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Kelly Wearstler: A Global Lifestyle Tour de Force

By Angela Bao

Mar. 22, 2018
Kelly Wearstler standing next to her design
Kelly Wearstler, CEO and interior designer

Kelly Wearstler talks design, inspiration, and how she built up her brand from scratch.

“My aesthetic is a juxtaposition of so many different passions and loves,” states Kelly Wearstler, founder and CEO of her eponymous lifestyle brand. “Architecture, art, fashion, graphic design, landscape design, nature—everything can be an inspiration, from a beautiful tile on a street in Lisbon, to a decorative button on a vintage jacket…Taking risks is the ultimate luxury.”

Her flagship store on Los Angeles’ iconic Melrose Avenue, which sells a mix of vintage and modern home décor pieces that ranges from furniture to home accessories, certainly takes that juxtaposition to heart. The building’s rounded, charcoal-gray façade is not what you would expect from a designer known for her bold, eclectic designs and interiors. However, once you step through the imposing entrance, it’s like stepping into an entirely different world, one where cultures, eras, the indoors, outdoors, all merge into one—the distinctive world of Kelly Wearstler.

Wearstler certainly is a multi-hyphenated, award-winning force to be reckoned with. Along with authoring four coffee table books, she also includes amongst her clients celebrities and tastemakers from all over the world. She is also responsible for the look of high-profile commercial properties, such as the restaurant Viviane in Beverly Hills and the Four Seasons Resort in Anguilla. Although her business already has a significant global presence (Kelly Wearstler products are sold in over 20 countries), she has set her sights on expanding further into Asia. “We have a significant presence in Europe and Russia,” Wearstler says. “At this time, I am also considering several design projects in Hong Kong and Macau.”

She sat down to talk with us about how she finds inspiration for all her projects, how she’s built up her business, and shares some of the important lessons she’s learned along the way.

Lobby of the San Francisco Proper Hotel, designed by Kelly Wearstler
Lobby of the San Francisco Proper Hotel, designed by Kelly Wearstler
"I consider myself a designer of interiors, an expander of ideas, a creator of experiences."

- Kelly Wearstler

Your company started off as an interior design firm but have expanded into lifestyle brand. How did you transition your business from designing interiors to designing furniture and home accessories?

I was approached by Bergdorf Goodman to design a line of home accessories in 2006. It started out quite curated and small. Over time, the brand grew organically out of the home accessories collection to include furniture, rugs, lighting, and multiple partnerships and collaborations with some of the most respected global brands across the luxury market space. Interior design has fueled all of our product design. There’s an inherent cross-pollination: architecture and interiors influence our art pieces, home décor, lighting, furniture and vice versa. I incorporate natural, organic materials in all my spaces and designs.

My design studio houses many different disciplines under one roof with all the different mediums fueling one another. Curiosity and passion continually inspire the expansion of my brand’s reach. I approach every project—whether a hotel, a piece of furniture, or a collection of fabric—with the same process of exploration. All of these touchpoints hold a special place in my heart, as they each play an important part of the evolution of my design story. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with incredible clients along the whole of my career and consider them to be my greatest muse. When projects are successfully articulated, there’s a natural progression that occurs and allows for growth.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced when expanding your business beyond interior design? What were some lessons you learned from them?

One of the key learnings was adjusting to the differentiation between the interior design business, which is directed to specific client needs and highly-planned projects, and the lifestyle business—designing, producing and retailing furniture, rugs, lighting, home décor—which is driven by a much more expansive marketplace and consumed by a wider audience. Time management also takes refining as my time is divided up across more areas of focus and varied deadlines. I’ve learned that finding and surrounding yourself with the right, talented people is the only way to successfully navigate the diverse product types and evolution of the business.

"Curiosity and passion continually inspire the expansion of my brand’s reach."

- Kelly Wearstler

Lobby designed by Kelly Wearstler
Kelly Wearstler design

I am a big list maker. Every weekend, I put a list together of the goals I want to accomplish the week ahead and pivot, if necessary. I have a strong management team which allows me to be efficient with my time and focus on design. I think about my projects around the clock…I could be inspired at any moment. I carry a sketchbook with me so I can document the sudden blasts of creativity at all times. As I travel significantly for work, I use the down time on flights to stay on top of what is happening in the world of art, culture, technology and global business by reading lots of articles.

How do you differentiate your company from the competition? Is there anything that serves as the Kelly Wearstler “signature”?

I’ve always believed in staying authentic. My goal is to remain consistent with my core philosophy of creating beauty through thoughtful design. I consider myself a designer of interiors, an expander of ideas, a creator of experiences. My studio creates environments for people to expand their experiences within and add an element of adventure to their lives.

My design process is an emotional one for me. Being a good listener is the most important aspect of my work. I start every project by meeting with the client and understanding what his or her goals are—the particular vision, program, and the story they want to tell. Each project has to have its own identity. My clients are my greatest muse—finding the harmony in many different voices and influences is what makes design interesting, propels it forward. It’s a collaborative journey of curiosity and experimentation. It’s always evolving.

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