20 Questions for Kelly Wearstler

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The vibrant L.A. designer recently unveiled her latest collection for The Rug Company. We sat down with Wearstler to find out about that serendipitous partnership, her career as an interior designer and her greatest fear.

is perhaps best known for her luxurious hotel interiors – such as the restaurant at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and the opulent spaces in Viceroy Miami. She has also designed pieces jewellery and home accessories that benefit from her background in graphic design. Her new collection for The Rug Company, for instance, includes the bold Serpent and Tracery patterns. We sat down with Wearstler when she came to Toronto’s showroom to launch the rugs there, and chatted about all things design and life.

How did you and The Rug Company come together?
Christopher and his wife Suzanne were staying at Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills where there was a man who would have breakfast alone every morning. They started joining him and each day he’d pay the bill. On the last day of their stay, they asked him why he was here and the man revealed he is my father-in-law (my husband Brad and I own the property). A meeting was set up between us and the Sharps and it went from there.

What are you working on?
Both residential and commercial projects, a new hospitality brand involving several of our hotels. Also, furniture, home accessories and jewellery design. We began working on a men’s accessories line – cufflinks, pocket squares and jewelry – because there was a demand. It’s set to release this fall.

What made you first go into design?
I knew I wanted to do something creative. I was a graphic design major but have so much energy I just couldn’t sit all the time. That’s why my work is so graphic, but I changed my major to architecture and interior design.

How do you get inspired?
Ideas come from different places – even sometimes from home, like my son Elliot’s art. We scanned a part of it and used it in a scarf.

What is your workspace like?
Open air. It’s a space like this (Avenue Road) with open desks everywhere. I stand all-day and work at big tables. It makes for good communication. Even Fortune 500 companies work in open plan. I had an office and never went in there. You have to talk and engage.

What was your first design job?
My L.A. apartment. I did everything myself, from painting, pulling up the carpet, removing nails and finishing the floor. My first paid job was for a friend who got married and wanted help with the dining room. They liked the result, so we slowly did the rest of the house. Somebody else came over and saw the house and it turned into a another job.

Have you had unsuccessful commissions?
When I was being hired by agents in the film business, the style was shabby chic with iron beds and baskets. I hate that rustic look because I grew up with that, so I didn’t even want to go there. Sometimes when I didn’t have money, I had to take the job; they just didn’t turn out great. Then I got more adventurous clients and those came out so well. It’s important to stay true to your heart and voice.

What’s the best part of your job?
Learning from colleagues, clients, and craftsman. I love going to the factories – it’s so important to see how things are made. It makes you more creative.

Worst part of the job?
Being away from my family and the sacrifices I have to make as a mom, such as missing games. I’m not traveling a lot and am conscience of design jobs I take so I’m not all over.

How do you overcome creative block?
By working on something else. If I have a mental block, I’ll go into another meeting or another type of product.

Who or what excites you about design right now?
Everything, including sculpture, art and architecture. I really look at classic older artists like Pierre Chareau but also love contemporary ones: the ones that really stand out, whose work is so unique.

What is your ideal place to work as a designer?
My home: I would love to work from there every day. You can stay focused and not be constantly interrupted. My home office is all library so I just love being in there.

What talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could cook but I just don’t have the patience. I also didn’t grow up around it. Brad doesn’t cook either so we eat a lot of eggs. We go to this one restaurant twice a week called Pico for their gluten-free pasta and wholewheat pizza. My boys are hockey players and their coaches are super-strict about their diet so it’s perfect.

What is one thing you would change about yourself?
I’m shy when I need to speak in front of an audience. Brad said I had to overcome my fear so I went to see a coach whose helped people like Tony Robbins, Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Madonna. He told me you just need a good story you can tell over and over because people size you up right away. Knowing that made things worse for me!

What’s your greatest design achievement?
Where I am now. I am from South Carolina and paid my way through college. I did everything myself.

Biggest career regret?
I’m open for any thing and any challenge even though my ready-to-wear fashion business was a disaster. It’s so finicky. People warned me, but an industry friend pushed me to do it. There are so many people involved in each stage and we took on more than we could do. It takes so many people to design a trench coat that is disposable but you can design a chair that will last so many years. So we’re going a different route and collaborating with companies such as Libertine and Swarovski.

What’s your most prized possession?
My family and friends.

What are you listening to?
Everything, including classical but I love alternative music. Two Door Cinema Club are so good.

Any words of advice for the younger generation?
Follow your heart and educate your eye. I have interns who go out, shop and take photos. They always come back with stuff that’s so common. It’s about really knowing what’s special and an anomaly. Get out, go to museums and look at books.

Words to live by?
Take risks.

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