The Playful Style of Design Superstar Kelly Wearstler
Through her new platform, Gallery, Wearstler is bringing unique art and furniture to a global audience
May 1, 2023
Kelly Wearstler knows how to make a first—and lasting—impression. Whether you just discovered her via her Instagram account, bouncing through the streets of Paris, flea-market hunting and gallery strolling in mismatched Nikes, or if you fell in love with her almost two decades ago as the best-dressed judge on Bravo’s Top Design, Wearstler’s distinct style has written its own chapter in the 21st-century canon of interior design. File it under contemporary Hollywood glamour with nuances of Malibu maximalism—an explosive combustion of unexpected colors, materials, textures and forms.
Visually defining the modern West Coast aesthetic wasn’t something she set out to do. Originally from South Carolina, Wearstler earned her communication design degree at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design before following her star to L.A. Her eclecticism, which she describes as an “intuitive juxtaposition of contemporary and vintage, architectural and organic, graphic and instinctual,” captivated a high-profile client base, including real estate developer Bradford Korzen of The Kor Group. (Korzen would become her business collaborator and husband.) In addition to designer, her long list of titles includes author, retailer, television star, creator of collections of furniture, lighting and fabrics—and now gallerist.
Through Gallery on kellywearstler.com, she is using her extensive fan base to bolster the artists she adores. After designing some of the most striking residential and hospitality spaces of the last decade with Proper Hotels in Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica, Wearstler knew it was time to share with the world the incredible creators she discovers in her work and travels.
Gallery features unique and limited-edition artwork, sculptural objects, furniture and lighting across all price points via exclusive collaborations between her Studio and the artists. It is what she has been doing with private clients and hotels for years, so taking collectible design to her audience was the next step.
As an example, Wearstler can’t get enough of Rotganzen’s Quelle Fête. The playful melting disco ball from the Dutch design collective first rocked her world when she discovered its glamorous form in 2017. Since then she has used the piece in residential projects and in The Quill Room, a bar space she designed at Austin Proper. This summer, Wearstler and Rotganzen will unveil a furniture collection incorporating the motif.
“We partnered on a series that was inspired by the city of Los Angeles, which included the Mini Quelle Fête called Tiny Dancer. It sold out incredibly fast,” she says in anticipation of the upcoming new release.
With that proof of concept tucked securely into her Plan de Paris Dior saddle bag, Gallery took on a life of its own. “We are always on the lookout for new emerging talent,” Wearstler says. “We have a great relationship with the artists we work with. Some of the works are limited editions, while others are open editions. They can be very similar to pieces they might create in their fine artwork, or in other galleries, but these are unique. We challenge Gallery artists to do something they’ve never done before. They love pushing the boundaries and we have a very diverse team at the studio. We can leverage a lot of different talents to help make it work.”
Rotganzen’s furniture will feature objects inspired by four old-world cities—Berlin, London, Paris and Venice—in conversation with their American namesakes in New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and California. The collection consists of three furniture pieces and an objet d’art. Within the furniture assortment, the European cities are represented through geometrical design while the American towns are present in the curvaceous, seemingly malleable nature of the Quelle Fête. Naturally, an alignment with Wearstler and her more than two million devoted social media followers has perks for any designer.
“We want to be a megaphone for artists and share their incredible work with our community,” she says. “People direct-message us on Instagram to buy items. And we use social media to show how these objects integrate into your home, through me installing them, or by showing how they look with existing interiors.”
She finds many of the artists for Gallery through word of mouth and on social media. “I frequent a lot of galleries and shows, artists tell me about a friend they know, and creators reach out to share their work,” she says. “None of our projects are ever the same.” For example, on Instagram Wearstler discovered Nashville-based artist Amelia Briggs, who specializes in irregular three-dimensional anthropomorphic designs made of reclaimed materials.
“We worked with her on a private commission and she’s open to experimenting and trying new things,” Wearstler says. “So we collaborated on a collection of three mirrors that are unlike what she’s doing in terms of design, but it’s her hand-fabricating them.” The sculptural mirrors, unique in proportion, shape and personality, are made of latex, oil, panel and glass. The mirror surface is larger than what is typically found in Briggs’ body of work, and Wearstler influenced the artist’s color choice with muted metallic hues.
“They’re functional works that appeal to a wide group of people,” she says. “It’s not just super abstract. All of these pieces, we believe, will live beautifully in any home.”
Wearstler discovered Israeli artist Lior Modan at Make Room gallery in Los Angeles. “I was so taken by his medium. I absolutely fell in love with his work,” she says.
Inspired by the city’s landscape and architecture, Modan created for Gallery a series of abstract wall reliefs with embossed swimming pool motifs on velvet, framed by a custom woven belt. These monochromatic paintings appear three-dimensional and morph as the viewer changes position. Wearstler says many Gallery works blend into her ongoing hospitality projects for Proper Hotels.
“Hospitality interiors need to be functional, but they also have to delight guests and inspire people to enjoy something that they wouldn’t typically have at their homes,” she says. “Some of the pieces wouldn’t work in all the guest rooms, but we like to put them in the public spaces. The Satellite lamp by Kooij is a perfect example. It’s very functional and provides a lot of light, and also gives you the opportunity to change the settings, whether it’s warm light or cool light. It creates a sculptural, creative statement. And we have those in a couple of our hotel projects.”
Discovery and curiosity—the guiding principles of Gallery—are also reflected in the ever-evolving Proper brand. At Austin Proper, which combines a hotel and residences, the recently completed Quill Room is an intimate venue for live music, distilling the vibe of the city.
“Austin is synonymous with music, and this is a great bar and cool space,” she says of the immersive, private second-floor lounge. At Downtown L.A. Proper—the newest in the portfolio, set in a landmark 1920s Curlett and Beelman Renaissance Revival building that was first a private club and then a YWCA—Wearstler created two of the city’s most unique hotel suites inside a vintage basketball court and an indoor swimming pool. The latter, a 2,777-square-foot space, does indeed feature a 35-by-12-foot pool. For this, Wearstler commissioned a handcrafted ceramic tile mural by L.A. artist Ben Medansky.
“One of the things that I appreciate about Proper is how each hotel is super distinct,” she says. “The Studio and I put so much love and attention into every detail. An underlying thread is woven through each property relating to the city that it is in, and it really becomes part of each neighborhood. We work with Proper to make sure these spaces are constantly evolving.”
For Wearstler, there are a few nonnegotiables she has identified as both designer and consumer. These include great lighting, a well-designed lounge (Private Suite at LAX is a favorite), fantastic bedding (Proper Hotels use Simmons Providence mattresses and Fili D’oro and Bellino fine linens), a comfortable workspace and a gym that is not in the basement (Austin Proper offers a 2,000-square-foot fitness center).
Wearstler is also looking to the future. “I love technology,” she says. “Brands are reaching out to us to create incredible digital spaces. Digital design has no restrictions and cultivates ultimate creativity.”