“Serious is not a word used in decorating,” is one of the favorite axioms of Los Angeles interior designer Katherine M. Ireland. Maybe that’s why she’s had so many good-humoured clients over her 30-year career, including Steve Martin and Drew Barrymore.
She shares some of her Hollywood projects and private homes in her new book, “A Life In Design” (Simon & Schuster), out October 24, which celebrates her fearless approach to mixing international colors, patterns and fabrics.
“I think everyone in the book is still in their home,” says Ireland, who moved from London to Los Angeles in the 1980s and lent her style to Spanish Colonial homes, ranches, and ranches up and down the California coast. The Hamptons, and in the British and French countryside.
Her career began when she turned her director husband’s editing studio in Santa Monica into a decorative accessories store, which became an instant success. Ireland was also a design writer, and when Steve Martin saw her article in House & Garden about actors Amanda Byz and Corbin Bernsen’s renovated home, he wanted something similar. That’s when she got her first professional job as an interior designer for a cottage.
Keeping in mind Martin’s colorful Art Nouveau collection, she chose fabrics with more subtle green and cream tones and interesting textures for contrast; She designed simple yet luxurious curtains to hang in windows and French doors, and created comfortable seating areas conducive to conversation or an impromptu banjo session.
“Every job I’ve done has been a huge learning curve. I learned that from Steve by working in the art and antiques industry,” she says.
Ireland had between Labor Day and Thanksgiving to transform cosmetics giant Victoria Jackson’s ranch house in Ojai, California. Stripped floors. Remodeled bathrooms added Moroccan and Mexican tiles, Spanish light fixtures and European furnishings, with plenty of unexpected touches, like antique Mexican serape curtains and a red floral light fixture from Blanchard Collective in the master bedroom.
“I like the unexpected, but not kitsch — I don’t mind the odd garden gnome, I guess, but if you do little bits of surprise, it’s fun,” says Ireland.
For a British actor’s estate in the Cotswolds, it has undergone an extensive renovation but has remained true to the spirit of the place that once belonged to Sir Mark Palmer, the hippie baronet and former page to Queen Elizabeth II’s godmother, and his wife, astrologer Catherine Tennant.
She covered the master bedroom in teal Marrakech Natural wallpaper, accompanied by a teal upholstered French armchair by Andrew Martin. The armoire was from Lorfords in Tetbury, and the tablecloth was from kente cloth made by the Ashanti tribe in Ghana. Ireland’s love of Ghanaian fabrics dates back to the 1980s when she first traveled to the country to film a documentary. These fabrics became the inspiration for her own fabric collections that appear in the book.
“I always look at my room and say it’s kind of like the United Nations. Everyone walks into my room. You have Bali, Ghana, France, all living in the same room. I think you don’t want one thing in the room to scream at you. You can have a lot of things screaming at you.” But they have to scream together. “It’s harmony, I think,” she says. “That was the beginning of my textile collecting, apart from the fact that I won a sewing prize when I was seven for my patchwork quilt.”
She also sewed her own clothes, and still does. “I’m doing something like Vivienne Westwood meets Saint Laurent at my son’s wedding,” Ireland says. “I came out of fashion. I worked at Feathers, and actually helped design a clothing line for Arabella Pollen. “I took the collection to New York and did fashion shows, including one at Studio 54 at the end of its heyday, and another at Xenon. Fashion is mostly color, and home is an extension of fashion. As a little girl, all you can think about is cute clothes, because homes seem so out of reach.
but now? “Decorating is therapy. I just like to do it for myself and others. I think it’s my form of relaxation.”