House & Home: Was nature a starting point for most of these designs?
Kelly Wearstler: It's more texture and movement. Whether you have something like the smaller print... that looks like crackle but it also looks like animal, and I think it's really how the person perceives it, but it's a beautiful, quiet texture that can work in any environment. Then we look at different scales, something might be larger or smaller scale. We use carpet in almost every room of a house that we design, so I'm looking at what stories look nice together. All of those carpets work really well together. If you have someone that's not a designer and comes into The Rug Company and says, "I want to tell a story in my home," these designs work well together and it's easy to see what you can do. You might want something bigger scale in one room and something more delicate in another room.
H&H: Is designing a rug different from designing fabric?
KW: It's the same, but when you focus in... the over-arching idea comes from the same place, but when you look at that it's going to get translated as carpet — that that's the vehicle — then you look at construction and if something is going to be in silk or wool or if it's going to be a refined texture or something a little chunkier and a bigger texture. Other times it starts organically. I can see something in nature and then have a vision. We paint a lot of the designs — most of them actually — and then we transfer them to the computer and transform them from there.
H&H: Christopher, if someone is buying their first investment rug, what do they need to know?
Christopher Sharp: They need to know how it's made. One wonderful thing for The Rug Company is you can't make a cheap, good looking rug. You can do it in a lot of things — you can go to Ikea and buy an inexpensive piece of furniture that actually looks alright. But if you go to Ikea and look at their rugs, they look terrible. It's because the only way to make a proper rug is to make it completely by hand. If you're going to buy a rug, make sure it's handmade. There are different types of handmade rugs — there are dhurries, which are inexpensive. They look fantastic and they cost almost nothing. Also, when someone comes into the Rug Company to buy a rug, we make them try it first. Unless you're a decorator, it's so difficult to get it right — it's too small, it's too big, the colour is wrong because the light in the showroom was different. So make sure it's handmade, try it at home before you buy it, and ultimately buy it because you like it. It's true in life generally, but you can get talked into believing that something is special because other people say so. What do people know? They don't know anything. You have to believe it what you're doing and do it. You do! The people who are successful are the people who don't take everyone else's opinions and try to form something out of some kind of consensus. It's designing by committee; ask other people's opinions, but don't design a room around what everyone else thinks.
H&H: When your in one of your rooms, you're often look at the floor and ceiling. How do you make them work together?
KW: Wall colour and ceiling colour is easy to change, but you may have a carpet for 200 years. It's something you'll pass down to your children, so we see a lot of neutral rugs in interiors. But, we also have clients that they want to have colour in a room.
H&H: People say you have crazy colour in your interiors, but I actually think you use colour subtley. How do take people to take the leap into colour?
KW: Either they want it or they don't. Or if we use a colour they only want yellow or blue. People are usually pretty specific.
H&H: Is there a colour that solves most problems?
KW: Black or white. It's the basis for all colour.
H&H: Do you have any of your rugs in your own homes?
KW: I have the Tracery. It's in our house in Beverly Hills. The other ones The Rug Company made, but they're designed specifically for the house.
H&H: Do you have a process that you go through whether you're designing rugs or a house, that allows you to tap into that unexpected element?
KW: It's just emotional. You just think, "Oh god no, that's too much," and you dial it back a little. Or we present things to clients and they want something else or they love it. That makes you a better designer.
H&H: What are some things that are currently catching your eye and informing your designs?
KW: It's really just looking at other things. If I'm designing rugs, I don't look at other rugs or textiles for inspiration. I look at something else. It could be architecture or a material. Right now I love Viennese architecture, like Josef Hoffmann. It's very paired down kind of Bauhaus, but there was always a graphic element, with interesting unexpected things on the interiors.
H&H: You have all different disciplines in your office, do feel that puts you on the leading edge?
KW: Yes. You know I did fashion for a few years? As painful as it was, I learned so much from it. I went to PV (Premère Vision), which is where all the fashion designers go to buy leather and fabric and trim and stuff for bags and shoes and it was so amazing. Now we call on them to do special things for our furniture, like add these weird zippers. Having all the different skill sets just opens up all the possibilities.
H&H: You've described your design approach as the elegance of the unexpected. I'm wondering if it's getting harder to deliver the unexpected?
