“Kelly Wearstler took the lessons of Modernism – a strict color palette and clean, graphic lines – and applied them to the glamorous, swanky style of old Hollywood, as created by decorators like Dorothy Draper and William Haines. Reworking the interiors of her husband’s fleet of boutique hotels, she helped create a new look that some called the return of Hollywood Regency and others simply dubbed Maximalism.
Following on the heels of minimalism – the grim asceticism of the early 1990s – Ms. Wearstler, along with Jonathan Adler and Miles Redd, brought the florid and the decorative back to interior design. Hers was a look that reached for the historical grand gesture and paired it with the modern one, offering a Louis chair in black patent leather (or a wing chair in white), a painted Rococo mirror set against a turquoise blue wall, a Roman head and a shag rug. It was arch and theatrical, but never quite kitsch.
“It’s cartoon-y, it’s pop-up,” said Marian McEvoy, a contributing editor at Domino magazine, which named Ms. Wearstler a “mega decorator” in 2008. “It is a very smart look, however, and very disciplined. If Jonathan Adler is the mass version of the Hollywood Regency look, then Kelly, with her hotels, reaches the hip design public.”
Ms. Wearstler said: “I just did what I felt. I was just going through thrift stores and finding cool stuff.”
Kelly Wearstler was born in 1967 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Her mother was a decorator and antiques dealer, her father an engineer. She graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, where she studied interior and graphic design. She moved to Los Angeles, she said, “because I thought there might be something to do in the movie business.” Working as a gofer in the art department of “So I Married An Axe Murderer,” she realized she didn’t want to be in the film business after all.
She opened her design business, Kelly Wearstler Interior Design, or Kwid, in 1995, after paying off student loans with money she made posing as a Playboy centerfold a year earlier under the name Kelly Gallagher. “If people ask me, I did it,” she said, “but I don’t talk about it, though I’m not ashamed of it.”
After decorating the house of the real estate developer Brad Korzen, and helping to renovate the interiors of a few of his residential properties, she persuaded him to allow her to redo the Avalon, a late ’40s-era hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., that he had just bought. Her luxurious midcentury-modern interiors there launched her career, as well as her partnership with Mr. Korzen, for whom she has gone on to design boutique hotels and whom she married in 2002. Her retro-theatrical interiors provided a narrative and a history to the boutique hotel scene; in turn, the hotels gave her a very public platform.
In 2006, HarperCollins published Ms. Wearstler’s “Domicilum Decoratus,” a book lacking words and even page numbers, featuring only photographs of her Beverly Hills mansion and Ms. Wearstler, who was clad in a medley of evening gowns.
By 2008, Ms. Wearstler had spent a season as a judge on Bravo’s “Top Design” and introduced lines of boldly patterned rugs, fabrics and wallpaper – as well as a line of decorative objects for Bergdorf Goodman that included brass dice the size of a child’s hand, “books” made from white marble, and thousand-dollar golden eggs”. –NYT