19th Century European Paintings

Kelly Wearstler on Her Love Affair with Gold and Art-Filled Interiors

By Stephanie Sporn

Since a 2009 profile in which The New Yorker dubbed her “the presiding grande dame of West Coast interior design,” Kelly Wearstler has become a globetrotting luxury lifestyle guru, with commissions ranging from The Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Anguilla to Gwen Stefani’s Beverly Hills mansion. The LA-based, AD100 designer's signature glamour-meets-eclectic aesthetic is brimming with printed wallpapers, whimsical objets d’art and copious amounts of marble and metallics. Knowing her love of gold, we couldn't wait to show Wearstler a set of spectacular decorative canvasses by William Bouguereau from our upcoming European Art auction (22 May, New York). Commissioned in 1854 for a French family's summer home, the striking and sensuous gold-ground panels each depict one of the four seasons. We asked Wearstler how she would integetrate Bouguereau's Les quatre saisons into a contemporary interior, and she created four collage-like vignettes with pieces from her eponymous brand and works by her favorite contemporary designers. “The layers of patterns and geometric shapes in the design contradict with the delicate lines of the paintings, letting the art become the star,” Wearstler said. Ahead, the designer shares more about decorating with gold and how to elevate a room through art. 

KELLY WEARSTLER IN SAN FRANCISCO’S PROPER HOTEL , FOR WHICH SHE RECENTLY DESIGNED THE INTERIOR. PHOTOGRAPH BY OLIVIA MALONE.

Do you often juxtapose your contemporary interiors with art from past periods?  
Absolutely. My aesthetic is about taking risks, juxtaposing the raw and refined, mixing high and low, vintage and modern. It is important to know history and appreciate all different eras. For me design is storytelling. Allowing contemporary pieces to harmonize with historical reference points creates a distinctive and soulful vibe.

What appeals to you about this set of four gold-ground Bouguereaus? How would you integrate them into a room?
The colors are gorgeous, and I love the gold textured canvas – it offers a decadent backdrop for the figures. I would design a room around these four pieces together, having them serve as the inspiration and focal point. They tell a story.    

Tell me more about the vignettes you created around these Bouguereaus.  
The paintings are fanciful and delicate, yet have strength in scale and repetition. Building a confident living space around the four paintings with strong sculptural shapes and silhouettes, patterns and colors makes the art feel important. Balancing modern and vintage gives soul to the room and reinvents the art, infusing the canvases with a youthful spirit.  

In the vignettes, I have also paired each painting with furniture and designs from contemporary and emerging artists like Katie Stout, Misha Kahn, Lindsey Adelman and Mathieu Lehanneur.  These salon settings are inspired by the season and color story in each painting.  

Balancing modern and vintage gives soul to the room and reinvents the art, infusing the canvases with a youthful spirit.

What do you love about decorating with gold?
I have had a long-standing love affair with metal. It is glamorous and sexy, rich and evocative.  The cool, soulful brilliance of gold is one of the most effective ways I have found to imbue a room with depth, character and luxury. I particularly love to use metals with an aged, patina finish for greater dimension and texture. Metal commingles beautifully with other materials, instantly giving its companion element an elevated richness. 


When it comes to metals, do you believe more is more, or subtle pops are a better approach? 
Both approaches can be exceptional. A little goes a long way, such as inlaid details in wooden cabinetry, the bold frame of a heavy antique mirror or a gilded silk wallcovering. If you commit to more is more, it is important to see it all the way through and be fearless. Gold, silver, copper and bronze are like jewelry for interiors. Whether a starring or supportive role in a room, metal is an impactful and important feature of every design I undertake.   

What types of art or objects do you personally collect?  
I collect rare, out-of-print and vintage books as well as contemporary titles. My library at home has over 2,000 books on every subject in design, from landscape architecture to fashion.  I am also an avid collector of furniture and art. Art brings a room to life with mood, color and inspiration. Art is history, knowledge. Art is necessary.   

Are there any genres or artists in particular that you keep returning to?
I am inspired by and truly love all eras and movements in art history. Bauhaus, Cubism, Memphis, Modernism. I love Constantin Brancusi, Ettore Sottsass and Josef Hoffmann and the way they effortlessly cross from sculpture and art to furniture and architecture. I love the raw, painterly exuberance of Cy Twombly and Mary Weatherford. Both of their works have such remarkable energy and emotion. Sheila Hicks and Louise Nevelson are hugely inspiring for texture and scale; Pedro Friedeberg for his whimsical, fantastical and colorful spirit; Jean Royère for the sexy, sculptural quality of his designs.    

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