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Interview With Interior Designer Kathryn Ireland of Million Dollar Decorators

Kathryn Ireland Talks Decorating, Flea Marketing, and Handling Clients

This week, I had the opportunity to chat with interior designer Kathryn Ireland, a cast member of Bravo's hit new reality show Million Dollar Decorators, about her career, her clients, her shopping routine, her decorating advice, and her experience on the series. If you haven't read the first part of our interview, be sure to, and then read part two below!

CasaSugar: I know you spend your Summers in France. What do you see as the difference between the way the French and Americans decorate?

Kathryn Ireland: Gosh! Very differently. The French French or people that have houses in France? I mean there’s something completely alluring about the French way of life when you think of the French countryside — the bucolic landscape, sitting under trees drinking rosé. I just love farmhouses. I don’t like the grand; I’m never drawn to anything grand. I like sort of living in a cow barn. Finding places that are interesting for me — it’s very much about the exterior of the countryside. I’m a country person at heart.

I think what I’m drawn to about the French is that people inherit pieces, which is also European. I grew up with a mother that decorated our house. She knew what to do, and I think there’s something so inherent about creating your own home, which is what I’m trying to teach my clients. You know a lot of people have hectic lines and it’s a full-time job trying to get couches and sofa and tie it all together, and some people just don’t have that talent to know what goes with what.

CS: Do you have any tips for bargaining and dealing with dealers at markets?

KI: Oh I’m a great bargainer! I go to Morocco. Marrakech is one of my favorite places, and in fact I’ve just come back from there. I’m doing a container sale for One Kings Lane on August 6, and that was so much fun.

But yea, I know how to haggle, but I also know when I see a good thing and it’s a good price. You know when you do a house and you get a budget, I know what I’m working, and I say let’s not get picky. I may spend a bunch of money on a piece of artwork for the kitchen. It’s about where the things that do matter. For example, in my kitchen in Santa Monica, I have a Damien Hirst in my kitchen and it’s fantastic. It makes the room.

Continue reading for the rest of our interview!


CS: Granted you do decorate million dollar homes, but if you’re given a budget, where do you try to cut back and where do you splurge?

KI: Obviously no budget is the best, but if you have a budget that’s doable, then it’s really a mixture of flea market finds. You can buy great photography books and take the photographs out and frame them – that’s a great way to cover up some walls. I love using photographs and kids’ artwork to take up wall space.

I really enjoy flea markets because I’ve got a good eye. In my dining room, I’ve got four Andy Warhol Maos and they make my dining room. I bought them at the Rose Bowl. They’re so fantastically colorful and great. It just makes the room.

CS: On the show, you joked that your client Shannon had crossed the line between hoarding and collecting, and she seems to be the extreme in that she had already shopped for masses of antiques, and you were tasked to arrange it all. What would be your preference: to have a client that lets you work from scratch or someone who is intent on giving more input?

KI: You know, every job is different, and I enjoy all the challenges. But I hate people wasting money and you have to have a plan. And clearly for Shannon, there was no plan. She had like 20 commodes! You have to be organized. It’s one thing to just buy a piece because it’s ravishing and you’ve got to have it; I understand that. I understand collecting beautiful things, but just compulsive shopping is a whole different thing, because someone’s got to arrange them. Typically if I’m building a house, I have a good amount of time; I have three to six months. I just tell people, just wait, we will find it; there’s no rush!

I think the whole collecting/hoarding thing is interesting (I’m actually writing a piece about it for the Huffington Post tomorrow); it’s very psychological. I’m collecting for my clients. I am helping them buy fantastic pieces. Also, I know the house in my head and sometimes the client . . . they have a life, they have work . . . and they also don’t have the vision. I know what things will work together. I just know how they’re going to look in a room. You know, it’s a talent. Some people can sing, play an instrument. I just know how to put things together. And also I know about color and textiles — that's what my background is — so I think you become the artist in a house. Layering and coloring. Unlike a movie set, it has to last. It’s going to be there for some time.

CS: It seems also like an art form to steer your clients, at least the ones who do want to give input, in the right direction, away from what they think they want to what you know they want.

KI: Oh yea, I mean Shannon made it very clear she doesn’t like funky. I grew up in beautiful, beautiful homes in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy. Grand houses. I mean we had a fisherman’s cottage in Scotland. My mother’s best friend lived in a Palladian villa outside of Venice. So I got to see the whole gamut of homes and houses. I think a lot of people who haven’t traveled, who haven’t had that experience, are very one-dimensional. And I can’t do that.

I think you’ve got to have color. There’s got to be life in a house. That’s my philosophy on decorating because I really see how a house works. If you’re a bachelor (and I’ve decorated for a lot of single men, I went through a stage of working with men when they got divorced, like Steve Martin), you want a different kind of a house than from when you’re married. But really every single job is a new beginning for me. I don’t have a formula. I look at who the person, what do they do, and I just take it from there.

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