Kathryn Ireland is very fabulous and very glamorous. From Million Dollar Decorators to her own textile company to best-selling author of six books, she’s one of the hardest working designers in the industry. We sat down with her to talk about everything from her gorgeous house in France to what it’s like working with her son.
Name, Age, Where do you live?
Kathryn Ireland, 56, Santa Monica, CA.
Give us an overview of your career.
I never had a plan – things sort of fell into place. I first worked at a high-end clothes shop in London. My friends were interns at Harper’s and Queen and needed to borrow clothes. So I went from shop assistant to PR. And then after just a little bit of press from Vogue etc, I started my own boutique PR agency. I did that for two years, then I decided to move to LA.
I then met Gary Weiss, father of my three boys. He was a director, part of the original team of SNL. I started producing for him. We did fifty music videos in a year. Steve Martin came for dinner one night and said, “I love your house, I’d love to live in your house.” So I said, “Don’t worry Steve, I’ll help you”. From that, I started decorating for comedians Fran Drescher, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Dan Ackroyd. I thought everyone’s houses are going to look rather similar and thought, “why don’t I design a fabric line”?
Your house in France – what’s the best part?
It was my laboratory. It was how I taught myself. Every time I got a little money I would add a barn, a bedroom, an outhouse. It’s like the Golden Goose. It just keeps giving. Where it’s situated is magical. To the South, you see the Pyrenees and in the summer you’re surrounded by fields of sunflowers. In winter, the family room/cow barn is cozy with a roaring fire and I’m making cassoulet. It can hold so many people – I always invite everyone up to Toulouse in December and the house has helped me keep my connection to Europe. We bought the house when my oldest was born and went every year for three to six months. I put them in the village school in July. I was trying to art direct their childhoods and make it as beautiful as possible.
You grew up in Ireland right?
My name is Ireland but I’m Scottish. We grew up in between London and Scotland. Father was Scottish, Mother was English. We had a wonderful fisherman’s cottage in Scotland. Scotland has such a huge place in my heart.
You go year round now right?
Yes, we’re going for Thanksgiving. Christmas just seems too difficult for my eldest. My youngest son lives in New York, but wants to be in LA. My middle son is going to work in London.
Can you tell us about the design summits at the house? They look amazing.
In late 2008, early 2009, three big jobs suddenly went away. I only ever had enough money for the next three months. With three children in tow, it was a bit scary. Twitter was a new thing and I thought “why don’t people come to me in Tolouse?” and I tweeted it. Five fabulous women who had recently bought houses arrived on their G5s. Their husbands told them they had to decorate on their own. So I taught them how. One of the women got her house done for about a third of what using a normal designer would cost and I got to shift much of my inventory. A business was born, and after a week spending time with such a small and intimate group, everyone becomes friends.
Staying the same is boring.
Exactly. We all have to challenge ourselves.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
It can come from anywhere, but if I have to choose one thing– it’s travel. It shows you different furniture, different architecture, different cuisine, different color palettes, different people.
Describe your style.
It’s been described as “California Bohemian meets English Country.” with the comfort and undecorated-ness of England. I’m really an editor and I get into who clients really are and figure out what they truly want.
Has your style changed as you’ve gotten older?
I go back and look at past houses and – yes. it has changed. For the better. As I think my style has grown and matured. I mean, I’m still sitting on the same sofa from my house 28 years ago but it’s just been recovered in a new fabric.
Bridging the Gap – what’s it like working with your son?
Early on, he had a bit of a hissy fit in front of my staff, and I said “If you ever speak to me like that again – it’s one thing to do that as your mother but now I’m your boss.” Actually, we ’re now partners, but you get it. It’s such a thrill and so much fun. I never would’ve thought – particularly that son – that we would work together. He’s got a great business sense. He crunches numbers and says “Mom, this isn’t working. Get rid of this print.” I say, “No, I don’t want to do that” but then I listen to him.
How did you two decide you would start working together?
He had back surgery and one day when he was laying on his back I said, “Here, take a look at my books.” He said, “Mom, your business sucks”. He thought it was a good challenge and thought there was money to be made. I’ve never had a partner before, so it’s nice to have someone you trust at the end of the day. My business will go to my kids at some point and it’s nice that he can invest his time and talents into it now while I can enjoy watching him succeed.
Do you like social media?
It’s fantastic – it’s almost too good to be true. You have to be a little careful not getting too obsessive. I think it’s fantastic and seems to be every time I say “I need a new bra or espadrilles”, then Instagram serves up the perfect pair of espadrilles. Someone told me I could turn it off and I said: “I don’t want to!” Their algorithmic editors are wonderful.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts to follow?
@Terra_naut, @Benpentreath, @OtisTextiles, @MartynLawrenceBullard, @ChateaudeGudanes
A lot of people who are intimidated by design. Do you have any advice?
Go with your gut when you like something (unless it’s a huge investment). What’s the worst thing that can happen? Invest in pieces slowly. Looking at the magazines and Instagram it’s so easy to be inspired. We have all these tools – Pinterest or whatever. But I’m still a big believer in an old fashioned magazine and pin board.
Your new company The Perfect Room is all about that.
Yes, totally. You look through all the options put together by wonderful designers and you pick one. Then we deliver the whole room to your door. Design is completely visual and being inspired by existing photographs – now you can just shop it! I’m also working on my seventh book, called Devil’s In The Details. I can’t stop making my life more complicated. But it’s fun! What can I say?
Let’s talk about entertaining because you are so great at it, it comes easily to you. Is there anything you recommend to people as the holidays come up?
I don’t do a small party. If you’re doing dinner for four, it means you have to produce a soufflé. Delagate–don’t be fearful of saying “you make the mashed potatoes”. The great thing about the holidays is anything goes. I’m not controlling in that way. I throw anything on the table.
Imperfections are what make it perfect.
Exactly. I think life is about imperfections and embracing imperfections. I’m a big believer in just going with the flow and not being too controlling.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. How do you want to change the conversation around aging?
You have to embrace it! One of the things I enjoy in my new business is being around all these kids. It’s lovely of course but I still love my old friends. I still have my best friend from when I was three. I went to dinner last night with a friend from school and someone asked how we knew each other. She just said “We came from the same tribe,” which is such a gorgeous sentiment. We talked about the aging process and all the stuff you could never ask your mother.
Did you come to any grand realizations?
It’s just about not being afraid anymore and being confident. When I started a new business a few years ago, I felt confident. I thought. “It’s going to go somewhere. I don’t know where, but I’ll give it my best.” I feel good about the way I look, about my body. I think the key is keeping fit and healthy as long as you can. And laughter is the key to everything. Taking the stress out of one’s life.
How do you treat yourself?
I’m not the person that is constantly having a facial – I go through spurts of being lavish and then getting quite frugal. At the end of the day, being around friends. Having friendships that have lasted through the years. And the new friendships, too—they are all a treat!
Do you have a go-to outfit?
I try to keep a uniform. In summer it’s dresses, in the winter it’s just a pair of jeans.
If you had a superpower what would it be?
If you had a warning label, what would it say?
Stand back. Keep your distance.
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