Kelly Wearstler – interior design diva: we ask the questions

Kelly Wearstler is the interior designer behind a considerable number of Mr & Mrs Smith’s favourite luxury boutique hotels across the pond (including the Viceroy Santa Monica and Viceroy Palm Springs hotels in California, and Tides Riviera Maya in Mexico, to name just a few). As a result, she sailed effortlessly into second slot in our Top 10: Boutique Hotel Designers feature (stylishly sandwiched between Anouska Hempel and Ilse Crawford), so we donned our best heels to catch up with the most glamorous interior designer on the block…

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Interior designer Kelly Wearstler. Photo courtesy of Mark Edward HarrisWhen did you first realise you wanted to be an interior designer?

I grew up in a home that was constantly evolving, so I was always surrounded by beautiful and unusual objects, textures and colours. My mother is a closet interior designer, so my home environment was always in a state of flux; I’d come home from school and the living room would be an entirely different colour…

How vital is the decor of a hotel to you when you’re picking a place to stay for yourself?

The decor is always a consideration when I choose a particular hotel; one of my favourites is the Hotel Santa Caterina on the Amalfi Coast, Italy, where I recently stayed on a family vacation. It was such a treat, and we’re hoping to take annual vacations there.

We love that part of the world; the hotel looks charming although it’s not Mr & Mrs Smith’s usual cup of tea… Do you have any hotel hates?

The bed is the most important thing in a hotel room, so poor-quality mattresses, pillows and bed linens are a big no-no in my book.

Tides South Beach hotel in Miami: lobby designed by Kelly WearstlerI couldn’t agree more: there’s absolutely nothing worse than booking a nice hotel and ending up wishing you were in your own bed at home! Your interiors play with colour, symmetry and pattern; to us, they epitomise glamorous old-Hollywood luxe with a pinch of neo-classical deco. What do you think are the hallmarks of your design style?

My style is always evolving, so it’s impossible to pinpoint it exactly. I’m a Modernist at heart and – of course – I love all colours.

Which other designers or artists do you admire?

There are so many – right now, I’m really into unusual pieces from the 1980s, Ettore Sottsass, Milo Baughman, Wendell Castle

You did an amazing job on the Avalon Hotel in Los Angeles – so sympathetic to the mid-century modern architecture of the hotel and yet still very contemporary in feel; how did you do it?

For the Avalon, I used a selection of pieces with simple, clean lines and modern forms in a classic architectural envelope, which provided a timeless yet contemporary vibe.

La Marea restaurant at Tides South Beach MiamiOne of Smith’s criteria for picking hotels is that guests should know where they are in the world, and not feel lost in a one-size-fits-all box. How important is a sense of place to your design aesthetic?

It’s the most important thing! There’s nothing worse than staying at a hotel that offers no frame of reference to the location in which it is set.

Where’s your favourite place in the world?

I love Paris because of the amazing fashion, food, art, architecture… Whenever I travel to Paris, I always stay at the Ritz.

Tell us something we don’t know…

Nothing beats the Paris flea market!

You also designed interiors for Maison 140, the chic Parisian-style pied à terre in Beverly Hills with a distinctly Oriental streak: how different is the process of designing on an intimate scale, compared to, say, a big hotel project such as the Viceroy group?

There are more opportunities to customize each guest room with a smaller hotel. For example with Maison 140, I used many custom elements and antiques to make each room really special.

Coral Bar at Tides South Beach hotel Miami, designed by Kelly WearstlerYou always look so well-put-together (rather like your interiors for the Tides South Beach in Miami, Florida, pictured left and above); where do you source your amazing wardrobe from?

I love vintage mixed with designer. Some of my favourite labels include Lanvin, Isabel Marant, Maison Martin Margiela, J Mary, Subversive and Lena Wald jewellery, Hysteric Glamour jeans, Elisa Ferare shoes…

… and Christian Louboutin, judging from your portrait! Dita Von Teese – a fellow vintage fan and all-round glamourpuss – recently reviewed the Viceroy Santa Monica for Mr & Mrs Smith [check Dita’s review out] and declared herself ‘ab
solutely devoted’ to the hotel: ‘Refinement, elegance and tradition … the Viceroy combines the same classic old-Hollywood style with modern chic and sophistication.’ Do you ever have a particular persona or character in mind when you design? Where do you find inspiration?

