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Kelly Wearstler: Interior Design’s Tastemaking Dynamo

Few interior designers have reached the heights of Kelly Wearstler. In the past 20 years, she’s gone from an L.A. upstart to a major force in the world of design.

Photo: Joyce Park


Few interior designers have reached the heights of Kelly Wearstler. In the past 20 years, she’s gone from an L.A. upstart to a major force in the world of design. On this episode, Dan speaks with design’s leading lady on how she got started, her rapidly expanding experiments with AI, how she manages her growing empire, and much more.

Listen to this episode


Kelly Wearstler: My curiosity drives me, and I am so grateful and blessed that I get to do what I do. It’s all about seeing new things and delving into new avenues that make me continue to fall in love, and that’s what life is about, falling in love.

Dan Rubinstein: Hi, I’m Dan Rubinstein, and this is The Grand Tourist. I’ve been a design journalist for more than 20 years, and this is my personalized guided tour to the worlds of fashion, art, architecture, food, and travel, all the elements of a well-lived life. And welcome to the first episode of Season 10. I can’t believe it’s already here. And before we get started with today’s guest, make sure you sign up for my newsletter, The Grand Tourist Curator at the link in my bio on Instagram at @danrubinstein or on our website,

Almost 20 years ago, I was a young-ish assistant at Condé Nast’s House & Garden for the January 2005 issue, an annual affair called the New Tastemakers. I wrote a few pieces on young interior designers in New York, specifically the now legendary Stephen Gambrel and Miles Redd. But on the cover was the star, an upstart designer from Los Angeles named Kelly Wearstler. I’ll let the words of the magazine’s Ingrid Abramovitch now an ELLE Decor by Ingrid describe her best at the time. “She’s decorating’s bombshell. A woman so striking she had to invent a backdrop glamorous enough to do her justice. Kelly Wearstler’s interiors have made the LA designer the envy of colleagues coast to coast. Unabashedly theatrical, Wearstler won’t cover a ceiling with just one chandelier, she’ll employ 20. As her book Modern Glamour from Harper Collins illustrates, she loves unusual color combinations such as jade and chocolate brown, 1970s geometrics and oversized animal figurines. When warned she couldn’t paint the corridors at the hotel, Maison 140 and Hollywood Black because it would be too depressing, Wearstler went right ahead.”

Since then, Wearstler has helped redefine the look and culture of interior design and the American home. To say her vintage-fueled, textured, colorful, and oh-so-sexy aesthetic has been influential is an understatement. Not only has she broken out from being a local California designer, she’s become a one-woman powerhouse with a staff of dozens. Today, the label of interior designer seems reductive. She has numerous collections of fabric, furniture and more all with the top brands, has her own boutique, has designed so many hotels around the country, notably for the hotel chain Proper and more. Her book, Modern Glamour really was just the beginning of a best-selling career. Since then, she’s done many, including full disclosure, Synchronicity, which came out this fall from Rizzoli, written by yours truly. Oh, and she’s still a bombshell.

Indeed, someone like her really could have rested on her laurels 100 times over. Instead, she keeps trying new things. It’s why I admire her so much a new gallery business that we’ll get into, numerous explorations into the power of AI and design, which we’ll also discuss. And she was one of the first major designers to really wield the full power of Instagram, which in today’s social media-obsessed world made her even more of a power player. I once described her in an article as a modern-day, Walt Disney in heels, and I think it’s apt. I caught up with Kelly from her home in Los Angeles to discuss how she once interned for the legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser, her explorations into new technologies, how she fits all of this into a life with a busy family and still has time to be the most physically active person I know.


A private residence in Los Angeles, designed by Kelly Wearstler with architecture by Masastudio. Photo: Courtesy Kelly Wearstler

So, your youth, tell everybody who may not know your personal story, where your story begins.

Well, I grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and it was an incredible childhood, grew up on the beach. So my mom was super young. She had my sister at 17 and me at 18 and just was always around a ton of female energy. And my mom and both my grandmothers were very strong, independent women and they all worked. I remember going over to my grandmom’s house after school and she was just getting home from work. She worked very early hours. One of my grandmother, she worked at a factory and another grandmother worked for an attorney. And my one grandmother on my mom’s side, oh my God, she worked at a law firm for 50 years. So just always being around that female independence.

