This weeks designer in our Designers We Love series is one of our favorites. Kathryn Ivey, of Kathryn Ivey Interiors, is a worldly interior designer that loves pulling inspiration from everywhere, especially her part time place of residence, Paris, into her designs. We’ve always loved her designs, but after our Q&A with her, we fell in love with her personality as well–Read on!
***This interview was conducted before the Paris attacks that happened this past weekend. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris and everyone affected by these horrendous acts of violence. We loved seeing Kathryn’s Instagram post that displays the spirit of the French people when she captioned the shot above with “And this is exactly what the French do after horrific tragedies…they get on with their day, stop for their casual café before heading to the market. They don’t let fear steal their joie de vivre. They are not a country who gets easily intimidated but rather these events unité them ever stronger in spirit. #PrayforParis #VivrelaFrance”***
Scout & Nimble: How far back does your love for interior design go? When did you know this is what you wanted to do for a living and how did you get started?
Kathryn Ivey: I always had a love for interior design even at a young age. My earliest memory was making paper dollhouses using my grandmother’s old magazines from the 40’s. Home is important to me, and even as a young girl, I loved creating “homes” for my paper dolls and Barbies. As I got older, my love for homes expanded to a love for creating inviting environments whether it’s homes, offices, restaurants, public spaces, etc.
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be involved in the design/creative industry. I have always been drawn to the visual world and creating whether that’s painting, sculpture, graphic design, etc. However, I think it took exploring different facets of design to discover my love for creating interiors. I started out in the graphic design space, and I still love typography and branding (I’m quite the magazine junkie). However, I began to realize how important environments were to me, and the intangible energy created by a well-designed space. I found myself desiring to be in atheistically pleasing spaces and noticing the inspiration these environments provided. I also began learning more about human-centered design and how empathy leads to good design. One of my favorite books, A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander, has had a profound influence on my own approach to design. Alexander has taught me the importance of understanding the natural patterns and rhythms of people in relation to well-designed spaces, and understanding the rhythms of my clients are crucial to how I design a space.
S&N: We saw that you love to travel and currently split your time between Paris and Washington DC…tell us your favorite place you’ve been to and why? Do you find that most of your inspiration comes from your travels? Where else do you seek inspiration?
KI: Yes! My husband and I love traveling and experiencing different cultures but France definitely holds a special place in our hearts. However, one of my other favorite places I have been is Copenhagen. It is a beautiful, well-designed city and they have a fantastic design aesthetic. They have an impressive way of combining form and function in a way that does not compromise either element. I would agree that most of my inspiration comes from my travels. Experiencing different cultures is the best design education and it has definitely honed my eye and influences my approach to each of my projects. Nature is another large inspiration for me, especially for color. Just take a look outside if you ever doubt a color combination!
S&N: How would you describe your design style?
KI: This is a tough one, because I love it all! However, I would say that I gravitate toward a style that has a sense of history juxtaposed with an unexpected detail or use of color/pattern. I love mixing different periods of furniture in one space and using unexpected color combinations. My aim is to always create a space that looks like it was created over time and with the fingerprint of the owner. I also aim to create spaces that imbue a sense of “casual sophistication.” I love that term because it explains how a space can be luxurious,well-appointed but still comfortable, inviting.
S&N: We read that you used to be from North Carolina before starting your own business in Washington, DC…does that small town charm still show through in your designs, and do you think that all the areas you have lived in have influenced your design aesthetic?
KI: Most certainly! I grew up in a family that loves history and antiques, so I think my love for adding that sense of story/history came from my upbringing. And of course, I grew up in the South, so the southern aesthetic has always stayed with me. Chintz is never considered “out of date” for me☺ Hospitality is also not only expected in the South but celebrated, and I love creating homes that make not only the owners but their guest feel like they just walked into a huge embrace! A feeling of belonging and comfort is key to my projects.
Living in Washington, I was exposed to a very international and classical aesthetic. I love the architecture of the buildings on Embassy Row, in Georgetown and DuPont Circle, and of course the French design influence of Pierre L’Enfant who designed much of DC proper. The mix of historical and international design found in these places has been very influential in my designs.
Then there is Paris and how can I not be inspired! I get inspiration just walking to the post office here! One of my favorite things about the French is their appreciation for art and presentation. They dress their shop windows beautifully and creatively. So it’s common here for people to saunter down the sidewalks pausing to look at every window. There is actually a french term for that “lèche-vitrines” which literally translates to “to lick the window.” It’s true…that is just how delicious they present their windows!
However, the French also have a gift for subtlety. They can make a flea market find look like a million bucks. More is more is not really in their vocabulary, but rather they approach fashion, interiors and food with a well-edited approach. I approach my projects in the same way. I prefer to create carefully edited rooms, where the eye can rest and each piece tells a story.
