The interior designer Kelly Wearstler has soul—or at least she seems to enjoy the word, inserting it into sentences like the cucumber slices she slides into her water.
Los Angeles provides “better quality for your soul” than New York, she says, perched at a long marble table in her design firm’s West Hollywood headquarters. She calls her aesthetic, which favors chandeliers, gold, and dizzying patterns, “really soulful.” “It’s definitely modern,” she says, “but there’s, like, a soul to it. Things have a hand, everything isn’t new and shiny.”
The concept informed the slew of collections she released last year, including furniture, household goods, and pet accessories. (There’s a $2,500 doghouse made of Douglas fir and bedding sets with names like Zuma and Zephyr.) “You know how you have a new soul and an old soul? All the materials are old soul,” she says of the home furnishings she designed with the North Carolina–based company E.J. Victor. “It makes them warmer and friendlier.”
It seems that, for Wearstler, soul sells. Since starting her interior design company 20 years ago, Wearstler has conceived of the inner sanctums of a variety of high-profile projects, including Viceroy Hotels and Resorts, which was founded by her husband, Brad Korzen. A South Carolina native who posed for Playboy before becoming, as the New Yorker dubbed her, “the grand dame of West Coast interior design,” she straddles the line between star designer and designer to the stars. (Vogue placed her on their 2007 best dressed list—her over-the-top outfits sent fashion bloggers into a frenzy during her two-year stint on Bravo’s TV show “Top Design”.)
Last August, Wearstler took over an 1,800-square-foot exhibition space on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman’s New York flagship and filled it with pieces from her namesake collections as well as bars of Compartes, a line of gourmet chocolates whose wrappers she designed.
“There’s a whole wall of all of our chocolate designs and [Bergdorf’s] was like, ‘No, people aren’t going to buy chocolate, and it’s crazy,” Wearstler says, breaking off a piece of a lavender-infused bar sheathed in a dreamy purple box. “It’s crazy.”
Wearstler previously designed the department store’s signature restaurant. “Our home is her home,” says Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president. “I would trust Kelly with any space, anywhere in the world.”
She is also designing the interiors of a new chain of hotels by the Proper Hospitality Group, which her husband partially owns. Proper’s outfit in Hollywood opens this spring; locations in downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Austin are expected to follow soon after. There’s no theme governing the design of the boutique hotels, though Wearstler would like to avoid stereotypes—that means no cowboy hats in Austin.
“She is so talented at creating spaces that form an experience and inspire a mood,” says Brian De Lowe, who founded Proper with Korzen. “Just as our customer is more well-traveled, more educated, and more sophisticated than our customer was during the Viceroy days, so is Kelly. She never ceases to deliver unexpected and unconventional design as her inspiration is ever-evolving.”
Much of her inspiration comes from her travels. Last summer, she, Korzen, and their sons hopped around Indonesia (“It’s like luxury Gilligan’s Island,” she says of Komodo Island), marveling at the multifamily compounds and catching waves. Though she regularly peruses the flea markets of Paris and puts places as far flung as the Maldives, Cape Town, and Bhutan on her bucket list, she brings a piece of home wherever she goes: Frank, a teddy bear passed down from her grandmother. “I get a little scared of flying and traveling, so just to have safe journeys, he comes,” she says. “He has this cool scarf on that belongs to my mom. We took it off when we were in Indonesia and made him a little sarong.”
At home, Wearstler favors books on Aldo Rossi and Giacometti over Instagram or Internet-culled inspiration. “I feel like every architect or person that’s coming in that we interview for a job, they all have the same Pinterest,” she says. “It’s crazy. It’s like these people have to open up books again. It’s turning into Pinterest land.”
But she’s wise to how people are buying things for their homes these days, clicking into shopping carts as opposed to cruising through stores. Her own website features a “Shop The Vibe” section that allows browsers to scroll through four-figure gemstone picture frames and amorphic sculptures—one of the latter, an amoeba with a perfect circle through its center, is aptly called “Amorphic Sculpture”.
And could it be that there’s soul to be found in online shopping? “One King’s Lane was such a genius idea,” she says, referring to the ecommerce site for home décor. “People can be inspired. There’s really no reason that somebody should have bad taste. With what’s online and on Pinterest, it shouldn’t happen.”