A passionate designer at heart, Kari Whitman plies her trade to decorate the abodes of clients and celebrities alike. She spoke to Upscale Living magazine about the importance of being creative and the adoration she has for the life she has fashioned.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve had a passion for design since I can remember, redoing my childhood room every week! Unfortunately, I started out as an actress and model and hated it, then hit my true passion as an Interior Designer and building beautiful spaces. I was lucky that my co-workers as an actress hired me; my first client was Hollywood heartthrob Emilio Estevez. So even though I’m “out of the Hollywood world,” I’m still in it! I work all over the country, it’s a great job to be creative and analytical.
Did you have an influence in your youth that shaped your career path?
Growing up in the hills of Colorado, nature is my influence and muse! It shapes me and has shaped my career.
When and why did you decide to become an interior designer?
At 27 years of age, I started my own company, after friends would see how I transformed my little rented apartments. They would ask me to do theirs. I’ve always had the affinity to be a designer, but I got a lot of confidence to go for it around 25 years old. I was always happier going to flea markets than sitting on a movie set.
You started your design firm Kari Whitman Interiors and 24 years later, you are still going strong. What and who inspires you?
Art, people and nature. The blessing to be different.
What are / have been your biggest challenges in your career?
I do a lot of construction, and as a woman I had to fight hard to get the subcontractors to respect and listen to me. I’m also a big perfectionist, which is a blessing and a curse.
Important lessons along the way?
Breathe through the pressure.
The favorite part of your job?
Doing different things, seeing different styles and learning. Learning forever to me is life in design. Also taking risks is amazing.
What is the best thing about being an interior designer?
The freedom to do, suggest, and create a wonderful space.
And the worst?
Timelines, deadlines, and giving the house up when I’m done. I never want to give the house back!
You have homes in Los Angeles, Aspen and a small office in New York. I assume property has been a great investment for you?
My best, for sure. I get very attached to my homes, it’s hard to let them go. So, I usually just rent them.
Tell us a bit more about your different homes, what is your decorating style, and do you have a favorite room(s) in your houses?
My favorite home is my Colorado home. It’s so me, at all my stages of life. My favorite room is my living room. It’s cozy, artsy, lived in but organized. Kind of like me.
What key pieces in your home can you not live without?
My dog first … lol. But seriously, my art pieces, and my custom furniture. I do all my couches custom-designed and made for my clients, so it can fit perfectly, feel perfectly, and not look like everyone else’s couch. I also love my outdoor space in my Colorado home. I basically live on the porch! My LA house has the best 21’ ceilings. It feels so airy, and open.
Do you have different taste in interior design of your partner / husband and how do you negotiate / solve that amicably?
Completely. OMG … he is very practical, I’m not. He doesn’t get it. Why would we want black silverware he asks me? It’s hysterical. He also doesn’t understand why I spend so much money on art, when I have a full storage locker filled with art. I collect art, not shoes, I tell him. But I love him to bits!
Talk us through a timeless interior design style.
Remembrance of the space, for time gone by to me is timelessness. The vibe, the smell, the look. To me, that’s timelessness. I believe mixing old with new, and being a trendsetter, not a follower is the best way to remember a space, which makes it timeless.
How important is it to accessorize?
I don’t do OVER accessorizing; I don’t like clutter. I like a few key pieces, that can be moved around.
Is there a right and wrong when it comes to decorating? Please explain.
Not as long as it’s REALLY about you or your client. It drives me crazy when designers make it about them, instead of the client.
How does one keep things modern / timeless without having to break the bank?
Flea markets, art schools, 1stdibs, Chairish and Viyet. There are so many great deals out there, you just need to look.
Do you believe in repurposing dated pieces or should one just shop for new ones?
Depends on what it is. But I love the earth, so I tree hug when possible.
You have done some exquisite interiors, for celebrities and high-profile clients. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome / embrace them?
Celebrities availability and their jam-packed schedules – to meet and move the job along is very hard at times. Celebrities are usually creative, that’s always a plus. My biggest problem is my own internal perfectionism. I’m an over-achiever.
Let’s talk about the room in the White House for former President Obama …
I was super honored to do the room there. It was focused on a hang-out, relaxed design with their new dog they adopted in mind. It was a super fun project.
Have there been projects that you have declined? If yes, why?
If I’m not passionate about it, I don’t take it on. If a client is not passionate, I don’t feel compelled. I love my job; I don’t love the drama at times. Some people get high on drama or have unreal expectations. I can’t do that.
You also have a ‘green design’ concept. How important is it these days to ‘go green’ and to be environmentally friendly?
That’s all I do. If the client isn’t into helping the earth, I can’t work with them. There are always ways to do earth friendly and animal friendly interiors. I won’t do it any other way. It is what it is. Most of my clients don’t even know they are so green.
I love the Toto concept – smart, water-saving toilets, faucets and showers. We all need to think more practically about being water-wise! How did that come about?
I grew up respecting the earth, and I love Toto. They were promoting electric cars too, before the word Tesla was developed! They even give incentives to their employees. It’s crazy amazing how green they are; I love that company.
Describe yourself in three words.
Passionate. Determined. Loyal.
You travel for business, and hopefully pleasure too. Which have been your favorite places to travel to that have left a lasting impression?
Italy, always. Just my go-to to see the craftsmanship in the linens, the walls, the glass, the food, the clothes, the art.
What do you do for fun?
Sleep! OMG! Give me more! I also love to ski, hang with my dog, and save lots of dogs. Hence my foundation www.aceofheartsdogs.com
You have an affinity for rescue dogs and have a four-legged child sharing your home with you. Tell us about your furry child.
I’m in LOVE with my Hank. He’s my best, my everything. He is 190 pounds and was born deformed, so I push him on a cart. Yep, never problems only solutions. I also feed all the squirrels and they have houses in my yard. It’s a bit crazy, but I love all creatures.
Are they the inspiration behind you pet-friendly design?
Always. I like to educate on animals being in the beautiful design. Yep! Dogs on the sofa!
If you hadn’t become an interior designer, what would you have become?
A singer or an art dealer.
Any exciting plans on the horizon?
I’m developing a limited-edition line of wallpaper, for known and up-and-coming artists. I’m tired of the same geometric wall paper. I also want everyone at any budget to afford art. Art feeds space, soul and heart. I’m also designing the tallest building in Baltimore, creating a fun living space for 394 units. It’s been new for me to do a big commercial project. Definitely challenging, but so much fun.