Celebrating a Life in Design: An Interview With Renowned Interior and Textile Designer Kathryn Ireland

With a notable client list that includes A-listers like Steve Martin, Drew Barrymore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and David Mamet, and projects published in Architectural Digest, House & Garden, Elle Decor, House Beautiful and many more, interior and textile designer Kathryn Ireland is known for her signature blend of English country garden and California styles. Ireland, who was born in England and raised in London and Scotland, was an actress, clothing designer and filmmaker before launching her interior design business in the early 1990s, and now splits her time between Santa Monica, California, and her farm in southern France — that is, when she isn’t traveling around the world finding inspiration for her textile collections and home design projects.

Ireland recently visited the Bay Area to publicize her new coffee table book that celebrates her three-decade career, A Life in Design, with book signing events at Emily Joubert Home and Garden shops in San Francisco and Woodside. Read on to learn how she got her start, where she finds her inspiration and what she’s up to next.

Kathryn Ireland, A Life in Design
Photo by Trevor Tondro

How did you get your start in interior design?

It’s really a talent I’ve always had. I’ve been decorating as long as I can remember. I did my bedroom at 7 years old, choosing a vibrant green for the wall color and shocking pink bed pillows.

I had moved around in my 20s so much — that’s how you get good and learn. I had Steve Martin over for dinner, and he fell in love with my house. I found him his new home, and the rest is history!

You did quite a few things before getting into interior design. How have your previous experiences influenced your present vision?

Everything I’ve done has influenced me — travel, keeping my eyes open, experimenting with my own interiors — but like anything, if you have love and passion, you will succeed over time. Your eye gets better and better, and your style evolves.

Kathryn Ireland, Interior Design
Photo by James Merrell

How do you find inspiration for your colorful textile collections?

Travel, really: different cultures, architecture, landscapes and nature.

What motivated you to write your new book, “A Life in Design”?

It’s the culmination of the last 30 years of my work. I’ve done six other books, but nothing that was “the big moment” like this coffee table book. It was time. It’s been so interesting to see how my style has evolved over the years. Purposefully, I didn’t do it in chronological order. And looking through the book, I really don’t think any of the interiors are dated.

Kathy Ireland
Photo by James Merrell

Can you tell us about one or two of your favorite projects featured in the book?

Gosh, these are all my favorite ones. It was hard to pick 20 out of the body of work I’ve done. My own houses, I would have to say: Ojai, Santa Monica and my recently finished house in London.

Tell us about your Create Academy digital design course — what do students learn in the 23-lesson program?

I take the viewer through a series of lessons from the business of design to how I put fabrics and furnishings together, including what to look for at a flea market, and the importance of supporting local artisans, upcycling, repurposing and being imaginative.

Kathryn Ireland, Interior Design
Photo by James Merrell

You also offer retreats — what do they entail?

Yes, we do things like visit my French home and go antiquing in the English countryside. I’ve just returned with a group from Morocco.

Any exciting projects or upcoming launches on the horizon you can share with us?

My new collection of prints and wovens, East Meets West, is inspired by the many places I have been. I’m also finishing off some barns in the Cotswolds in England; a beautiful Harry Lindbergh house in Asheville, North Carolina; and an arts and craft house in Monterey, California. I’m always looking for the next house that needs my touch and is crying out to be restored. I’ve got my eye on an Elizabethan manor in Dorset, England — Thomas Hardy country. Let’s see what happens …

Lotus AbramsLotus Abrams has covered everything from beauty to business to tech in her editorial career, but it might be writing about her native Bay Area that inspires her most. She lives with her husband and two daughters in the San Francisco Peninsula, where they enjoy spending time outdoors at the area’s many open spaces protected and preserved by her favorite local nonprofit, the Peninsula Open Space Trust.