“Design Is Storytelling”: An Interview With Kelly Wearstler

Once described by The New Yorker as “the presiding grande dame of West Coast design”, Kelly Wearstler has built an empire worthy of the accolade. This empire over which the petite designer reigns is a varied and colorful one; under the umbrella of her own design firm, Wearstler’s creations have included everything from furniture to fashion. Jewelry, bedding, décor, lighting, objets d’arte – numerous mediums are constantly being explored in the designer’s open concept studio and each new piece, be it a gold vermeil ring or a ruched leather bed, is infused with her signature style.

And then, of course, there are the interior design projects which earned Wearstler a name and a brand – rooms filled with the bold and unexpected, a cultivated signature style that the New York Times has acknowledged as representing “the uninhibited side of Los Angeles, the part that celebrates how far the city is from strict East Coast notions of good taste.”

Wearstler’s aesthetic has sometimes been described as maximalist; in an industry age of minimalist trends, her work is a refreshing shock to the eye, a daring dance along the fine line between edgy and pastiche. Perusing the wallpaper creations in her online store, for instance, is akin to strolling through a virtual art gallery, with designs that seem influenced by everything from the cubism and expressionism art movements to the whimsy and pop art of the 1960’s.

When asked which era holds the most influence over her work, it becomes clear that Wearstler’s diverse style perhaps stems from an unwillingness to be pinned down. “Designs that explore a clever use of materiality, juxtaposition of styles from a range of eras, and risk taking aesthetics appeal to me most,” she says. “I am hugely influenced by architecture, art and fashion. Nature is a persistent muse, especially living in California. Mixing raw elements with curated, elegant materiality creates a beautiful synchronicity that feels natural yet at the same time improvised and cool.”

Wearstler’s style has also been described as “Hollywood Regency”, and it isn’t hard to understand how her unexpected designs in the industry have “changed the look of boutique hotels around the world.” Viceroy Hotels, Maison 140 of Beverly Hills, the Tides South Beach hotel of Miami – each space, under Wearstler’s careful eye, has become a destination in itself, the epitome of luxury for the world traveler.

As for whether she cherishes any past project in particular, Wearstler doesn’t play favourites. “Design is storytelling.  I approach every project – whether a hotel, a piece of furniture or a collection of fabric – with the same process of exploration and passion.  All of my projects hold a special place in my heart as they each play an important part of the evolution of my design story – full of adventure and soul on every scale.”

Indeed, Wearstler’s passion for every creative endeavor is perhaps the driving force that makes such a varied portfolio work to her advantage. If the first rule of success is focus, then Wearstler is operating in a world without rules – if anything, it’s the split focus that excites her. “The amazing cross-pollination in the studio is what inspires me most,” she says. “Architecture and interiors influence our art pieces, jewelry and home décor and vice versa.  For example, jewelry-making informs the type of hardware on a credenza; the interplay of abstract lines on a graphic wallcovering organically serves as a springboard for designing a bedding collection.  All the different mediums fuel one another.  The process has also been an incredible education in quality and craftsmanship.  Being introduced to new techniques and materials that I hadn’t been exposed to before has made me a better designer and continually evolves my aesthetic.”

As for the secret to thriving in this busy environment and maintaining balance between her work and home life, Wearstler insists that organization is key. “I start every morning with an exercise class then grab a double dry nonfat organic macchiato and drive my sons to school.  I take lots of photos of the boys and keep their photos with me in my phone.  My day to day at work varies, between meeting with clients, visiting with vendors or designing at the studio. When the workday is done it’s all about being with my family. Family is my priority in life.”

So – with such a well-rounded past, what can we expect for the future of the Kelly Wearstler brand?

“The studio is such a dynamic place. We always have plenty of new, exciting irons in the fire,” Wearstler shares. “I’ve just launched extensive lighting, furniture, leather and outdoor fabric collections, along with the recent debut of luxury bedding collection, a robust stone and tile collection with Ann Sacks and a forthcoming suite of furniture, fabrics and wallcoverings with Lee Jofa. We’re continually expanding our home décor offerings with authentic and unique artist collaborations.”

And the list doesn’t end there. “On the interiors side,” she continues, “we’re premiering a new hospitality brand with the first residential property slated to open in Hollywood this summer with three more hotels and residences to follow within the next two years. Design,” Wearstler adds, “is falling in love over and over again…”

We couldn’t resist asking this style icon – royalty of the tastemakers’ circles, presiding grande dame indeed – about where she could see her skills branching out next. What is the one thing, outside of her current spectrum, that she wished someone would approach her to design?

“I have not yet designed a boat or a plane,” Wearstler teases. “Those would be dream projects.”

Meghan Greeley
Meghan Greeley is an actor and writer originally from Newfoundland. She has performed in films that have screened at festivals around the world, including Cannes, Karlovy Vary, the Utah Indie Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. As a writer, her works have been published in The Stockholm Review, Metatron, Riddlefence, Nelson Publications, and the Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Drama. She is a winner of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival’s Playwriting Contest and first place winner of the Sparks Literary Festival’s Poetry Competition. She currently resides in Toronto.

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