And my mom was a really creative person and she really fostered my curiosity and exposed me to the world of collecting because every weekend we were going to thrift stores and we were going to yard sales and she loved fashion and we would go to auctions. And so really being exposed to just all the world of design and books and furniture and art. And so just as I’m such a curious person, it just opened up my exposure at such an early age. Some days I’m like, “Oh my God, we don’t want to go. We want to stay home and play.” And we would always be in tow with her. And it was really fun at the end of the day. But that’s really exposed my first foray into the world of design.

And after that, when did you decide to go to school? Because I know you went to New York, you took some classes at SVA, the school for design here in New York. What was that decision-making process like for you after high school?

Well, during the summers, I was always working. And actually, at 13 years old, I had my first job. In Myrtle Beach, there were all these little restaurants and cafes. And because I was going to all these flea markets with my mom, I wanted to have my own money to buy things. And so I got a job in a little cafe and I was making smoothies and milkshakes and actually working the grill with eggs. And then I worked there for probably three summers. At the end of the day, I’m counting money and I loved it. It was really feeling a sense of accomplishment and empowerment and having my own money and being able to collect things. When I would go to auctions with my mom, I was super into collecting scarves because my grandmother always had tons of scarves that she would wear to work and they were graphic and they had color. And that’s why I probably just love graphic design and color and pattern because I was exposed to that so early.

And then it continued on all through high school, I was working in restaurants, waiting tables, and my stepdad, my stepdad had a restaurant that my mom helped design and I was working even on the weekends during the school year, I was waiting tables and just loved having money to do what I want to do. So that was really amazing. And then I decided that I wanted to leave Myrtle Beach as soon as I graduated and go to college.

And so when you came to New York, the history of you that I remember is that maybe you worked a little or you had an internship for Milton Glaser. Is that true?

Yeah. So when I went to school, we actually went to Martha’s Vineyard with my mom and stepdad. They loved it there a couple times and I just loved Boston and it was just a great place to go to school and tons of kids, international group of students. And so I applied to Emerson and Massachusetts College of Art. And just because I was paying for school, I took classes during the first year so I could be a state student and then I enrolled full-time. I was at Emerson and I was at the Massachusetts College of Art and I was there for four years. And after I graduated, I went to New York, I took classes at SVA and then I got an amazing internship at Milton Glacier Studio.

And what was he like? Legendary to legendary of designers, what was he like working in that studio?

I was so nervous. Oh my God. Oh my goodness. Because we studied about him in school because I took graphic design classes just because of my fascination with my mom and my grandmom’s scarves and just loved graphic design. And so of course, reading about him in school, he created the I Love New York logo. I was so excited when I got that, it was an apprenticeship because I was there for six months. So I remember going the first day, I was so nervous, but everyone was so warm. He had a townhouse, was his studio. And it was on midtown, on the east. No, it was in the ‘30s in the east side. The few interns that were there, we worked on the ground floor and Milton was on more of the parlor floor. There was the kitchen and it was a little more social and we would go up there and see him. I think it was like every Wednesday there was lunch and we all hung out.

But he was there every day and then he would come down to the ground floor where we were working and check in. But it was a great place to be exposed. He really was a multi-hyphenate because he did graphic design. He also designed some restaurants. He was doing so many different applications to his creative voice. And so it was a really interesting, just visibility for me.

And when you left, how did you go from there to first going to LA, because that’s when your own career journey starts?

Growing up in the South and just being surrounded by nature and I love the ocean, really serves as a constant source of inspiration for me. And I wanted to live near the natural surroundings. And I love New York, I love the urban setting and everything that city had to offer, but I wanted to really be near the ocean and experience all the energy from an urban hub. And LA offered all the above.

So what was your first… I think most people that tell memories of LA, they always have their first year in LA is always a little bit, once upon a time in Hollywood. A little bit of an unusual, everyone has a neo-gothic experience. What was your first couple of months or year like living in LA?

