, luxe bedding, fine china, decorative home accessories and objets d’art. Contrasting raw with refined, blending color, sophistication and spontaneity, and incorporating diverse periods of furniture, she has changed the face of contemporary American design, earning her a spot on Architectural Digest’s Top 100 Architecture & Interior Design list, Elle Décor’s A-List, Wallpaper’s Top 20 Designers and TIME Style & Design’s Design 100 group of global creatives.

A creator of experiences, Wearstler believes that every new project is an invitation to embark on an unexpected and fascinating journey. As design is storytelling, she always aims to tell evocative stories, adventurous and full of soul, incorporating a mix of materials and influences. Her philosophy being “love color, take risks, stay curious”, she’s attracted to designs that explore intelligent use of materiality, juxtapose styles from a range of eras and bring a touch of the unexpected. She views mother nature as the best designer and interiors that play upon the raw, natural beauty of an environment as the most beautiful. This could translate into the way a marble pattern echoes the movement of foliage outside a window, or choosing a quiet, tonal color palette to highlight an unbeatable ocean view.

Born in 1967 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Wearstler received her degree in interior and graphic design from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. She moved to the West Coast and waited tables while launching her own design business. After her first hotel project, Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, she decorated the Viceroy Santa Monica and went on to design multiple properties for the Viceroy Group internationally. For the Four Seasons Anguilla, she combined organic features – driftwood lamps, petrified wood tables and travertine floors – with textiles sourced worldwide, elevating the notion of Caribbean luxury while respecting the surrounding environment. Other key projects include the Bergdorf Goodman restaurant in New York City that mixes elements from the 1930s to the 1970s amidst shades of ebony, ivory, robin egg blue, chartreuse, mustard yellow and bronze, referencing sophisticated salons of the past and the building’s Beaux-Arts heritage, and the Compartés flagship store in Los Angeles, where she reinterpreted classic European chocolate shops of the early 1900s through a California lens.

Simultaneously, Wearstler’s residential design work grew to include homes such as the Bellagio Residence Bel Air, Hillcrest Estate in Beverly Hills, Malibu Beach residence, Evergreen Lane house on Mercer Island in Washington, Spring Street loft in New York City and mansions for A-list clientele from the film, music, art and creative industries such as Cameron Diaz, Gwen Stefani and Ben Stiller. Currently pursuing a new hospitality venture called Proper Hospitality consisting of high-end residences and hotels, she has completed the Hollywood Proper Residences, Santa Monica Proper Hotel and San Francisco Proper Hotel with its blend of vintage and new furnishings, custom lighting, bespoke reception desk and two-story black iron stairwell cage, artworks by San Francisco-based artists and specially-designed staff uniforms. Wearstler-decorated Austin and Downtown Los Angeles destinations will open in fall 2019.

“The best projects are inevitably the ones in which the client has a strong voice and distinctive point of view,” Wearstler says. “My job is to be a good listener and run the clients’ vision through my filter. I start by asking them what story they want to tell, how they want to feel. It’s about evoking a mood, telling a story. Also, scale is imperative. There has to be a hierarchy within a space. Too many starlets in one room create needless drama. To achieve balance, there must be a thoughtful mixology of texture, history, pattern and color. Quieter details are necessary to ground bigger voices and allow statement pieces to shine.”

Q&A with Kelly Wearstler

Tell me about your origins and how you became an interior designer.

My mother was a designer and took me to antique shows and auctions, which educated my eye from a young age. I’ve always been drawn to design and knew early on I wanted to do something creative in the arts. After graduating from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, I held a few design internships in New York, including with Milton Glaser, before I made the move to the West Coast. I started out with one client; I was referred by a friend and hired to design one room in their home and slowly grew my business through word of mouth. It was 1995 when I founded my studio. Everything that has happened since has been an organic, intuitive and heart-driven journey. I am very lucky to be doing what I love. It is a passion that I get to enjoy every day.

How would you describe your style?

My esthetic is a juxtaposition of so many different passions and loves. Designs that explore a clever use of materiality, the juxtaposition of styles from a range of eras and risk-taking esthetics appeal to me most. For me, designing is storytelling – mixing raw with refined, high and low, vintage and modern, patterns, textures and colors in a signature way.

What is your modus operandi, your work method, your differentiating factor?

I’ve always believed in staying authentic. My goal is to remain consistent with my core philosophy of creating beauty through thoughtful design. I consider myself a designer of interiors, expander of ideas, creator of experiences. My studio creates environments for people to expand their experiences within and add an element of adventure to their lives.

