Design Experts

Inside design: Kathryn Ireland

Inside design: Kathryn Ireland

Image: Tim Beddow

Design Experts

Inside design: Kathryn Ireland

Associate editor Sara Cation rubs elbows with one of the brightest minds in interior design.

If you’ve watched the hit Bravo show Million Dollar Decorators, you’ll know that Kathryn Ireland is a character. Her posh British accent, California-cool attitude and out-of-this-world eclecticism amount to a personality as endearing as her designs. And while I’ve seen her share irreverent jokes on the show with close pal (and co-star) Martyn Lawrence Bullard about bra shopping and chocolate addiction, when I met Kathryn, we stuck to the topic of decor. After all, if you had such an icon in front of you, would you waste time talking about anything else?


The living room of this Malibu beach house that Kathryn Ireland designed for friends proves her penchant for layering bold colours, patterns and textures.

Style at Home: In what ways is your personality reflected in your designs?

Kathryn: My designs are bright, uplifting, irreverent and slightly witty. “Serious” is a word I avoid both in decorating and in life – I like whimsical, unexpected things.

What’s one of your earliest design memories?

I used to read all of my mother’s house and garden magazines, and when I was about seven or eight, I told her I wanted my bedroom to be apple green, which was very hip in those days. So we remodelled my room based on things I’d seen in magazines – a canopy, a walk-in closet. We must have been the first people in England to have a walk-in closet.

Was it a good look?

Yeah, totally. But in those days I didn’t think this is what I’d end up doing.


The armchairs in Kathryn’s living room were upholstered in a custom-embroidered sultan’s robe from her close pal Martyn Lawrence Bullard.

Looking back, does your career path make sense?

Some of it does. I was big into needlework. I won the sewing prize for my patchwork quilt when I was seven. I was very hands-on about making things, and I liked decorating – I just instinctively knew where things should go.

How does your English heritage influence your aesthetic?

I always go back to my European upbringing. I spent lots of time in London, the Scottish countryside and Vicenza, Italy, and so I was fortunate to live and stay in amazing historical and architectural houses. It rubbed off on me.

And how has that changed since moving to California?

I’m a lot more laid-back. My traditional English upbringing was thrown into bohemian Malibu beach life. It’s a good mix, a very livable look.

What other places inspire you?

Morocco, Egypt, Scotland, the French country- side...I’m here in Toronto on a beautiful day, looking at the buildings, and it’s such a great vibrant city. I’m inspired wherever I am – unless I’m held up in an airport somewhere.


Kathryn’s “if you see it, you’ll use it” motto is put to the test in her charming colourful kitchen.

What would we be most surprised to find in your home?

Maybe my collection of black and white photos of sports personalities from the ’20s to today.
I started it for my three boys – they love sports.

How else did you adapt your decor to accommodate three boisterous sons?

It’s my state of mind: Everything is unprecious. Things are going to get broken; things are going to be spilled. Who cares? It’s part of the tapestry of life. Life is to be lived, not to be put on a pedestal.



What’s your favourite room in your house?

Ooh, I just love my bedroom! It’s the one room that’s not a walk-through – all the other rooms in my house lead out to the gardens or from one room to the next – so this is the only place where I can close the door and be on my own. On Sundays, I try to stay in bed as long as possible and totally disconnect.

What advice would you give to a novice who wants to layer colours and patterns?

Take chances and be a bit bold. Because decor- ating can be expensive, layer in things you can easily change like throws and toss cushions. I love wallpaper as well – put it on a feature wall and it becomes the room’s artwork.

What colour palette are you loving right now?

I suppose I’ve drawn upon my English-Scottish background for my newest collection. I’m doing some wonderful plaids and using sort of earthy colours: heather with pinks and taupes.


Rose and coral reign in Kathryn’s bedroom, which Lindsay Lohan famously asked to have replicated in her own home on Million Dollar Decorators.

Tell me about your partnership with AGA.

Being such a colourist, I’ve been a fan of AGA ranges all my life. They’re the focal point of the room; they draw you to them. It’s fantastic to have this bit of colour in your kitchen. I’ve had one in Pistachio, Claret and Cream. I’m very spoiled!

Do you have any design pet peeves?

I hate things that are ill-fitting or with colours that are off. I love quirky flea market finds, but I don’t like things that are badly made.


Kathryn had her sculptural cast-iron claw-foot tub painted pink.

What’s your advice for flea market shopping?

Go with your gut and make sure you really love and need it, because otherwise you’re going to end up with a garage full of stuff you don’t use.

It happens to the best of us!


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Design Experts

Inside design: Kathryn Ireland