For her fifth book, “Inspired By ...,” (Gibbs Smith, $45) acclaimed English-born interior designer Kathryn Ireland did something unusual in a world where branding is king: She chose not to highlight homes she herself designed, but those of friends and colleagues. “It was so much fun -- I felt like an editor!” she said. “And these really are houses that I love, that inspire me. I could happily live in each and every one of them.”
Ireland, a mother of three sons who oversees a thriving business that includes fabrics, wallpaper and furniture (and whose client list includes Steve Martin and Julia Louis-Dreyfus), grew up in London and Scotland, lives in a Santa Monica Spanish Colonial Revival and vacations at her vintage farmhouse in southwestern France. In other words, it’s lucky that she happened to be home on a recent Saturday, packing for a trip to New York but enjoying a glass of rose while fielding questions.
There are certainly enough homes and rooms to suit everyone’s style in the book, but, some, like your friend Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s grand home in England, might be considered dated or even old lady-ish. What do you love about it?
It’s so comfortable. I don’t think it looks dated at all -- I think it’s classic and timeless. I’ve stayed in that house and I actually did a few rooms. I’ve learned so much from Annabel; you know, the way she’ll include her children’s art with old masters. It’s formal in an informal way, comfy and cozy, but with an air of grandeur. And I absolutely love that it’s always full of kids and friends and laughter.
Barry Dixon’s home in Virginia is one of the book’s highlights and his dark, antiques-filled library is the epitome of charm. Have you spent time there?
Yes! My boys and I spent last Christmas there and the whole house is absolutely ravishing. It’s like a stage set, but in an approachable way. No one knows how to layer better than Barry or has a better sense of color. I think he’s probably one of the most talented interior designers alive. Geniusly good. And that library is just extraordinary, you just want to curl up in it. Plus, he’s got great books!
Obviously, not everyone can afford to live in the homes featured in the book. Let’s say I’m tired of my living room but money’s an issue. What can I do to change it up?
I always think throws and new pillow covers. And you can make the pillow covers -- who can’t sew a square? And you can get old textiles and fabrics at a flea market and cover the furniture. And a lampshade made out of a print or a color makes things look different. And move things around -- houses and rooms need to be freshened up from time to time. Don’t be afraid to move your artwork around to different rooms. Fresh flowers are a given -- fresh flowers and tidying up can do wonders.
Are there any staples that you never tire of, that you’ve used over and over again?
Lloyd Loom wicker chairs –- you can put them anywhere, in the kitchen, in a sunroom, and they always look good. Another staple is an AGA cooker. [Laughs] But certainly not if you’re on a budget! Growing up in England, we always had one, so I associate it with that warm, cozy feeling. They’re gorgeous and they’re everything in one -- they cook, they bake, they keep things warm -- they do everything.
After signing a lease or buying a house, so many people say, “I don’t know where to begin” when it comes to decorating. What do you suggest?
I always start with textiles. Because I think they are what fundamentally glues it together. Choose the fabric colors and then the paint. And invest in a few good pieces. Start with a well-made sofa -- a good one can last nearly forever and you can re-cover it or have slip covers made. And keep in mind that you don’t need that much to start with; collect as you go -- you know, bring something back every time you take a trip to remember it by. All of those objects reveal your style and your personality. And I like rooms with curtains, I feel like it finishes off a room. That’s a personal choice, though -- I like being able to close my bedroom curtains at night.
In the book, you write, “Ours was the house everyone wanted to come to because my mother knew how to embrace mistakes, imperfection and the chaos of real life.” Can you expand on that, how it relates to interior design/style?
You have to remember that houses are there to be lived in. I always think that even if you have an off-white sofa, you should serve red wine. So what if someone spills some? The beauty of living is remembering when things like that happen. Of course, that’s why I’m not a fancy silk person -- it would be horrifying to spend $1,000 on fabric for a pillow and have it ruined! [Laughs] Just remember to relax, trying to make everything perfect is so stressful. Most importantly, enjoy your house -- it’s there to be shared with your friends and family.
The holidays are just around the corner. What are your plans?
We’ll be in L.A. this year. Two of my boys are still in college and they especially like to come home and see their friends. And I’ll have a big Christmas party for everyone. I love a festive atmosphere. I actually hire these fabulous carol singers to come to the house -- they dress up in Dickens-esque costumes and even get the kids to sing. To me, that’s what Christmas is about: singing carols, after-dinner games, just that sort of camaraderie. I’d rather spend money on things like that than all sorts of expensive decorations. Even the tree -- I don’t understand why people pay so much for ornaments. I like a Christmas tree to look like the children decorated it, homemade and kind of topsy-turvy.