A master curator of must-have vintage, conversation-starting art, and textured materials peppered with pops of rich color: Domino Summer issue cover star Kelly Wearstler is our true north when it comes to designing a space. And so we broke down her projects, from her home base in Beverly Hills to the cocoon-like Santa Monica Proper Hotel, decision by decision—and found each paint chip and table lamp is a plot point in an overarching, deeply personal narrative. “Sometimes I will even bring a chair and sit in an empty interior to get a sense of what I see and experience from every angle and elevation,” she told us from Los Angeles.
Rushing simply doesn’t have a place in her process. “Layering in designs—a mix of vintage and contemporary—and allowing time to live with them as you move forward is a great way to materialize your vision and the story you want to tell,” she adds. With her studio celebrating 25 years in business and a new back-to-basics MasterClass series online (for which she is the first interior designer to take part), any story Wearstler tells we want to experience ourselves.
So see your house as a living biopic, with lighting in the role of director (“Think about it as a way to guide the eye around a room,” she says), the palette playing the supporting cast of characters (“You need to keep in mind the way colors communicate with each other. There should be a natural dialogue”), and your passions and collections, of course, as the star.
As many of us continue to quarantine, setting the scene for our dream summer at home is crucial. Here, Wearstler expands on the five elements every space needs to transport us wherever we want to go.
“You really want your room to glow,” says Wearstler. Start simple; natural sunlight is always the designer’s foundation. (Take note if you’re in reno mode: She brings in as much light as possible, and if certain spots are too bright, that’s what diffusing gauzy window treatments and wood screens are for.) From there, aim for an assortment of ceiling, wall, and seating-level fixtures—establishing that hierarchy of heights will help you create visual interest. Table and floor lamps, best for task lighting near sofas and chairs, are only the beginning. Recessed lights, sconces, overhead pendants, and art lights should also be in your toolbox for illuminating architectural features like millwork or doorways, or even just that potted palm in the corner.
The lighting itself can be the big moment, too. “Many fixtures are themselves pieces of sculpture,” says Wearstler. Whatever your choices, put them all on dimmers—the hardware store find isn’t just a cinch to install, it has the power of instant ambience. “A chandelier totally transforms a room in the evening. It can make people look better and feel better,” she notes.
Perhaps you want your space to exude euphoria, like that which you felt on the beach last summer, with the waves lapping at your toes. “Every color represents some emotion,” says Wearstler. For her, yellow, whether citron or canary or buttercup, is “such an optimistic color,” while pink “elevates the spirit,” particularly desert rose and shell shades, which she finds inviting, positive, and feminine. “I also love cerulean and Aegean blues,” she adds. “They have a calming, serene feeling reminiscent of the sea. White is refreshing and evokes a sense of spaciousness, clarity, and cleanliness.”
To discover which hues resonate with you, take a trip to your closet. “The palette you are drawn to wearing is a good indication as to how you feel in and around certain colors,” says Wearstler. Peek outside while you’re at it: “Windows are like framed pieces of art, bringing elements and colors from the outside in.” They also happen to let in the sunshine, which Wearstler says is key to determining the optimal paint shade. Observe how a swatch changes throughout the day to ensure it jibes with all the other components in the space, whether it’s early morning or golden hour.
Reflective surfaces aren’t just for looks in Wearstler’s projects, they’re magical shape-shifters that can turn a cramped space into one with light and depth. “If you get two large mirrors and lean them on either side of the room and hang a chandelier down in between,” she explains, “it creates a sense of infinity and opens up the space and the energy so you’re not just staring at these walls.” Other surfaces Wearstler turns to for a brilliant luster: glossy tile, metals, and stone, with which she’ll cover entire walls of dressing or powder rooms to craft the illusion of movement.
Earthy wood, stone, and plaster have a special place in Wearstler’s signature “vibe trays” (think: inspiration-packed 3-D mood boards) for more than just their innate intrigue. The tactile surfaces’ visual weight is a must to nail the right balance of whimsical and grounded. “Natural materials have the most incredible textures,” she says. “I always include a range that will engage the various senses.” Wire-brushed or sandblasted timber, with their visible grain, are particular favorites.
In Wearstler’s world, “each design has its own personality,” she says, and with her recent penchant for pared-back arrangements, “individual pieces can have more of a stage to be appreciated, from the materiality, silhouette, and geometry of form to the craftsmanship, color, and texture.” But whether the piece is antique or up-to-the-minute—Wearstler swears by a layered medley of both—she looks for certain characteristics: clean, timeless lines; authentic materials; and a “raw-refined” feel.
In a small space, form takes on new importance. “Furniture on legs brings in a sense of space, allowing the eye to continue to look beyond and through it,” Wearstler explains. “Low-profile furniture, such as Tobia Scarpa’s Soriana sofa, expands the viewpoint, whereas a high profile would break it.”
Gathering the right details is intuitive for Wearstler—but it can be for you, too. Don’t look at what other people are doing, she says: “You know in your heart, you really do, if something is right.”