In this week’s Curated By… we turn to the grande dame of interior design, Kelly Wearstler, for a sure-fire way to master the celebrity-loved aesthetic. Chances are, in your endless Instagram scroll you’ve saved her jaw-dropping, double-tap-worthy work to your favourites tab.
Inspired by travel, nature, architecture, fashion, graphic design, literature, and art, Wearstler’s eponymous sumptuous and vibrant interiors may be found internationally, in grand residences and luxury hotels from Beverly Hills to the Caribbean. Now you can buy a piece of her collection – including furniture, lighting, rugs, fabrics, wallcoverings, tiles, luxe bedding, fine china, decorative home accessories and objets d’art.
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 colour, take risks, stay curious”, she’s attracted to designs that explore the intelligent use of materiality, juxtaposing styles from a range of eras, bringing a touch of the unexpected. Wearstler’s ability to evoke a sense of place through the use of natural elements has made her the go-to designer for several hotels, most recently the Proper Hotels, for which she currently has projects in LA and Austin.
With an unbelievable eye, we speak to the woman who brought West Coast style to the world…
How did you get into interior design?
I have always been drawn to design. My mother is an antiques dealer and she took me to flea markets and yard sales as a girl, educating my eye from a young age.
After graduating from art school in Boston, I held a few design internships including at Milton Glaser in NY. I then moved to the West Coast and waited tables while I launched my own design business. I started out with one client; I was referred by a friend and hired to design one room in their home. I slowly grew my business by word of mouth and officially opened my studio in 1995.
What is your design philosophy?
It really is free-spirited so I can draw on the project’s site, location, and architecture. 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. I want to tell a story that is adventurous and full of soul on every scale.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Each project is a unique exploration of curiosity and experimentation that leads to a constant evolution. I love to create plenty of depth through layers of materials and textures, as well as contemporary work by emerging designers, classic, modernist, or vintage pieces. Important vintage and soulful historical reference points lend such spirit to a space.
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Talk us through one of your favourite hotel/ room projects?
Each hotel is fiercely local so it is dialled in to the best and the coolest aspects the areas have to offer, sharing with guests the authentic, hyper-localised flavour of each city. Properties are infused with an array of distinctive artworks and furnishings created by local artists and artisans, as well as local natural materials. I always look at architecture, location, and history as a starting point for telling the design story. DTLA Proper, which opens later this year, revives an historic, Spanish colonial-influenced landmark 1926 red-brick building (which was a private club in the 1930s, hotel in the ’40s, and a YWCA until 2004) with a sensibility of early 20th-century cultural influences in Los Angeles. A vaulted, hand-painted ceiling invites entry into this renaissance revival of colour, textures, metal, stone, rich woods and a new/old soul.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere, travel, fashion, art, graphic design, nature, photography, landscape design, architecture… For the Santa Monica Proper, I was inspired by the coastal landscape, infusing the materiality and colour the beach, like Kelp in the sea, driftwood, sand, and shells. The hues of California’s landscape – like the majestic coastal terrain of sand and stone and the verdant fields of agave and plump succulents – also provided the cues for my paint collection with Farrow & Ball.
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How important is ‘local’ to your work?
Drawing inspiration from the local surroundings and environment has always been an essential part of my creative process. Every architectural structure is a direct link to its location, the culture, the history, what is literally outside the door and can be seen from the windows. My work with Proper Hotels is an example of this process in action. I love to include and celebrate the work of local artisans because not only is it inspiring for me, but it also encapsulates the essence of a place.
Do you buy vintage furniture? Do you source furniture internationally from your travels? Please give examples of your best finds.
I’m constantly sourcing new pieces, it’s my favourite thing to do. I spend a lot of time researching and looking online, and have developed great relationships with dealers over the years.
For vintage furniture, I’ve collected hundreds of unique pieces throughout my travels as well, including art and objects. I love finding a design anomaly! I preserve them in my DTLA warehouse and will always use them at some point.
Natural materials and vintage pieces are infused into all of my projects; I love to “rescue” and re-fabricate existing silhouettes and materials. I believe that there should be a sense of longevity and the luxurious, tactile and soulful sensibility of organic materials within a space, whether a residence or commercial setting.
What are your go to local interiors brands?
One of my go-tos is local vintage shop JF Chen – it’s a massive treasure trove of vintage finds in Los Angeles. I also incorporate local artists and makers in projects, as it’s an amazing way to capture the spirit of a place. Caroline Blackburn, Jonathan Ryan, and Chuck Moffit are some of the creatives in California that I love right now.
How do you use colour, and inspire clients to embrace this in the home?
Colour is the spirit of a room, its heart and soul. It’s an amazing way to show who you are as a person, through your interiors. I always recommend choosing colours that you love to wear, because if you feel good wearing them, you’ll feel so good living in them. And if you love a bold red, but don’t want to have a red room, then paint your front door! There are so many creative and fun ways to incorporate it.
When I’m designing I follow five fundamental pillars to selecting colour: What does the client desire? What is outside the window? What is the architecture? What mood are you trying to create? What is the lighting?
What are some tips you have on how our readers can bring a touch of the Kelly Wearstler magic into their homes?
The true Kelly Wearstler touch is finding your own style and telling it through interior design. I tell my clients to find the clothing in their wardrobe that they love to create a starting palette for interiors. Because if you feel good wearing those colours and textures, you’ll feel good living in them too.