Better known as “Katie” to her friends and clients (who often become both friend and client), Kathleen Denham is a down-to-earth interior designer who laughs easily and creates with joy. She’s worked with Lumens on a number of our promotional ads for magazines like Dwell and Elle Decor, transforming a lonely brick wall and a few pieces of lighting and furniture into a cohesive, modern space.
I was excited to finally get an opportunity to sit down with this designer gem and pick her brain about her roots, her vision, and her unique approach to design. Her style and inspiration stems from the architecture of a space, giving her a penchant for both historical as well as modern decor and setting her apart from other designing artists.
Here’s part of our interview — I hope you get as inspired as I did!
Creating a Space
S: Why is good design important?
K: Good design brings together so many elements. For example, an antique adds history to a space. Contemporary furniture and lighting add modern technology and functionality. It’s great to see how all these things come together with what’s happening in the world. Architecture, art, color… And comfort. That feeling of coming home and finding joy. It’s all melted together. Good design allows that to happen.
S: What’s the first thing you consider when you’re looking at a space?
K: The architecture of the building. I think anything architecturally permanent that’s applied to an interior, like a kitchen remodel or a bathroom remodel, fireplaces, anything like that, has to make sense with the architecture of the building itself. For example, I encourage people to apply an appropriate theme to appropriate spaces. A “Tuscan Villa” look may not work in a brand new home with 4″ thick walls. The walls on a Tuscan Villa are a foot thick, and the final look may not bring out the best in the architecture.
S: How important is lighting in creating the “appropriate” look for a space?
K: Lighting is very important. If it’s a traditional space, I tend to stay away from too much modern architectural lighting. For example, I like art lighting, but not an array of can lights in a traditional living room.
S: Do you ever blend modern and traditional decor?
K: I actually prefer that. I think it gives more interest to a space if you throw an antique into a contemporary interior, or vice versa. It gives a nod to the architecture of the building and adds life to a space.
S: What about lighting a modern space?
K: I think modern architectural lighting can serve dual purposes by acting as a sculpture and a functional piece at the same time. That’s really fun when that happens.
S: So, when does lighting come into play when you’re designing a space?
K: Early. In the planning stages. Whether we’re planning to remodel a kitchen or lighting a new home, lighting design has to be there from day one. You have to ask yourself, “What are my goals, in terms of lighting? What am I trying to accomplish in (the space), and how does lighting play a part in that?”
S: What inspires you when it comes to design?
K: Everything. I’m so visual. I look at everything. I take my camera everywhere. Because I started a blog, I look at things differently now and I take pictures of everything. It drives my family crazy whenever we go out to eat. I’m taking pictures of the food, the flowers on the table, the design of the space. I’m always taking pictures. I’m constantly looking at (home decorating) magazines for ideas, and blogs for resources. Blogs are a treasure trove of inspiration. I’ll see a light fixture that I think is amazing and I’ll want to build a whole room around it. I can’t limit what inspires me, I suppose.
The Cosmopolitan Cafe: Designing in Deco
S: Do you have a favorite space you’ve designed?
K: In terms of commercial space, the Cosmopolitan Cafe (in Sacramento) was really fun to design. It was a big challenge to work on. The original theme for the restaurant was a New York deli. I thought taking that idea and making the deli into a more contemporary version would be great since the architecture of the building and the adjacent dinner theater were more contemporary.
S: Tell me more about the tile. It sort of adds its own personality to the restaurant.
K: Mosaic tile is often used in traditional deli store designs (like Noah’s Bagels). I just pushed the envelope a bit. I think it’s one of my most successful ideas for the space. The other idea I had, marrying the vintage and contemporary together, was using vintage photographs of K Street (where the restaurant is located) and blowing them up and framing them in unexpected ways. One of them was blown up and back-lit in the lounge/bar area (seen below). The others were set on back-painted glass. I used a pretty neutral backdrop of black, white and brown, adding a jolt of citron green on the barstools and a sofa to jazz things up.
S: How did the architecture of the building play into the look?
K: The architecture was very modern, and that’s where I got much of the initial design inspiration for a modern take on a Deco-era deli. The architecture firm was rehabilitating the old Woolworths building for a combination restaurant-dinner theater-nightclub facility. We were working within the existing shell. I had to come up with an idea in the window openings to accommodate and screen public art installations that we had no control over, while still allowing the restaurant to get natural light. We ended up creating a mirrored door for the space which housed art to be seen from the street but not from inside the restaurant.
S: Any final design advice?
K: Twist it up a little bit, and have fun with it!
Check out Katie’s website, and stay up to date on all her unique design ideas and inspiration. Thanks, Katie!