KW: No, I don't think so, but when I go to Pinterest I see — and I see it with a lot of young designers — there's more basic stuff, because everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing. So design — the unexpected stuff — is getting further away and there's more of what everyone else is doing. Designers that have a true voice are hard to find. Even in fashion you see it.
Christopher Sharp: True creativity is so rare. It's probably the rarest commodity.
KW: I've had my company for awhile and I've had one designer who I think is really talented. I have great people in my office, but having someone that has a whole voice is really hard.
H&H: People describe your look as "fearless." Do you consider yourself fearless?
KW: In some things. (laughs) I'm actually shy. I have social anxiety. There was this bridal shower I had to go to and I was so glad I couldn't stay long. There were so many celebrities and I was panicked! I walked in and just wanted to get out of there. I'm fine with a few people, but... I'm the same with presentations. When we have to do presentations for commercial projects there's usually 20 people in the room and I can't do them. I usually have someone start and then I chime in when I get a little comfortable. People say, "Oh, but you did the TV show," but I was scared! But my designs take risks and maybe that's my outlet.
CS: Do you take more risks when you're designing for someone else than you do when you're designing for yourself?
KW: Both. I'm mean probably, but Bryan won't let me anymore. (laughs) We're probably going to sell our house in a few years and he said to me the other day, "Why did you do your bathroom that way? Nobody likes it." And I was like: "but you said we were going to die here!"
H&H: Do you know if people change the houses you've sold?
KW: They do. It depends on which house it was. IF they're a little quieter — the first house my husband and I did was more muted and modern and quite. That one, they bought almost everything in the house and the house. But the last one was more specific. The one house that was in Domicil Esperatus, with the amazing bookmatched marble, the people ripped it all out. And it was a neutral colour. People want to put their own spin and personality, and most people want safe and basic. They just do.
H&H: Do you have a test for figuring out when you've ventured into weird and wacky and you need to pull back?
KW: We have all of our walls in the office are pin-up, so... and we do it with a lot of our product. I'll ask someone in the office to wear pieces of jewelry from my line for a couple of days. And I ask people from the different departments because they all come from different skill sets and you can focus on the best ones. So you really see what people like. You always ask.
CS: When we get a new design we put it in the busy ship for a month and then we have a look at it again. It makes such a difference. Because you get it and you think it's going to be amazing, but you do need to live with it. When people see it you get a much truer concept of how it's going to be — and then you realize you do need people's opinions.
H&H: Do you have a no Pinterest rule in the office?
KW: If you're smart and know what to look for — if you just type in generic things you'll just get generic stuff back. You have to be so specific, and then there's amazing stuff on Pinterest. But you have to be smart and know what you're looking for.
H&H: Has your social media presence changed your creative process at all?
KW: Yes, it's so inspirational. The world is open to you — artists all over the world and furniture makers and craftsmen. You educating your eye. That's how you become a better designer: the more you see, you make smart decisions, you know what the anomalies are, you make smart decisions. I love Pinterest!
H&H: Is Pinterest your favourite online app or addiction?
KW: I have Newsstand on my iPad mini and so I have all the international magazines. I used to have the car of my back seat full of books and magazines, then I'd come into the office on Monday and someone would have to scan and copy them. Now, I screen shot all the magazines and download them onto the computer. You can't lose it like a Xerox. That is a great tool. I also just found out that you can get online from your phone or a data plan. I can use my Samsung phone as a port. It's incredible. There's no wasted time.
H&H: Does it add a pressure to stay true to your style instead of letting it evolve like it would and has over the years?
KW: Yeah. Going back to the fashion thing, which is the hardest business in the world, and having these buyers and different people say: "you need to be doing this" and "this is the trend." You can not listen. If you're ever going to find your voice and stand out as a designer, you can't listen to anyone. You have to follow you're heart. Even with our jewelry, still, some people don't want to pick it up because it's too edgy. I'm doing what I feel and that's it. You have to or you're not going to succeed in what you want to do.
H&H: Is it weird to be called an icon?
KW: It makes me feel old! My PR company in LA is telling me it's my 20th anniversary and I don't even want to talk about it! It just sounds old.
H&H: Have you ever had someone say, Kelly go bolder. This is too safe!
Love Kelly's style? See photos of Kelly's residential projects and accessories.