Describe to me your creative process.

I want to tell a story that is adventurous and full of soul on every scale. I first look at history, location and architecture, and I try to honor them, but push the boundaries at the same time. My process is largely intuitive. A piece of art, an incredible rug or a special vintage piece – anything that makes one feel something has the most fertile ground for building out the rest of the vibe. The architecture and the outside surroundings also have important consideration within a space. Windows are like framed pieces of art bringing elements and colors from the outside in. I curate organizational vibe trays for each room as part of my process. Placing all the elements, textures and colors of a space within a single tray helps to visualize the overall balance and cohesive dialogue. I source furniture, art, objects from all over the world – vintage and antique shops, auction houses, dealers. I make a point of keeping up with art openings or exhibits wherever and whenever I travel. Smaller art galleries and studios are great for discovering local contemporary artists around the world.

How do you help your clients discover their personal design esthetic and transform their vision into reality?

Being a good listener is the most important aspect of my work. I start every project by meeting with the client and understanding what his or her goals are: the particular vision, program and story they want to tell. Each project has to have its own identity. I then assemble vibe imagery to visualize what the project will look and feel like. We present this to the client to get aligned. From there, we begin designing. The best projects are inevitably the ones in which the client has a strong voice and distinctive point of view. Design is truly a collaborative effort.

Through your drive and ambition, how have you managed to become the interior decorator to the stars?

My designs employ a thoughtful use of materiality and spirited, soulful silhouettes that carry a distinctive voice. As an artist and designer, I want to be constantly educating my eye and challenging myself. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with incredible clients throughout my career who share my curiosity and sensibilities. All of them are so educated and unique. Each client teaches me something new and brings something different to the table. They are my greatest teachers.

What are the lengths you’ve gone to please your clients?

I am always looking to grow as a designer. Taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone is truly the only way to grow. My job is to reflect their distinctive personalities and lifestyles through design. When projects are successfully articulated, there’s a natural progression that occurs.

How does it compare decorating for celebrities and non-celebrities, and for residential versus hospitality projects?

I approach every project – whether a residence (celebrity or non-celebrity), hotel, furniture or fabric collection – with the same process of exploration and passion. I always want to tell evocative stories, adventurous and full of soul, incorporating a mixology of materials and influences. The difference between projects is the consideration of designing to specific client needs. Hospitality projects are highly-planned projects that require a greater amount of specifications tailored to a commercial environment. However, it is very important to focus on details that will make guests feel at home and comfortable. A hotel should feel like home, infused with a unique character that is true to its location.

Describe the major turning points in your career thus far.

Two favorite projects that were turning points in my career would be my very first hotel, the mid-century modern Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, and my first restaurant, BG at Bergdorf Goodman, this iconic store in New York City. Working on these landmark destinations gave me a true sense of accomplishment. The $1 billion renovation and development project with Westfield Century City was my first commercial real estate project and of a remarkable scale, which made it both exciting and challenging. I wanted to create a uniquely immersive experience through thoughtful architecture and beautiful furnishings, infusing the property’s design and decor with an authentic Southern Californian vibe celebrating casual luxury and the outdoor lifestyle. Outdoor living is such a strong component of life in LA – my approach was to bring a unique warmth, intimacy and life to the spaces. Natural materials, interesting and varied furniture, and as much lush landscaping as we could put in became the major ideas used to create a friendlier and more residential series of spaces. One of our main mandates from the start was to find a way to make people do more than shop and leave the mall. We needed to give them places that they wanted to linger and lounge in because they felt good in them.

Tell me about your home collections and describe your target audience.

We consistently launch new designs for the home collections each season. Our target customer is anyone who is inspired by experience, loves to travel, has an affinity for art and appreciation of thoughtful details. I design environments for people to expand their experiences within, to heighten their senses and to broaden expectations.

What new projects are you currently working on?

San Francisco and Santa Monica Proper are the new hotel projects I’ve completed. They are part of a new brand of hotel and residential properties called Proper Hospitality. Each Proper experience is an ode to its city, with each hotel intrinsically dialed-in to the best and most authentic aspects the areas have to offer. I am currently working on the next Proper hotel and residential properties, opening in Downtown Los Angeles and Austin. I am considering commercial design projects in Hong Kong and Macao, and working on residential projects in Toronto, Austin and Los Angeles. I am always looking forward to the next adventure!

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