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How Kelly Wearstler weaves design magic to create joy and synchronicity

The world’s pre-eminent interior designer talks to Effect about her extraordinary body of work and the thinking behind her new book, Synchronicity

Kelly Wearstler’s interiors are the fruits of a consummate juggler. Together with her Los Angeles-based team, Wearstler creates a sense of luxury that also has a high level of comfort and even joy, often integrating prized art collections. On top of that, on a practical level the spaces need to work hard yet discreetly.

So simultaneously, Wearstler could be picking the perfect spot for her client’s favourite sculpture, while making sure the kitchen floor is properly treated.

This was the case at a 1940s house in Los Angeles, whose owners are avid collectors of contemporary art but who also have children. Through conversations with the client, Wearstler and her team married their finest pieces with iconic furniture. As she explains in her new book, Synchronicity: “Studio Truly Truly created a cabinet in cedar with wavy lines in resin that echo the movement found in the adjacent abstract painting by Brent Wadden.” She adds: “And since the space is bound to get a lot of traffic, the floors were oiled and waxed with a forgiving wire-brushed finish.”

This house is one of seven recent projects featured in the book – private homes and hotels – mostly in the Los Angeles area. The overall impression is one of bold statements and large-scale proportions. And while the residential projects are clearly high-budget, Wearstler avoids, time and again, the bland, impersonal language of the penthouse showroom, instead expressing luxury through scale, drama and unexpected mixes of form and materiality.

Kelly Wearstler's Broad Beach, Malibu residence bears all her classic hallmarks - Effect Magazine
Vintage Wearstler: Kelly Wearstler’s Broad Beach, Malibu residence bears many of her classic hallmarks: rich, varied textures, an uncluttered canvas for curated art and sculpture, a mix of vintage and signature contemporary furniture, and a searingly evocative setting (from Synchronicity, published by Rizzoli. Photo: The Ingalls)

“Materiality and shape are super important,” she says. “In general, warm and inviting colours are more relaxing – they make rooms welcoming and somewhere you’d want to spend time.” Hence the faded pink walls and dark wooden floor of the office in the 1940s house. “Rich or textured fabrics like silk, velvet or boucle are inviting and offer elevated comfort. Surfaces and finishes are a great opportunity to find surprise in the unexpected. They’re tactical and rich.”

Warm and inviting colours are more relaxing – they make rooms welcoming and somewhere you’d want to spend time.

Kelly Wearstler

At the Santa Monica Proper hotel in Los Angeles, there’s “a great ensemble of materials, but when used together in the right measure, it makes music”, Wearstler says in the book. Her furniture choices are similarly varied, though she favours pieces with softer edges – “it’s a great avenue for added comfort – deep seated upholstery is especially luxurious and I tend to keep the seating low so it’s more grounding.”

And rather than relying on the major contemporary manufacturers, Wearstler has her own collection, and can also be found scouring flea markets, antiques fairs and vintage shops. “I especially like visiting local markets when I travel,” she says, “there’s an incredible sense of discovery when you’re somewhere new.” She encourages her team to do the same. “We are always on the hunt and are not afraid to go out of our way to find rare pieces.” Pieces which are not going straight to a project are stored at her warehouse.

But it’s not all pounding the streets. “Social media has also become an incredible resource. I’m constantly uncovering new things and contemporary collaborators on Instagram,” says Wearstler, who herself has 1.2m Instagram followers.

Kelly Wearstler employs a robust southern colour-palette at the Austin Proper hotel, drawing on the city’s heritage of early-20th-century craftsmen’s homes (from Synchronicity, published by Rizzoli. Photo: The Ingalls)

On the question of finding the balance between characterful design while allowing space for a client’s artworks to shine, Wearstler sees it as a dialogue: “The art and design need to work in tandem, creating beautiful tension. People choose to live with artwork because it sparks a strong emotional response, so I look to inspire the same reaction when I choose design elements for my clients.”

Wearstler describes the living room in the 1940s Los Angeles residence as an inspired collision between art and design: “Starting with a distinct ebonized oak wood floor and an amber-tinted silk carpet, it’s filled with a combination of commissioned design objects, contemporary works of art, and newly reimagined vintage furniture in similar complementary copper tones,” she says, adding: “An understated mixture of shapes, textures, and materials strike a harmonious chord. It’s one of the most artful rooms in the home, but also one of the most comfortable.”

Kelly Wearstler describes the living room in this 1940s Los Angeles residence as an inspired collision between art and design (from Synchronicity, published by Rizzoli. Photo: The Ingalls)

Functionality is a top priority across her projects. “Good design means every detail is considered, and it’s important to my team and clients that even practical elements reflect our design ethos. Our goal is that everything is both functional and visually impactful.”

Good design means every detail is considered… even practical elements reflect our design ethos. Our goal is that everything is both functional and visually impactful.

Kelly Wearstler

In Santa Monica Proper hotel in Los Angeles, mechanical elements behind a wall led one area to have lower ceilings. This was turned into a feature, becoming The Grotto – a snug library, which was made “even more cosy by its grass-cloth wallcoverings and white oak millwork”, says Wearstler. And at Surf Shack, low ceilings were compensated for with low-rise chairs.

The Kelly Wearstler-designed Santa Monica Proper hotel. (Top L): The hotel’s Palma lounge, with carefully curated mid-century and contemporary seating creates intimate clusters for socialising (Photo: Trevor Tondro). (Top R): Low ceilings in The Grotto were turned into a feature, becoming a snug library, which was made “even more cosy by its grass-cloth wall-coverings and white oak millwork.” (Photo: The Ingalls). (Bottom): A ship’s chain sculpture in the asymmetrical reception area continues the marine thread that runs through the hotel. Uncluttered space allows the textures and materials to shine (Photo: The Ingalls)

But it’s not all about what goes on inside; Wearstler also references a building’s surroundings. The Austin Proper hotel in Texas is based in a 32-storey mixed-use tower, while the city itself is known for its early-20th-century craftsmen’s homes. Wearstler drew on their heritage: “Grand, wooden staircase that meets you in the entry, and details like colourful, stained-glass elements are used in doors, windows, and cabinetry.” For the hotel, this translated into wooden beams, leather seating, and big doors with cylinder glass panels.

Just as Wearstler reinterprets interior design conventions with her juxtapositions, so she has reinterpreted the word ‘synchronicity’. And while she acknowledges the use of the world for coincidental occurrences of events, for Wearstler, synchronicity is “a moment of intentional action. An opportunity for each partner to take everything they’ve learned and create something beautiful together—whether it’s a client, my team, an architect, a landscape designer, or an artist. All of us working in harmony to make something new. It’s far from a coincidence.”

And while Synchronicity, with its many pages of photos devoted to each project, is a visual feast to sate the hungriest of her followers, Wearstler’s intentions for the book run deeper. “My sincerest wish,” she writes, “is that by seeing how these journeys are eventually realized, you’ll find not only inspiration, but encouragement to embrace your own spaces with an open mind, to take risks, to fulfil every curiosity great and small, and never lose sight of your own authentic self.” Kelly Wearstler

Read more: Kelly Wearstler | Interiors | Interior Design | Vintage | Design | Art | Los Angeles | California | USA