Expect the Unexpected

From Bunny Shop to Bergdorf with some of the world’s most glamorous hotels in between, Kelly Wearstler has turned a childhood fantasy into a lavish reality.

By Letitia Rodriguez


It wasn’t so long ago that Kelly Wearstler, the award-winning interior designer that was recently found judging hopefuls on Bravo’s acclaimed series Top Design was busy making unique items for her very own make-believe store, The Bunny Shop. With a string of luck and bodacious tenacity, Wearstler has taken that same burgeoning imagination all the way to the bank.

Since establishing her California-based firm more than a decade ago, aptly named Kelly Wearstler, Inc. (KWI), she has designed some of the most show-stopping hotel interiors in prestigious locales around the globe. “The KWI motto is the elegance of the unexpected,” says Wearstler, who is known among her peers as always being on the brink of what’s next, a trendsetter. “If it’s everywhere and it’s tired, it’s not for me. I’m always seeking out the original, the overlooked, and the off-center to inspire me personally and professionally.” Wearstler’s extensive travels around the world allow her to absorb cultural and decorative historical traditions, thus helping her to use the past in creating something new and unexpected. And there is nothing more new and au courant than her latest project, the already buzzed about and soon to be finished Tides South Beach.

No other name comes to mind when thinking of the most deserving personality to partake in recreating this iconic historic landmark on Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive, a neighborhood with striking visual displays of Art Deco architecture. Though she loves doing residential projects as well, hotel ventures like Tides Hotel South Beach are right up her alley. “Commercial is more daring-I think you can do bold things that are fantasy driven and take chances. People love staying in rooms like that and experiencing the environment that they may not want in their house.” She was involved with all the design aspects from start to finish. Wearstler opted to incorporate rich textures, elements of the sea, colors of the sunset, as well as vintage recreations. The Tides is already being pegged as “The Diva of South Beach” as it will be one of Deco Drive’s first true luxury boutique hotels when it is unveiled this December. The hotel features 45 sleek panoramic ocean view suites, acting as the ultimate posh accommodation for business and tourist travelers alike. The KWI signatures are obvious, with Wearstler’s famed monochromatic color palettes of muted hues that draw inspiration from the sandy beaches right outside, which she says “makes it feel more organic.” While she says there is definitely a mix of modern Asian elements, “I really paid total respect to the quality Art Deco history of the building. It’s going to be a little jewel box very rich in color, texture, and urban feeling, while still allowing guests to feel they’re in Miami.”

Wearstler got her foot in the design door fresh out of college by helping a friend pick out stones, color palettes, and products for a client’s home when she moved from her hometown in South Carolina to southern California. Sunny Los Angeles is the perfect setting for the entrancing and charismatic designer, whose love for outdoor activities finds her up at 6 a.m. for her daily morning boot camp-the secret to her envious figure. And when she isn’t busy trimming shrubs in six-figure couture gowns (a recurring scene in one of her books), she is busy managing her precious team of 30 employees, a mix of architects, graphic and interior designers, and draft assistants. Though this is a mark of well-earned success, you won’t see her at home all day sipping lattes.

Wearstler is still involved with every component in the day-to-day work for client’s designs. “I honestly [oversee] every door handle and hinge, from the master plan to accessories on the table,” she explains.
She has always seen a gap in the marketplace for unique quality products while working on her many design projects. However, even if great affordable pieces were highly accessible, Wearstler says she would still keep designing in every medium. “It’s fun and it keeps my brain moving. In the not too distant future, I’d love for everyone to be able to have a Kelly Wearstler design in his or her life.” It’s common knowledge that Wearstler is the authority when in need of elegantly well-edited interiors with a slight distinctively playful edge, where fine rare objects mate with “throw-away chic” elements, all while not taking themselves too seriously. Wearstler is so dedicated to the individual needs of each project (mostly commercial hotels and retail spaces) that in order to execute completely one of a kind brand identities for everyone, she voluntarily gets down to business in making exclusive, unique products and finishes herself, thus meeting the client’s personal vision and budget. “Regardless of the retail and wholesale resources available, sometimes I just can’t find what I have my mind’s eye on. So instead of settling for a less than perfect size, look, or price, I create it myself,” she explains. This is a hobby that has played out for a while now, long enough to make her a veteran and give her enough expertise to be an undoubted connoisseur.