I had a boyfriend in Boston who came to LA. He was in the music business. And so, he was the one person that I knew and came to LA and really it was just harsh because it’s so spread out. And I was in Boston and New York and everyone’s walking around and you’re in restaurants and you’re meeting people. And here, it’s definitely a little bit of a culture shock and had to find an apartment. I lived with him actually for two months, only as friends. And I found an apartment and decided that I’m going to get a job, obviously at an architecture firm or a design firm. And I wanted to really do my due diligence and figure out where I want to live and what kind of design studio that I’d like to work in. And so I got a job waiting tables at a restaurant for about four months.

And I ended up meeting someone who while I was there, who said, “Oh, some friends of mine, he’s a producer and he bought this really cool bungalow in Venice and him and his girlfriend need help designing it.” And I was like, “Sure, that sounds so exciting.” And so I met them and I ended up doing one room in the house and then they loved it. And then I ended up doing the entire project while I was still waiting on tables and figuring out where I’m going to live and all that.

And then someone else saw that project of theirs and then I got another project. And so I ended up working unexpectedly, having my own little business going and it just grew. And then I got another project and I ended up hiring my first assistant and he actually worked at one of the shops that I would curate things from and he became my first assistant and it’s like, holy shit, now I have my business. And this is so, so exciting. I remember waking up every morning and the sky was so blue and I felt like just living a dream. It just turned. So it was just incredible.

And the Avalon Hotel was a first big break for you, and I think that starts when you… Did you meet your husband around that time?

Yeah, so it was probably maybe four years later and this last hurrah waiting tables job that I had in LA just like bared so much fruit because I met this girl who was an actress and she was from Chicago. And I remember she’s like, “Oh, my parents were setting me up with this guy and he’s from Chicago.” And I remember going to her birthday party and she was with this guy, his name’s Brad, and I was there with my boyfriend at the time, and that’s Brad, my husband. So sometimes, there’s things like I was like, “Oh my God, I got to wait tables again.” Even though I loved it, it made me the best multitasker and something so beautiful came from that last hurrah of waiting tables.

And so when you met your future husband, that connected to the Avalon?

So I had the boyfriend and then him and this girl maybe dated a couple times and then we became friends and he actually called Marcy, who is my friend, and said, “Hey, we’re buying some really cool historic apartment buildings.” He’s in the real estate business. He actually moved here maybe four years before I did. And he said that he needs help at the designer doing some renovations to the lobby. And so I started working with him and at that point, I think I had two assistants and it was totally just a friendship. And we started doing different projects and really working on some cool historic buildings in West Hollywood and in Hollywood. And at some point … And actually I remember working, he also bought some buildings in Northern California. And this is where hard work, grit and determination really is everything. Obviously, they had budgets.

And we would literally shop and get all of our stuff for the project, put it in a large truck. And myself, and actually it was my old boyfriend at the time, we drove the truck of all the things for the installation ourselves, there was obviously people on the other side that were helping to take everything off the truck, but we were making it work within the budget, because I wanted to do an amazing job. And that’s how it was. Even with some other projects I worked on early on. There’s a budget I want to have … These first projects look amazing. I was actually painting myself and not charging them because it was like, “Oh, what do you think about color?” “Oh, I think it would be great, but we can’t afford to have paint or we can’t afford to have any wall finishes.” And I was like, “If I do it, will you let me paint myself?” And they were like, “Yeah, for sure.”

And so just having that you really … And I was also kind of experimenting. And yes, there were some disasters and I would be up maybe painting all night. They were out of town and I was painting and trying to make it look good before they got back. And my trusted assistants were helping me as well. And anyway, it was a really kind of fun time.

And if you could take me back to the Avalon and that first hotel, what was it like, if you could describe it?

So Brad ended up getting this hotel. I had been working with his company for maybe two years at this point and I was like, “Oh, I would love to do a hotel. I think it would be so amazing.” And he’s like, “Hey listen, we have investors and it’s not just my decision.” And so he has to go back and speak with him. And he’s my biggest fan, my biggest advocate. And we were not going out at that point. But he knew what a great job and I was hard-working and everything we were doing for him.

And he finally got an answer I was excited about. He said, “You have to find an architect that’s actually done a hotel before and you have to do a model room.” Every time you design a hotel, you have to have a model room, because you have to make sure it’s operational, it’s functional, it looks great before you design and order everything for all the rooms. And we did the model room and everyone loved it. It was a huge success. And then I was able to find the architect that helped us with the project that was Koning Eizenberg. They’re a great studio that’s in Santa Monica and they had done the Mondrian with Philippe Starck, and they were so great. I learned so much from them. And then the Avalon was born, my first hotel project, which was really exciting.