S&N: What is your favorite part of the design process besides, of course, the finished product and why?
KI: My favorite part of the design process is getting to know my clients and understanding how they tick, their dreams for the project, etc. I have great clients, and watching their expression once they see the transformation is price-less. Creating a room that not only functions well but inspires my clients to spend time there is the fundamental “why” behind interior design.
S&N: What is your favorite go-to detail to help finish or complete a look for a space?
KI: Plants/flowers and books. Adding some living flora to a space gives it life, color, energy that cannot be reproduced otherwise. And an owner’s own library of books provides a space with an instant history/story. Who doesn’t love a room filled with books?!
S&N: If you had to choose, what’s your favorite room in a home to design and why?
KI: I really enjoy living/family rooms. It’s a space that encourages both relating to one another – a conversational space, but also one that can be a place of solitude if you are seeking a cozy spot to curl up with a book. There are many ways to create small areas within this one room – a desk area, a reading nook, a spot for movie nights, etc. The options are endless. Additionally, this space is where you can really go for the “casual sophistication vibe” I mentioned earlier. By using beautiful, soft fabrics on upholstery, interesting coffee and side tables and adding a family’s personal collection of art instantly creates a warm, inviting and personal space.
S&N: What’s one mistake when it comes to design that you see people make on a consistent basis?
KI: Not hanging art at eye level and hanging curtains too low over the window – sorry, I have two pet peeves! If you ever notice art hung in a gallery/museum, you will notice it’s hung at eye level – the center of the piece usually around 60-66” above the floor. Art should be admired without having to strain your eyes or neck. With windows, rods should be installed right below the ceiling molding. It heightens the ceiling and brings your eye up. You can make an 8ft ceiling feel a good foot higher just by making this small adjustment.
S&N: What’s one piece of advice you would be willing to share with someone beginning to decorate a space or someone who wants to tackle making over a room in their own home?
KI: Take your time! I think it’s unfortunate today that there is an expectation of “instant gratification.” Design shows on TV are fun to watch to see the transformation but they edit out weeks and months of work. Finding those exceptional pieces that make your space unique takes time. Waiting to find the right piece of furniture, fabric, lighting, ensures that you will be happier in the long run and also not tire of your room quickly. It will stand the test of time because you have decorated with only those items you truly love.
S&N: What’s up next for you? Anything exciting happening in the near future that you’d like to share?
KI: It is an exciting time at KII. My team is growing, and I have brought on a seasoned sr. designer who is incredibly talented, and we collaborate well together.
Part of the reason I’m in Paris is to explore and discover unique products and artisans for my clients. I’m planning to host some clients after the holidays in Paris to shop for a project. I feel fortunate to have clients who value the “adventure” of design and sourcing unique pieces from various places all over the world. There are so many incredible artisans out there, and I get excited discovering them and finding ways to celebrate their work in my projects. Other than that, I’m looking forward to having a somewhat quiet holiday season to relax and recharge for the new year.
What is currently your favorite design “trend”? To not follow trends☺
Fill in the blank. People don’t know that I have a few “McGyver” moves and can rig something up if I’m looking to quickly fix something or need a quick solution. I can do a lot with a twig and some dental floss if asked.
Favorite way to spend a Saturday or your ideal Saturday? To flânuer through the streets of Paris, discovering new areas and shops, and of course stopping often for coffee and pastries.
Dream design job? A Nancy Meyer movie set or a house for Ina Garten…I won’t be picky.
Do you have any nicknames or did you have any growing up? My family calls me Khaki, my friends call me Kat, and my French friends call me Kate because it’s difficult for them to pronounce Kat…. I have a lot of names to keep up with☺
Favorite design rule to break? Proportion is key, but every once in a while a room tells me to “go big or go home.”
Favorite design set from a movie? It’s Complicated…really anything Nancy Meyers.
Favorite color to use in design? A pinch of black in every space.
Favorite part about your job? My clients and that everyday is different.
Hardest part about your job? Managing client expectations about the realities of completing a project in reference to time. Good, beautiful things take time.
Top 3 design Idols/Mentors/Inspiration? Rose Uniacke, Vincent Wolfe, Robert Kime
What’s one country you would like to visit that you haven’t been to? Iceland
Best way to decompress? A good tub soak while watching The Real Housewives (please don’t judge me)
Single most valuable thing you’ve learned? Never make assumptions
Morning person or night owl? Eek! Neither, but I aspire to be a morning person!
Whose brain would you like to pick over coffee? (past or present) Ina Garten
What album or artist is currently on repeat? Thievery Corporation.
Favorite flower or plant? Orchids
Superstitious? If so, name one thing you have to do? Not superstitious.
Favorite Motto or Mantra? “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Want to see more of Kathryn’s work? Stay up to date here:
All images courtesy of Kathryn Ivey Interiors.