"Once I've designed something, I immediately move on to the next thing," the unstoppable Kelly Wearstler declares with great enthusiasm. "I absolutely love what I do. I love to travel and to be inspired by new things so everything is always new. I've never done the same bathroom or the same kitchen a second time. It's challenging and I like to be challenged," she points out, buoyantly reiterating her "don't look back" fashion-infused attitude toward design.
Since establishing the House of KWID (Kelly Wearstler Interior Design) in Los Angeles, she's displayed a virtuosic talent for color, gliding confidently from the hushed tones of midcentury modernism straight into the intense hues of a Technicolor musical. Her luxury hotel interiors—featuring elegant bergère chairs, unexpected lacquer finishes (glistening lemon yellows, Amazon parrot greens) and old-style stately wallpapers—ignited a Hollywood Regency revival. While designing this renovated beach house for her own family and friends, Wearstler wasn't even tempted to reprise the signature style of her past successes.
When Wearstler and her husband, Brad Korzen (founder of the Kor Realty Group), manage to escape their hectic schedules, they hide out seaside with their two young sons. In this California beach house, the whole family is over the moon. "We bought the house with three other couples," explains Wearstler. "It's a share and we all have families." The house, built in the early 1990s, was beautifully sited above the incoming tide. The view was irresistibly picturesque, a panoramic seascape with two massive rocks just offshore that punctuated the horizon; the architecture, however, was far less enchanting. Sharing the opinion of one neighbor, who described the house as "reminiscent of an '80s surf-and-turf restaurant," the new homeowners agreed to embark on a major renovation. "It took about two years. The house was taken down to three remaining studs, the floor plan was changed and everything was rebuilt," recalls Wearstler. "And since I'm the only designer in the group, I got to design. We all have children, so we wanted it to be kid-friendly, with soft edges and practical fabrics."
The focus of the house was clearly the ocean, and Wearstler worked, as she says, "to bring the outside in." In the living room, floor-to-ceiling windows frame the spectacular Pacific. At the center of the house, an enormous skylight was installed and sunshine pours in from above; one leafy tree, soaring two stories high, was planted in the main hall. The color palette, muted and complex, was drawn from the oceanfront setting: silvery barnacle gray, spindrift white and driftwood taupe. All of the building materials— bleached walnut flooring, Douglas-fir kitchen cabinetry, wave-patterned marble walls—seem to mirror the natural setting. "The marble is so organic and full of movement, it feels like the ocean," says Wearstler, "or like being inside a shell." A range of marble—from watery green to brooding storm-cloud black—was used throughout the house as wall coverings, custom vanities and dramatic fireplace surrounds. There are tiny, spiraling, fossilized shells embedded within the marble kitchen counter, and an enormous sculpture of a chambered nautilus in the foyer seems to tumble to the floor, evoking a Jules Verne vision where the known world spins into the imaginary (a Wearstler trademark).
If you had to define her style, you might say Kelly Wearstler encapsulates contemporary sophistication and wit, with a nod to the past and a wink at the future. The mix is altogether her own and is tailored to every job, including this one.
"I live with four guys," Wearstler says, counting her husband, two sons and Brea, their rescued mutt. "I wanted this house to feel organic, raw and textural." Mixed in with her own custom furniture are pieces by earlier designers well known for rendering bold, sculptural silhouettes in earthy materials: Paul Evans, whose '60s brutalist aesthetic juggled highly polished metals and resin with flashes of corrosion and decay; sleek leather chairs by Karl Springer; and new editions of architect Pierre Chareau's milky alabaster wall sconces from the 1930s, translucent cubes arranged in piles like rock crystals or fanned out to resemble wings.
Focusing on the spectacular view, the horizontal lines of the renovated house seem to limn the actual horizon. "All of the furniture is low," explains Wearstler. "Everything is about 16 inches from the floor. I wanted the focus to be low and steady on the ocean." A wooden deck extending from the glass-walled living area cantilevers out from the side of the Malibu cliff; far beneath the deck lies a narrow sand beach. "There are times during the day when you feel as if you're on a boat—you can sit in the living room and look down and see nothing but water," says Wearstler, capturing the spirit of the house.
When the tide is low, the children can walk out to the starfish-encrusted rocks; and when the tide is high and the surf is up, adults climb on boards and take to the waves.
When the New York Times reported on Kelly Wearstler's book-collecting habits, the two titles at the top of her list were The Shell: Five Hundred Million Years of Inspired Design and Minerals: Nature's Fabulous Jewels. Designing the Malibu beach house, her attentive gaze seems to turn equally toward nature and culture. A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, Wearstler has always regarded furniture as sculptural; her interiors and tablescapes are as thoroughly conceptualized and composed as art installations. A huge gray marble fireplace surround, which was custom built for the living room, recalls a Richard Artschwager sculpture: A three-dimensional frame of receding rectangles teases out the nervy alliance between picture-making and functional objects. Wearstler utilized highly patterned marbles for floor and wall coverings as well as for custom furnishings. Although the colors are subdued, the marble itself is as insistent and defined as an abstract painting: ancient stone inscribed with whorls and undulating lines, a background with an undeniably strong presence.
In the marble-lined dressing room, an angled plywood side chair, formed of a series of triangles that unfold like a large piece of origami, was designed by Wearstler as part of her luxury line of furnishings and accessories for Bergdorf Goodman. The gentle play between the shades of warm white, milky alabaster and misty gray recalls the soft fog that, many a morning, rolls along the southern California coast. "The mixture of weird textures and organic surfaces creates an interesting dialogue," observes Wearstler, acknowledging her unfettered affection for materials as varied as grass cloth and fossilized stone.
What the Pros Know
Ever since she began her career, Kelly Wearstler's work has exemplified the new wave of exuberant hostess-withthe- mostest interiors. The first book about her oeuvre, Modern Glamour, was subtitled "The Art of Unexpected Style," and Hue (due out this month from Ammo Books) considers her fearless use of color. Like an inspired and confident party giver, Wearstler knows that mi it all up—eras, attitudes, materials, textures—will deliver the most thrilling results. "I look at every piece of furniture and every object as an individual sculpture," says Wearstler, who carries a sketchbook when she travels to all corners of the world. She never flinches at boldly partnering natural and man-made objects. "I'm always inspired by new things, so I look for pieces that have distinct personalities—whether it's quiet or loud. I set up a visual dialogue. And that's how something unexpected and exciting happens in a room."