If I walked into the Avalon in a time machine, describe that hotel to us.

It’s a 1950s California boomerang shaped building, and all the rooms have little terraces that look onto the pool and has a little restaurant. And Marilyn Monroe actually lived there in her early twenties. It was like a place that people … kind of apartments/hotel in the fifties and just so much like legacy in Hollywood history, and it’s in Beverly Hills.


The lobby of the Proper hotel in Austin, designed by Kelly Wearstler. Photo: Courtesy Kelly Wearstler

I remember your second book called “Domicilium Decoratus,” and it really struck a chord with the industry because it wasn’t just a book of your work, but it also kind of epitomized this new look that you were bringing to LA that was … And let’s face it, LA was not necessarily a very well-designed city at the time when it comes to interiors. And you brought a huge breath of fresh air. And where do you think that look came from and what was inspiring you at the time? How were people reacting to what you were doing back then?

So I remember in West Hollywood, I would drive around. I was living now at the time with Brad and his place that I actually designed when we weren’t going out, maybe it was kind of in between. Maybe we were dabbling. And my studio was in West Hollywood, King’s Road there. And so always driving around West Hollywood, there were all these just simple white box architectural cottages, homes, and they all had these neoclassical facades just stuck on them. And I was always so intrigued and I was like, “Oh, how somebody can take some just super simple little architectural box and make it kind of dynamic and cool and it’s this like theater.” And I remember during the time that we were starting on the Maison 140, it was one of these … It used to be an apartment building and there were 38 rooms in the hotel, and it was just another box.

And so actually, I was inspired of taking these neoclassical elements, and I love architecture and classic architecture. And so we really resurrected Maison, and there was a lot of French influences and a little Beverly Hills hotel vibe that was infused in this hotel. And it really opened me up to, there’s so many just homes and projects in LA, because some of the architecture is really pared down of how you can create magic with something that’s just a simple canvas. And the Maison 140 was really a huge success. There was a tiny little bar there. A creative agency was around the corner from there, so people would come in and have drinks, and it turned out to be a really great place. It was right behind the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. And then during that time, my husband and I, Brad and I, and then Oliver, we ended up buying a house in Trousdale, and it was a 1954 Howe Levitt, and incredible bones.

We actually bought it from the original owners, and it was fabulous. And so starting to work … And this was really kind of the first architectural, really beautiful home that we’d bought and I wanted to make sure that it was restored with the integrity and leaving all the original elements that Howe had designed and then just bringing in incredible furniture. And so that “Domicilium Decoratus,” that book was the second book. And then I had Elliot, my second baby, just moving, working, there was a lot going on. And I think during just that time, really re-imagining what was going on.

During that time there was a lot of shabby chic and I just really was not excited about it. And I loved color, and that’s one of the things is I stay true to what I believe in and I really followed my heart, and I’ve done that through my whole life. I continue to do that, and not listening to all the noise around me. And people loved it. Really, LA’s not rooted in any sort of traditional architectural style. There’s incredible architecture here and it’s kind of all over the place, which I love. There’s a free spirit about it. And I think it was just the right time when people just were like, “Yes, color, kind of a new voice.” And so it was a really exciting time.

Tell me, how is your studio set up today? Because when I speak to people about you and your business, they’re always surprised to know how large it is and how wide-ranging your team has gotten. Explain to people what Kelly Wearstler HQ is like today.

About 10 years ago, I grew out of the King’s Road location and ended up moving to a new space in a Craig Elwood modern, beautiful building. And we have about 7,000 square feet and I have about 55 team members. And it’s an incredible studio. It’s all open, very collaborative. We have dedicated teams to each section of the business, residential, hospitality, brand activation and experiences, industrial designer, which is comprised of furniture, lighting, tabletop and textiles. Also, a gallery, digital and AI innovation team, graphic design, we have e-commerce department and also in-house PR, marketing, and we also work with two outside agencies. And it’s an open-air studio, tons of cross-pollination going on, which is amazing because we get many of our architectural projects are collaborating with the graphic designers, and the furniture designers are collaborating with the interior designers, and it’s really so inspirational and the energy is just phenomenal.

