When Kathryn M. Ireland entertains at her home in Santa Monica, Calif., you know you’re in for a treat. But the delicious food, the endless bottles of wine and a fascinating guest list that often includes Gossip Girl actress Caroline Lagerfelt, The Guardian star Simon Baker and even Lindsay Lohan, pale in comparison to the designer’s own home. Lush rooms filled with eye-popping fabrics, antiques and a dizzying layer of textures are the real reasons you never want to leave.
The British-born Kathryn, a star of Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorator, has an uncanny ability to create homes that not only feel lived in but improve with age. Her signature style includes classic, comfortable furniture upholstered in her own textile designs or vintage fabrics she’s found while traveling the world. Mixed in are antique furniture, stacks of books, vintage rugs, art and ceramic vases often filled with garden roses. It makes for interiors that are both intriguing and inviting. It’s also a perfect reflection of Kathryn herself, whose big smile, energetic flair and warm embrace make you want to plop down on one of her comfy couches, adjust a pretty pillow behind your back and talk for hours.
If there’s one designer who perfectly represents my own personal aesthetic, it’s Kathryn. So for this month’s Design Insider, I sat down with her to ask about rules of the trade, layering patterns, working with (surprising) celebrity client Lindsay Lohan and her secrets to a life well lived. As expected, she was both entertaining and inspiring. And yes, I never wanted to leave!
The living room at the Wallace Neff-designed Libbey Ranch estate in Ojai, California. Kathryn lovingly restored the dilapidated property, which was later sold to actress Reese Witherspoon and served as the location for her 2011 wedding to talent agent Jim Toth.
Ulrica: What’s the first thing you start with when designing a home?
Kathryn: I always start with the fabrics, because that’s my passion. If I’m doing a whole house, I start with my fabrics because they give a sense of continuity throughout the house. I deliberately design the fabrics in a collection to be mixed with one another, and I usually mix in vintage fabrics as well. I love color and layering different patterns. Then everything else falls into place. I like the blank canvas of creamy, white walls and then allowing the colors to stand out.
Ulrica: You boldly mix different patterns and colors in a way I would never dare to attempt myself. What’s your secret?
Kathryn: I hate to say it, but it’s a talent I have. I love layering different patterns, textures and rugs. I mix antique textiles with new textiles and create unique pieces with fabrics. You have to just go with your instincts and try things out.
A detail photograph from the living room at Libbey Ranch. The curtains are from Kathryn’s own textile collection.
Ulrica: The homes you design — even when they’re just finished — always look lived in.
Kathryn: I like to create a sense of history and I don’t like homes that are showplaces. I don’t just decorate, I try to create a lifestyle. I think of myself as a homemaker, not a decorator. When you decorate your own home, think about how you will live in it. You’re going to be using this space to entertain, to snuggle up on a couch with a good book, to raise your kids…it should feel inviting and warm. Don’t cram things in. If you can’t find something that’s perfect for a specific spot on the wall, leave it blank! You can’t put a square peg in a round hole. Sometimes you just have to let it be.
Kathryn’s own living room at her home in Santa Monica. The square pillows on the couch and the upholstered chair are made with fabrics from her Mexico Meets Morocco collection. The rectangular pillow on the couch is vintage.
Ulrica: You’re a mom to three boys (now grown up). What are your tips for decorating kids rooms?
Kathryn: My rules for kids bedrooms are pretty much the same as for grown-ups. I never want them to look baby-ish. Kids grow up so quickly, so you should really think about choosing pieces that can last until they move out of the house — and maybe even things they’ll take with them! My sons still have the painted cupboards I put in their rooms when they were babies.
Ulrica: Have your sons inherited your love for decorating?
Kathryn: Absolutely not! [Laugh]. They’re good dressers, but that’s about it. They have no interest in decorating and that’s fine with me. My oldest son has his own place now and he absolutely does not want me to come over and decorate it!
Kathryn’s bedroom at her home in Santa Monica.
Ulrica: You recently worked with Lindsay Lohan. I was a little surprised to find out she has such grown-up, traditional taste!
Kathryn: She loved my bedroom! [see picture above]. She wanted her bedroom exactly the way I had my bedroom decorated, so that’s what we did. She fell in love with it, and it was so cute. I know my style might not be the first thing you associate with her, but it shows she has a side to her that a lot of people don’t know about. We were able to relate to each other. She just loves being a real person.
Ulrica: What are your must-haves for a perfect day?
Kathryn: I love to get up early and start off my day by going for a walk. If I’m at my home in France, I like to go antiquing, have a delicious lunch with a glass of rose and then go horseback riding in the afternoon. I adore it when my boys are home and I get to hang out with them. They’re all simple pleasures, but those are often the ones that stay with you the longest.
Ulrica: You were raised in England and Scotland, and today you divide your time between your home in Santa Monica and your farmhouse in France. Where do you feel you belong?
Kathryn: Both France and Santa Monica are equally my home. Of course I love London, but I don’t have a house there. I actually like that I have two places that I live in. It doesn’t feel confusing, it makes me feel happy. I get to have two separate lives and I actually love it that way. It inspires me, fills me with new impressions and keeps me going.
Kathryn’s celebrity clients include Steve Martin, David Mamet, Fran Drescher and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She is the author of the books Classic Country, Creating A Home, Summers in France and Timeless Interiors. Her fifth book will be published in 2014. You can visit her website at www.kathrynireland.com and follow her on twitter @KathrynMIreland.
All images courtesy of Kathryn M. Ireland ©2013.