Wearstler had the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with Bergdorf Goodman back in 2005 when the luxury retail chain was in need of someone to design their renowned 1920s-themed BG restaurant. Now regarded as one of the places to be seen for society’s elite in all of New York City, they had many reasons to choose Wearstler for overseeing such a project. For one, no one does allure better than Ms. Modern Glamour (the title of her bestselling debut monograph by Harper Collins) herself, whose deep relationship with glamour penetrates her ability to seamlessly translate fashion into interior design. Esteemed former editor of both Elle Décor and House Beautiful magazines Marian McEvoy describes Wearstler’s interiors as having a sense of adventure and discovery while never losing their immaculate refined edge. “You will likely feel dressed up and flattered-it’s like the difference between wearing a tank top with Birkenstocks and a chiffon skirt with four-inch heels,” says McEvoy of Wearstler’s rooms that thrill, seduce, and surprise all at the same time, which makes Wearstler an obvious choice in the eye of Bergdorf Goodman. Then again, who wouldn’t want a designer that holds title as one of House Beautiful’s “Best Designers” for five consecutive years, as well “The Design World’s Top Tastemaker” by House and Garden magazine?

Recently, Wearstler has yet again met up with dear friend Nicholas Manville, vice president of decorative home at Bergdorf Goodman, to create a 75-piece home accessory collection that will be sold exclusively at Bergdorf. The covetable line debuted on October 19 and hopefully still has enough swank pieces for you to snatch up for your own home collection. The Kelly Wearstler Boutique (she, of course, designed the space as well, so the name is quite fitting) will have floor to ceiling alcoves showcasing not only a range of exquisite décor objects manufactured all over the world, but several items molded after vintage artifacts from the designer’s personal collection as well, which are inspired by her extensive travels to countries such as Argentina, Japan, Italy, France, and India. Curious minds can be sure to expect reasonable price tags; items will retail between $75 and $4,000. Just like the extravagant décor elements that Wearstler chose for the oval-shaped boutique’s interior, such as gold finishes and brass trimmings accenting a neutral color palette of whites and grays, Wearstler also sought after sophisticated organic materials including marble, polished wood, brass, pewter, stone, and ceramics for the eponymous collection. She also chose to make the collection seasonal, with pieces available only in limited editions.

Design aficionados who have had the luxury to travel through some of the world’s most prestigious hotels, resorts, boutiques, and restaurants, or required the service of quintessential interior experts for their own home or commercial projects, know that Wearstler is hailed by clients and industry colleagues alike as one of the most influential modern day designers. She captivates the world with her enchanting take on interiors and the luxury lifestyle. It takes players with distinguished, unwavering confidence to stay on top of their games, and Wearstler has done so admirably in a tough, highly technical, and competitive field where the nuts and bolts of making rooms function while satisfying clients is a daunting task. Which is all the more reason Wearstler is selected time and again to work alongside the hotelier world’s elite on such projects as The Tides Playa del Carmen, as well as the hotel where she caught her first big break in 1993, the Avalon Beverly Hills hotel where she created a refreshing rendition of a mid-century modern look. For the Playa del Carmen location, Wearstler is taking into account her experiences from sister location at Tides South Beach. With the same chic-by-the-shore lifestyle theme, KWI will shape the aesthetic for all of the hotel’s condominium residences, reception lobby, restaurants, spa and fitness centers, lounges, and additional multiple-use spaces. Another family of developments Wearstler is responsible for? The Viceroy group, who is developing Icon Brickell, a five-star urban resort located on Biscayne Bay in Miami’s financial district. The Philippe Starck-branded condominium complex will boast a modern experience of polished sophistication and timeless East Asian accents to become one of the most intimate residences of the Icon conglomerate.

You have to hand it to a woman who can hold her own in an industry full of movers and shakers who won’t think twice about stepping over you to get to the top. Not only is Wearstler creating three more books-one on her new project, which is also her new home with genius-developer husband Brad Korzen and their two boys; another on a new hotel; and the last one on a mix of projects, lifestyle, and entertaining-she is also preparing the lifestyle and design experiences for six new hotel residences underway in New York, Miami, Anguilla (the first international Viceroy location), and one with famed architect Ricardo Legorreta in Mexico’s Riviera Maya for Viceroy Mayakoba. And Bergdorf Goodman won’t be the last stop on her retail path. Debuting in early 2008 will be a collection of handmade carpets for The Rug Company, a wallpaper collection with London-based firm Cole & Son, as well as a fabric and trim line for Kravet/Lee Jofa. With so much going on, it is a wonder she finds the time to keep up. But somehow she does, and keeps striving to make the world a more beautiful place, one room at a time.