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…
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.
I 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.
One 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.
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 ‘absolutely 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?