How many residential projects do you work on at any given time, on average? [inaudible 00:29:51]-

Say, 10 to 12. And some of them are in their beginning concept phase, some of them are in CA, schematic design and being also installed. So they’re not all happening at the same time, which keeps it really doable.

And then when it comes to your hotels, how many hospitality, hotel and restaurant projects would you say you’re working on at any given time?

Two to three.

Two to three? And then on top of that, you’ve got all the product. And so do ever count how many SKUs that your studio is producing on a yearly basis, or something like that?

No, God, that’s such a good question. But no, that would be actually really interesting to do, because there’s just a lot. And everything … I love to see how … I’ll bring someone over from say the graphic designer and I’ll have her come over and work with the team of a brand activation we’re doing, and maybe I’ll bring in the architect. And there’s just always so many interesting ideas and conversations that go on. And that’s why I love having people at the studio every day. You just can’t have new energy and evolve and have compelling projects when you’re phoning it in. It just it’s really hands-on, touching things, feeling things. It’s so important. And that’s how we all learn. I learn every day. I have the most incredible team. I surround myself with people that really know a lot more than I do. And that’s the beauty of what I do. I’m constantly evolving and learning, and that’s what life’s about.

And one of the things that struck me as we were working on the book and talking about all the different projects is you’re sort of encyclopedic knowledge of all the vintage, and when you say that you were inspired by trips to markets as a kid, it really has stuck with you, you really do have a wealth of knowledge, and a curiosity for all of the things you got there, and they really do find their way into every project, big and small, or home and hotel. In a given month, do you still hunt for these things yourself? Do you have a team that hunts for this kind of stuff? What is that like?

Yes. I have a team … It’s a boutique firm, and, even though, our output is amazing, it’s still a boutique firm. I’m involved in every single thing, and, of course, I have team members. The curation that goes on globally for all of our projects, the commissions that we do with artists, all of that is handled by incredible team members, and they, obviously, do the majority of the work, but I also constantly am sourcing on the weekends, whenever I have a free moment, on my phone, I’m at an auction, so I definitely engage, and participate in all the different things that go on, but there are, obviously, dedicated team members that are doing it all day long.

Then we all come together, and I always make sure that when we have meetings with myself … Obviously, there are meetings that go on without me for projects, but the creative team, collaboration that goes on, and we’re all there together, we’re all just learning, and I love to have the visibility, even if it’s an intern to junior designer meeting with some of the senior designers, that’s how you learn, and we’re bringing new energy, and sitting around at a table is when all that happens.

Side tables by Yehrim Lee, which are sold through Wearstler’s recently opened Gallery. Photo: Courtesy Kelly Wearstler

Obviously, in the industry, you have become very synonymous with Instagram also too, and this is such a big part of now when people think of you, because that’s sort of the window in which we view the design world now, largely. I think if I could ask a question that I’m sure a lot of people want me to ask, who are listening to this, is how do you do it? How are you actually … You do so much, and you’re doing so many things, and so many shoots and stuff, for Instagram, and stuff like that, and they all look so amazing. How do you do it? Why do you … You were an early adopter too, I feel like. You were the tip of the spear with that whole new, social, digital universe.

So, I guess it was maybe … When did Instagram start? Was it 10 years ago?

Oh, gosh. At least. At least. More.

I had a gal who was amazing. She was actually my first in-house PR director, and she was like, “Oh, the Instagram is launched, and you have to do it,” and I knew about it, and it was super early on, and I’m all about evolving, and technology, and new expressive ways to communicate your creative spirit.

I was like, “Sure. Let’s do it,” and so we started with things in the studio, and showing different things that was going on, and taking photos of materials out in meetings, and then going to the flea market.

Then it reminded me, I was like, “I did this with …” When I did the ‘Modern Glamour’ book, it feels very … And people love that, just seeing what’s going on in terms of design, and the world of design, and how you get to a finished product.

It’s all in real time, so much of it. I always try, and put, obviously, what I’m doing in business, and have opportunity to document it, so if I’m going to a fashion show in Paris, I’m there for inspiration, while I’m there, I’m going to galleries, I have meetings, and meeting on different projects, and so really trying to use my time wisely, and document what’s going on.

