Inside design: Celerie Kemble
Designer Celerie Kemble is renowned for creating spirited interiors that don't shy away from the playful or the personal. In her first book, Celerie Kemble: To Your Taste -- Creating Modern Rooms with a Traditional Twist ($52, Random House, 2008), she showcases her signature touch of caprice. Last fall, the New York- and Palm Beach-based designer created a line of fabrics for Schumacher (available through Bilbrough & Co.), and her line of faux leathers, called Tannery V -- "I like a little critter in every creation" -- recently became available in Canada, exclusively through Joanne Fabrics.
Style at Home Your book celebrates the breaking of a few design rules. Why is that important?
Celerie Kemble I grew up in an unconventional house with a mother who was a tastemaker, not a rule follower. She was a designer, and I often accompanied her as she went from house to house. I saw first-hand that individuality was more memorable than how well the design rules were followed. My mother was brave and irreverent, and I learned my design vocabulary from her. I also learned that it’s more important to have a home that reflects your tastes than to have a home that was ordered off the menu. The challenge now -- in an era in which television shows us perfect homes -- is to make a space your own. Years ago, it was about completing a home -- buying sets of furniture the way you would sets of clothes. These days, it's about personal style, not perfection.
S@H You've spoken before about the importance of whimsy and humour in decor. Is that what you mean by "personality"?
CK Whimsy, for me, is told by the look on someone's face. When a person loves an item -- a vintage lamp, a rug, a print -- there's an emotional response. They light up and get a goofy grin. You see that they love that piece but are almost embarrassed by their love. They smile and then hide their smile behind their hand. They wonder if they "should" love this lamp or rug or print. I'm all about forgetting the "shoulds." Where other designers might construct a room and then inject quirky items, I use them as a starting point. It's like having one of the words in a crossword puzzle; you build from there.
S@H Can you explain how an item of whimsy influences the decoration of a whole room?
CK One of my clients just loved this highly dramatic fish lamp. The lamp made the room. Instead of hiding it, I put it in a prominent spot, so it was the first thing you saw when you entered the space. Then I allowed the colour of the lamp to dictate the other colours in the room.
S@H But are there any design rules -- sorry, there’s that bad word again -- that one should try to follow?
CK [laughing] Sure. There are certain laws of geometry and spacing that you should live by. For example, leave three feet between a dining table and the wall so you have room to pull out a chair. And be sure to allow for adequate storage.
S@H Since this is our Small Spaces issue, can you give us a small-space rule not to follow?
CK You bet! I'm all about not following rules! The thing I hear over and over again is that you shouldn’t use bold colour in a small space. That’s crazy. I'd put bold colour everywhere -- the more there is, the more it tempers itself. You just have to make sure you wrap the colour so you don't delineate the edges of the room. In a small space, do anything you can to blur the edges. As long as you do that, you can use whatever colour you like.