Designing a hotel allows you to incorporate an element of fantasy, because guests want to experience something different from what they’re used to at home. I also draw upon the environment in which a project is set, to offer guests a piece of the place they’re visiting – but there’s a fine line, because no one likes a themed hotel.

What do you never leave home without?

My sketchbook, a camera and a tape measure.

What’s the first thing you do when you’ve checked into a hotel?

Unpack!

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This article was written by

As well as wordsmithing online, in print, in the press and for Smith TV, Lucy Fennings has been a driving force in making the Smith Travel Blog an award-winner. Mr & Mrs Smith's Group Editor cut her travel teeth early; as daughter of a hotel PR, she visited far-flung flophouses from French châteaux to Ethiopian tukuls. After a year in Dubai (working on Emirates Woman magazine and enjoying the kind of dives that require a wetsuit), Lucy went to Glasgow University to study art, literature and whisky. A stint as production editor at Legalease publishing was spent discovering how to be creative with copy about tax, followed quickly by a stint discovering more interesting things across south-east Asia. When Mr & Mrs Smith found her, Lucy was at Harper’s Bazaar, keeping her finger on fashion’s pulse and sharpening her editorial knife on hapless hotel PR copy.

There are 20 comments for this article
  1. Dominique at 6:04 pm

    I’m only familiar with Kelly Wearstler from her appearances as a judge on the “Top Design” show here in the states (where young designers compete and hopefully get a boost in their careers–kind of like Heidi Klum’s “Project Runway”). Her eclectic wardrobe is showcased to, um, interesting effect some weeks in that show, but I really enjoyed seeing some of the interiors she designed. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Gail Ragen at 5:27 pm

    I loved this article, as I love stylish hotels. I’m planning to re-design our master bedroom and want an elegant, romantic feel. Where do hotel designers find the gorgeous, sumptous wall-to-wall oriental carpeting that so many use in their interiors?

  3. Dawn at 3:17 pm

    I was wondering about Kelly Wearstler’s formal interior design education. Where did she go to school for her training?

    Thanks
    Dawn

  4. James at 10:51 pm

    Hmm, I see. We had a Playa del Rey interior designer redesign our home about a year ago. One of the design team, Marcella Melgar, mentioned that she came from that school too, if memory serves. So I guess they produce good interior designers.

  5. franceshimes at 7:50 pm

    I’ve read your write up about interior designer. I’m glad that we have the same interest and passion in life. Even I, when I was just a kid I really don’t know what will be my career that I’m going to pursue. Until then,I enrolled in designing class. After that, I have realized that my passion is in designing. And now, I’m a Agoura hills interior designer.

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  7. Joel Snayd at 5:17 am

    She also has her own line of fabrics and wallcoverings through F. Schumacher, “House of Kwid”. Our interior design firm has used several of her fabrics in both residential and commercial projects. We have received a great response and interest.

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  9. shermaine at 3:25 pm

    Kelly Wreastler is not only an interior designer but she’s also a fashionista. She’s fearless when it comes to trying new things. In fact, her works inspires me. I am an interior designer student who wants to follow her footsteps.

  10. Pingback: Top 10: Boutique Hotel Designers | Travel Blog - Mr & Mrs Smith Boutique & Luxury Hotels
  11. fabgab at 5:32 am

    I love Kelly and just featured her as a style star in my blog FabGabBlog.com. Just wondering, how did you score the interview?

  12. Sithabile at 10:08 am

    Great article! I’m an interior designer and I absolutely luv Kelly Wearstler’s bold and unafraid boldness as far as design elements. There’s definitely nothing “yawn” about her interiors!

    On a side note, what’s happening with http://www.mrandmrssmith.com? It’s been unavailable for a while now?

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  14. Laura at 8:46 pm

    Love your blog! I’m in the midst of middle life with kids but I have a dream to make an awesome bed & breakfast so I really love seeing everything you’ve explored and I’m collecting great magazine images of the rooms I love.

  15. Naufal at 1:47 pm

    I like the post. I’m a freelancer and kelly inspired me with her designs and thoughts.

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