I work a lot at … In the evenings is amazing creative time for me. When I put my baby Crosby, my third little baby boy, to bed, I come up in my studio, and I have two hours of really thoughtful time.

How would you say … Today, what percentage of your business is the products, and the licensing?

So, I would say it’s about 40% of our business, because we have department heads in all of the different creative outlets, and so there are … Right now, I would say we have about 10 active licensing partnerships, and it’s continuing to grow.

When you think about … You try to visualize yourself, and your business, in the next 10 years, do you still want to be known as an interior designer, or do you want to be known more as something different from that? You’re not just doing interiors anymore. You’re doing so much that how do you view yourself?

That’s a good question, and interior design is … Obviously, it’s where I started, but it’s grown into so much more, and so many more branches of my business, and it all comes from really being so curious, and open-minded, and wanting to learn more, and become better at my craft.

As looking back with Milton Glaser, he was a graphic designer, but he also was a designer. He was one of the first multi-hyphenate designers. I would say now I think it’s just a designer, a creative, because there are so many mediums that we work on daily, and I’m not about being classified. I like just to keep it open, and keep fresh perspective, so I would say designer.

You’re doing so much, and you’re teaching yourself AI, and you’re running a huge business, and you’ve got 60 people working for you. Tell me about a typical day in the life of Kelly Wearstler from the moment she opens her eyes to the moment she closes them.

So, I get up very early.

How early?



I go to bed early. I love to have eight hours of sleep. I sleep so well. As soon as I hit the pillow, I’m out. I have my Oura ring, so I track … I’m all about data, and so really love to see how I slept. I get up in the morning. It’s the first thing I do is check out my Oura ring, and I get up, and go downstairs, and have an espresso, a large glass of water, and I go outside, because the natural light, and just being outside is so good for you. I really try, and have 30 minutes to myself, and then I go and workout. I workout for about an hour and 15 minutes, and that consist of various things. Then I love to wake up Crosby, my little baby, and then we hang out for a little bit, and then I go to work.

I remember a while ago that you’re a big tennis fan. Are you still doing tennis lessons, and doing that kind of thing?

Yes. I love racquet sports, and we actually … About two years ago, my family and I were in Brazil, and we played paddle for the first time, which is actually a Mexican sport that was invented in the early 1960s, and we fell in love with it. We actually have a paddle court at our house, so I take lessons about three days a week, and then we play on the weekends.

It’s a great social fun sport, and I would say it’s in-between racquetball, and tennis. So, it can be really rigorous, and there’s a lot of strategy involved, and it’s really, really fun. I love it.

Is it like pickleball that everyone is talking about now?



It’s actually much more rigorous.

Oh, gosh.

Yeah, because I like to have a hard workout. My bar is super high on everything I do, whether it’s family, work, exercise, my wellness. I just like to have the bar super high, make sure I give everything equal amount of love, and all that.

You’re a big surfer, so are you still surfing? Do you set aside time in the year to make sure that you’re still doing that?

Yeah. I’m not a great surfer. I have boys that are incredible surfers.

I know.

My husband and I surf, and we love it, and have fun, and we are, obviously, working on getting better, but just being in the water with the board, it reminds me of growing up in Myrtle Beach, but I would say I’m definitely more intermediate. I would say intermediate. I’m not riding the big waves. And I don’t do it here, because the water is so cold in LA.


And just having a wetsuit on, while I’m in the ocean, I want to have my bikini on, and feel the water, and I love going to warm places, Costa Rica, Hawaii, things like that for surfing where it’s warm.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever gone surfing?

I would say the best place … Hawaii is incredible. Pipeline, I love going and just watching those unbelievable surfers. I got in Pipeline one afternoon, and I got right back out. The waves are so big. It’s crazy.


So, you did a MasterClass on interior design, and I think you were the first designer to teach a course like that for MasterClass, so tell me about that.

Yes. Oh my God. So exciting. So, when MasterClass approached me to become the first interior design instructor, I was nervous, honored, just blown away. I had watched several of their classes, and really loved what they were doing, and they’d already featured so many of my design heroes like Frank Gehry, Annie Leibovitz, Anna Wintour, and really just so enlightening.

