“I obsess over the details,” proclaims Kevin Isbell, the LA-based designer whose exuberant interiors nod to tradition while embracing a perky playfulness. Case in point, the recent Kips Bay Decorator Show House Palm Beach, where his lushly layered guest suite made for a maximalist’s dream with details for days. But, you’re as likely to see him turn out classic-leaning interiors flecked with modern-day sheen as you are a coastal moment where rattan rules. To go along with his recent curation of Chairish favorites, we peppered this decorating chameleon with questions about all his favorite things, from paint to pattern to podcasts.
What do you love about shopping on Chairish?
The ease, convenience and breadth of selection. I love finding one-of-a-kind pieces for my clients and Chairish is a great resource for those statement pieces that set my rooms apart.
What do you find yourself hunting for most often on Chairish?
I’m usually focused on those unique pieces that make a room sing. I love to find one-of-a-kind accent chairs and have them reupholstered to work within a scheme and make the space come alive.
What are your three favorite items on Chairish right now?
Gae Aulenti for Knoll “Jumbo” Coffee Table from the 1970s, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings Klismos Chairs, Brass Mid-Century Palm/Banana Tree Floor Lamp
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
The use of color and pattern. Nothing makes a statement like a pattern-filled room.
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
I love the classic Robsjohn-Gibbings Klismos chair. It is truly the chameleon of the design world as it fits literally anywhere you put it. The bold styling and sinuous form looks great wherever you drop them.
Design element that works in almost any space:
I like to paint transition spaces such as vestibules and hallways in bold colors. Passing through a dark vestibule will by default make the adjacent room feel more light and airy in contrast.
Favorite design cheap thrill:
Rice paper lanterns. When used in bulk, you can create a big design statement for not a lot of money. They can also be personalized with ink or watercolors to make them a bit more unique and cohesive to the overall design.
Favorite paint color:
Benjamin Moore’s Constellation blue. It’s my go to ceiling color that works anywhere from Los Angeles to Greenwich.
Favorite type of wallpaper pattern:
ANY and ALL! I love wallpaper in all shapes and sizes, but I’m a sucker for the hand-painted papers that Gracie Studio produces. Custom fit to the room, they’re the ultimate expression of bespoke design.
Favorite color palette:
As a lover of color, this is a hard one to narrow down. I’m currently loving olive and aqua together, but ask again tomorrow and I may have a different answer entirely. Basically, look to mother nature. If the color combo is good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.
Designer from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
I love the “old masters” of design. People like Albert Hadley, Michael Taylor, and Renzo Mongiardino were unapologetic in their vision and design philosophies, yet continue to be an endless source of inspiration for designers today.
Design book you most often turn to for inspiration:
In the 1970’s Architectural Digest did a series of books in what I consider the “Golden Age of AD.” The projects were glamorous and worldly, and over 40 years later they are still a major source of inspiration. Plus, they shot a lot of projects at night. What happened to that?
Design destination every decor lover should visit at least once:
Tokapi Palace in Istanbul is a feast for the eyes. Their spare-no-expense mentality towards design resulted in an opulent, highly embellished interior. Even the cupboard doors were clad in tortoiseshell or Mother of Pearl. The Ottoman Empire sultans were definitely not minimalists.
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
Keep the project momentum because once you lose it, it’s hard to find it again. In other words, strike while the iron is hot.
You moved from NY to LA. What stands out to you about the design differences?
Because Los Angeles is a much younger city than New York, its architectural and design references tend to lean more modern. Toss in the Spanish influences and you have very different cultural touchstones than on the East Coast. In general, there is less formality in the West, as casualness is the prevailing trait from one’s dress to the styling of their home.
Favorite vacation destination:
My husband, Gianantonio, is from Italy, and we are fortunate enough to have a place on Garda Lake where we spend every August recharging, visiting family, and traveling around the country. No matter where you end up in Italy, it’s a feast for the eyes, and the stomach.
Ballard’s “How To Decorate” podcast is a current fave. They get great guests, are engaging hosts, and they make it fun to listen to. Maybe I’m a bit biased as I was a guest on their Podcast and am very proud of the results.
Favorite way to unwind at home:
Dinner at home with a glass of wine. Italian, naturally.
Favorite home scent:
We like to diffuse essential oils around the house in an atomizer as it’s a lot less cloying than a candle. Our current favorite is Blue Eucalyptus
Favorite thank you gift:
It depends on the occasion, but it’s usually a bottle of Italian wine, or flowers sent the day after in the event of a dinner.
Favorite style icon:
Iris Apfel is a huge inspiration. She has always marched to her own drum and at 98 years old she shows no signs of stopping. Her ability to mix pattern, color, and genres in her personal style has been influential for an entire generation.
Favorite bit of life wisdom you’ve learned or received:
When in doubt, change lanes, and keep moving. This seemingly simple advice can be applied to anything that life may want to toss your way.
The decor piece you cherish the most in your home and why:
I have a 1940’s horsehead which is made from rope over a paper mache form which was once used as a carnival prop. It was originally purchased for client very early on in my career and it ended up that the client didn’t like it after installation. Rather than sticking to my contract, I simply refunded the client without question. We’ve done four homes together to date, so it’s a daily reminder of the power of good service.
Local Favorites: Los Angeles, CA
Ysabel, Gracias Madre, and L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele. Each one delicious in their own right, but it’s their outdoor space that makes them stand out for me. I didn’t relocate from the East Coast to NOT be able to eat outside in February if I so choose.
Favorite hotel to recommend to visiting friends:
I love the Nomad Hotel in the heart of downtown. Housed in the1920’s Bank of Italy, it’s a throwback to the early days of modern Los Angeles, complete with a buzzy rooftop pool and café. The hotel houses two restaurants and a has lively lobby scene.
Favorite local culture hub:
The Broad Museum downtown should be on everyone’s list. Their collection is a stunning array of post-war masterpieces housed in a Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed building. Their genius honeycomb-like skin wraps the building, controlling the light and creating a striking street façade. Afterwards grab lunch at Otium, the museums café, and then check out the Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry next door. The perspective from across the street of the two buildings together should not be missed.
Favorite local attraction:
As a newbie Angelino I’m still very enamored with the beach and the fact that you can go virtually any time of the year. You just may have a bit more clothing on at certain times of the year.
Favorite local flea market/vintage hunting ground:
My go to vintage shop is Wertz Brothers in Santa Monica, a two floor warehouse packed to the gills with furniture. I literally outfitted my new home from here when we relocated from New York and had divested nearly all of our belongings prior to the move. As for flea markets, nothing beats the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. It’s great people watching, you can get some sun, and you can find a treasure that you never knew you needed. A win-win.