Published on October 18, 2020

When Amy Kehoe and Todd Nickey moved to sunny Los Angeles from New York City in 2003, one thing immediately struck them. “There’s this ethereal quality to the light here,” says Kehoe, who cofounded the design studio and shop Nickey Kehoe with Nickey, her longtime friend, 20 years ago. In fact, those rays inform almost everything they do.

 “How they enter each home is unique, and we often take cues from that,” says Nickey. “Some of the houses we work on have hilltop views, whereas others may be more nestled into a canyon.” Two decades after their first meeting at a Manhattan dinner party, the prolific duo is releasing their first book, aptly titled Golden Light, and it reveals even more of their best trade secrets.

Let the Surroundings Dictate Your Palette

Bathroom vanity with rose wall paintPin It
Photography by Roger Davies; Design by Nickey Kehoe

The trick to getting the right palette: samples (and lots of them). “I think we’ve made just a few contractors roll their eyes with our process,” says Kehoe. The same shade can look totally different in each room, so test multiple hues in multiple places—and make friends with your painter.

Salvage What You Can

White kitchen with blue and yellow checkered floorsPin It
Photography by Roger Davies; Design by Nickey Kehoe

The duo has a knack for retaining an older home’s original qualities, and in some instances that means resisting the urge to gut the entire kitchen. “Sometimes we just need to update the cabinet paint and install new hardware and lighting,” says Nickey. The same goes for floors: When possible, they prefer restaining or painting hardwood rather than replacing it. But when that’s not an option, the pair isn’t afraid to go bold with a blue-and-yellow checkered painted pattern. 

Contrary to many homeowners, they also embrace quirks, like 1930s mint and burgundy ceramic bathroom tile, and decorate around it. “The right amount of whimsy and timelessness is key,” says Nickey.

Pick Materials That Have Been Around Forever

Bedroom with yellow bedspread and floral wallpaperPin It
Photography by Roger Davies; Design by Nickey Kehoe

For finishes that will stand the test of time, the pair turns to classics: Carrara marble; aged brass; and wallpapers from William Morris, Sandberg, and Howe. After all, what hasn’t gone out of style for decades is less likely to do so in the near future. “Waterworks also has an extensive mosaic tile selection that we are currently loving,” says Kehoe. “The colors are rich and feel very cool-Italian.” 

Don’t Design Around Age

Kids room with wallpaper and green bookcasePin It
Photography by Roger Davies; Design by Nickey Kehoe

In kids’ rooms, Nickey and Kehoe like to turn to architectural features, such as a Swiss Alps–esque bookcase border, to bring in subtle but playful details. “European interiors are a big source of inspiration, where this kind of characteristic prevails,” says Nickey. The approach also ensures that the rooms have continuity with the rest of the house. “Perhaps the whimsy is taken up a notch, but we are always thinking about the fact that children don’t stay young for long, and pretty soon they are teenagers,” he adds. Paint and bedding can change without a huge hit to the budget—hardwired lighting and built-in furniture, not so much.

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