So, the prospect of reaching a wide audience, and inspiring them was really exciting to me, and, plus, it was going to be the first time that I was able to bring people inside my studio, and show them the layer of my process.

So, teaching this class was really such a collaborative experience, and it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my career, and just everything that I’ve learned over the years from my team, and a bunch of creative collaborators all across the board, so it was really exciting.

So, you have a gallery now as part of your business, which is an extension of your role as not just as a designer, but also as a brand, and you have your own furniture, and accessories, and so many different projects, but now this gallery is like a whole new phase for you. Tell me a little bit about that.

My practice is rooted in curation, and artistic collaboration, and each one of our projects features a large number of commissions or custom works by a talented artist, and seeing a lot of different inquiries, and questions of pieces that are at the different hotels that were collaborations with artists, “Where can I get these? I love this. Who is the artist?”

I wanted to really bring more of a spotlight on that, and felt the need to have these special moments of collaboration come together, and creating a small collection of works with these artists, and, also, being their megaphone, and putting out their incredible, talented, artistry, and there are many seeds for larger collections, and starting a gallery just felt like the right step in my career.

You started that about a year ago. How long has it been?

It’s been about two years.


Really, it was about … I think it was early 2021 is when I launched it, and the gallery for the team and I it’s like a creative playground. Working with these artists enlighten us, we enlighten them, we push each other. And these unique works that we come together to work on are only available on the gallery. So in 2021, we did our first collaboration with Dutch collective, Rotganzen Studio. We did that whole disco ball series and it was a huge success. And then we also worked with Felix Mayerhofer. He’s from Austria. He does a lot of work with [inaudible 00:48:48] and stones, and he’s incredible. Also Yerim Lee, she is from Joshua Tree and many others. And we are doing about five to six drops a year, and it is just been really fun and successful.

Let me ask you this, you’ve had this incredibly successful career, you’re going to have another probably 30 years more in your career or more, but to many people it looks like you’ve just gone from success to success. And so, I’m wondering what was the biggest disaster professionally for you in your career? Wherever a moment where you just bigger, small, could be even tiny, where you felt like you got knocked down or that really sticks out to you? Does Kelly Wearstler have any failures in her memory that she looks to?

Yes. Oh my God. There’s a lot and you learn from them. Probably the one big one that was really tough to swallow was when I was in the fashion business and I had a really good friend who was in the fashion business and she reps a lot of the really big brands and she was like, you really should do some sort of fashion thing. I think it would be great. And she partnered with me and we worked on a collection and I actually launched at Bergdorf Goodman and I opened up a flagship store in like we did too much at one time, and I kind of just stepped into this business, still doing interior design, but stepped into this business full throttle and literally just not knowing kind of how to operate and what to do.

So many mistakes and the passion was there and the excitement and just the team and I worked so hard and straddling also both businesses and it just was major money loser. And so we ended up after three years shutting that whole fashion side down. And we actually had a dear friend who was like, you guys should just be done. Because I know it was so stressful and we really tried to make it work, but you really have to obviously know what you’re doing. And it wasn’t lack of passion, it was just I, yeah. So I would say that definitely hurt, but at the Bright side is I never thought I would have a flagship store and we were selling all amazing stores all over the world and it was really exciting, but then it just was just not the right thing to move forward with. But I did learn about merchandising and sell-throughs and marketing and website and e-commerce and wholesale models. And so walking away and just being better at what I do now, but it definitely hurt.

I heard that you’ve been working with some pretty new and innovative stuff with AI in your studio, and it’s coming from a very optimistic point of view, even though many people are quite pessimistic about it. Can you tell us a little bit about AI in your studio and how you guys are using it?

Well, I think it’s going to help just with data analytics. We’re using it creatively in our studio, but also we’re, we’re going to use it also with analytics and how we move forward with all the data that we have and really being strategic on how to use it from a business side. Obviously from the creative standpoint, we’re full throttle. I’ve always been really fascinated. I mean, I read articles. So at the end of 2022 when ChatGPT was launched, I began experimenting with the tool and really listening to a lot of podcasts and educating myself. And I am always looking to implement the latest technologies in the studio so we can be efficient and really help to ideate and tell different stories. With that, it can be challenging bringing in new technology. So in 2022 over the holidays, just really kind of dug in and said to myself at the start of 2023 in the studio, I’m going to implement AI and use it in very specific areas of the studio.

