Is there a design world denizen who doesn’t know Kelly Wearstler? A celebrated diva of hospitality, she also boasts a residential A-list including Cameron Diaz, Gwen Stefani, and Ben Stiller. A product designer extraordinaire, she has designed stones and tiles for Ann Sacks; fabrics, wallcoverings, and trims for Lee Jofa; floor coverings for The Rug Company. Her eponymous collection, sold in her West Hollywood shop and online, encompasses furniture, fabrics, lighting, and accessories. Bergdorf Goodman is a sales site, too. Recently, she’s branched further afield.
Born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, she graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, and moved to New York where internships included one for Milton Glaser. She headed west for Los Angeles, establishing her studio in 1995. With her first project, the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills where we first met, she hit the ground running. Viceroys worldwide followed.
Wearstler, her husband Brad Korzen, and sons Oliver, 15, and Elliott, 14, live in a 1926 Beverly Hills estate renovated in 2009 by Brian Tichenor. Weekends are at a Malibu beach house, steps from the Pacific Ocean. Let’s catch up.
Interior Design: How did growing up in South Carolina influence your work?
Kelly Wearstler: Growing up near the beach helped inform my love of natural materials, textures, and colors. An element of nature—stone, luxe woods, patina metal—is always part of my designs.
ID: Which person, place, or thing—inside the industry or out—inspires you?
KW: I am truly inspired by everything: Mother Nature, architecture, fashion, art. Some favorites are Pierre Cardin, Oscar Niemeyer, Carlo Scarpa, Louis Kahn, Louise Nevelson.
ID: Your style is eclectic, exuberant, and richly layered. Are you ever tempted to design a minimal interior?
KW: My aesthetic is about mixology and materiality, pairing contemporary and vintage, raw and refined, masculine and feminine. Yes, I’m doing a minimal project now, an exploration of curiosity and experimentation that leads to a constant evolution.
ID: Chocolates are a relatively new venture for you, too.
KW: Yes! It actually started four years with Compartés wanting a collaboration. We created the designs for a range of super chic chocolate bars with patterns and colors inspiring the flavors. In Los Angeles, we designed the jewel-box flagship store. It’s a modern interpretation of the classic European chocolate shops of the early 1900’s.
ID: One studio does it all. Is there a distinct team for each type of project?
KW: My staff of about 50 includes interior designers, architects, graphic designers, product designers, artists, and our sales and marketing teams. There’s an inherent cross-pollination. Architecture and interiors influence our art pieces, home décor, furniture, and vice versa.
ID: You’re known for your hotels. What are some of the most important aspects of hospitality design?
KW: Travelers are living in the moment, outside of their normal, daily routine. Senses are heightened, and expectations are open. There’s a thrill to designing environments for people to expand their experiences.
ID: How do you go about creating a hotel brand?
KW: It starts with service. What will differentiate the hotel? What do you want guests to feel? What will make for an authentic experience? The climate, history, and iconography of each city are considered from the beginning.
ID: What are a few recent projects?
KW: I’ve just completed San Francisco Proper, part of a new brand of hotel and residential properties, Proper Hospitality. I’m currently working on the next three Proper projects opening in downtown Los Angeles, Austin, and Santa Monica.
ID: You’re doing extensive work at the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles. Tell us about the renovation.
KW: This $1 billion renovation and development is my first commercial real estate project, and it’s a remarkable scale. One of our first mandates was to find a way to make people do more than shop and leave the mall. We needed to give them places they wanted to be in, to linger and lounge in, because they felt good in them.