And so, I spoke to my creative director and a couple other team members that were really interested and knowledgeable about it and began working on it maybe a few days a week on specific projects. And it really has just been the most incredible tool. And I’m super bullish on AI and what it can do creatively. For example, we’re designing millwork on a project and we want to study different types of profiles and some sort of detailing and also color and materiality and something that might take a junior designer, intermediate designer several days to a week to render and give the team options, we can have this take place in a matter of an hour. And there would be so vastly, so many more options.

And are you doing this for residential projects or everything?

No, we’re doing it for everything.

Yeah? Wow.

And so, started really with the architectural. You cannot ask it to give you a full room because it’s open source, you just get so much stuff, it’s a gamble. When we first started, we would go have three team members working on it for a full day, and you end up empty-handed because we were asking it to generate these full spaces, and we were getting our hands dirty and figuring out exactly what’s the proper way to use it to net out great ideation. And so, really having very specific prompting and also now we’re creating our own large language model. So, we’re really very specific and it’s been super successful for us.

Obviously, a lot of people are super nervous about AI, I know people can go into certain AI prompts and say, “Show me a house in the style of Architectural Digest that has a polar bear in it,” and it will create something very stylish. Are you an optimist when it comes to AI or are you a doomsayer? What’s your take on this?

I’m totally optimistic and love it, super bullish. I always look at the opportunity to experiment with new technology and just evolve my studio to be efficient. Obviously we’re a creative practice, but we’re at the end of the day running a business. So having a tool that enables us to be more creative in a shorter amount of time is unbelievable because that’s what, as an artist, you want to have more options and continue to push the boundaries of creativity. And so in 2021, I brought AI into the studio and was very specific about looking at what teams were really curious about it. We brought in AI models like ChatGPT, Midjourney, Dali, Claude, and it’s just increased our creative output and just it allows us to generate the abundance of ideas and iterations, and it also helps to diversify our work and allow us to really push design in new ways.

And have you actually had recent projects where you use it in this sort of ideation stage?

Oh, yeah. When we first are using it on a hotel project that we’re doing in Lake Tahoe, it’s a legacy historic project and we started playing around with it. And trust me, we wasted a lot of time, not wasted a lot of time, but it is a gamble on what you get back. You definitely have to have taste and great knowledge of history in order to, I think be successful on using this tool. And so, we really started focusing on very specific requests, like millwork details, maybe in brutalist style, 1970s, and it would just start giving us 50 options within 10 minutes.

And if we had a junior intermediate designer doing this, it could take a week. So it’s unbelievable. I’m really loving it and I can only speak about it in my studio and through a creative lens, but it’s unbelievable. And right now we’re in the midst of building our own LLM, which is our own large language model and really putting in the time and investment to make it work even better for us. And then I’m also working on some really special projects and have some investments that are in the works on some cool platforms that I can’t wait to share in the future.

And do you ever worry that in the future designers such as yourself become obsolete? Because some developer will just go into some AI model in the future and say, “Give me something that looks like Kelly Wearstler,” and then they’ll just hand it off to a contractor and then that’s it?

No, because it’s all in the execution. It’s just like now it’s like you have a photo of something in a magazine. Can you really hand that over to your contractor and have it built? No. And if people use it as a tool for their designs, they’re never going to have a unique point of view. So they’re never really going to stand out in the crowd of design because it just looks like the same thing that you see. It happens now, whether it’s on Pinterest or you see things in social media, there’s a lot of sameness. So, you use it as a tool to push your creativity and get a lot of ideas that you can curate and move forward with. But as you know, you have an idea, 80% is in the execution.

All right, my last question, this will be more of a fun one: if I just say, who is Kelly Wearstler?

I would say just some gal from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina who likes beautiful things.


Thank you to our guest, Kelly Wearstler, as well as to Bradley Kal Hagen for making this episode happen. The editor of The Grand Tourist is Stan Hall. To keep this going, don’t forget to visit our website and sign up for our newsletter, The Grand Tourist Curator at, and follow me on Instagram at @danrubinstein. And don’t forget to follow The Grand Tourist on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen and leave us a rating or comment. Every little bit helps. Til next time!


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