Kelly Behun is a New York-based interior designer whose work I’ve been drawn to from the first moment I saw it in Vogue and Desire to Inspire. Although Kelly received a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania she decided to follow her heart and moved into the world of design. I’m always impressed by people who made the choice to follow their passions. Meanwhile Kelly’s fabulous work has been published in many magazines globally, including House Beautiful, House and Garden, Vogue, Elle, Bo Bedre, Elle Decor Italy, New York Magazine, Architectural Digest Germany, Marie Claire Maison. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview as much as I did!
How would you describe your own style?
I am always reluctant to describe my style too specifically as it is always evolving….but others have called it “warm modern.” I am naturally drawn to modern interiors but always with an organic element, as well as something with a bit of “kook,” that is, something a bit off, surreal, or so-wrong-it’s-right.
You attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where you received a Bachelor of Science in Economics. What inspired you to get into design?
The realization that I would be a lousy investment banker. My mind tended to wander in class to more interesting issues, such as how could I redesign this room to make it more conducive to learning? Why is this lighting so unflattering and what would I do to fix it? Those were the early signs……
Looking back at your first project what decorating knowledge do you wish you had back then designing the interiors?
I guess I wish I’d taken more risks back then, not played it quite so safe, but for me that is something that has come with experience and confidence. My risks tend to pay off now, I can only imagine what they would’ve looked like back then. I see some of the fashion risks I took and I shudder.
Is there a designer that has influenced you?
I tend to be more influenced by architects: the elegance of Paul Rudolph’s Sarasota houses, the restraint of John Pawson, the sensualness of Marcio Kogan, the audacity of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.
Some designers believe that the first piece for any room is the rug or a painting that sets up the colors palette. What is your first source of inspiration?
The first source is the client. I love the collaborative process and where the push & pull of it can lead.
Your white rooms are incredible! How do you achieve this?
The funny thing about white is that people get scared of it, but when you have enough white in a room an interesting thing happens optically…not only can it be incredibly calming and soothing, but it tends to suppress the eye’s desire to pick up little imperfections, like a scuff here or a stain there. And that is the paradox of the all-white interior – it is rather forgiving!
How do you achieve a good scale? Scale is a really interesting and difficult topic.
I was fortunate in starting out to work for Ian Schrager’s design team and in doing so got to work on several projects with Philippe Starck who is a master at playing with scale in a space…it is all about balance: knowing when to respect it and when to subvert it.
What do you love to do when you are not designing?
Just hanging out with my 2 boys, and with my husband. The 3 of them are funny and sweet and make me laugh.
Who are your favorite artists?
Michael Heizer, James Turrell, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, Francis Alys, Tauba Auerbach, Marlo Pascual, Elad Lassry. I could go on…..
Your favorite books?
All-time favorite: The Great Gatsby.
You have 2 children and a successful interior design business. How do you balance work and family life?
I think most working moms would agree, the balance is not always easy to achieve but somehow things always fall into place. My kids are my priority but working makes me happy and my children know that. And when I’m happy I’m a better mom.
What does success mean to you?
For me a successful interior is one that captures the essence of the client, and that beautifully expresses the original intention of the room, whether it be to restore, transform, calm, excite, inspire. Professional success means happy clients, and actually becoming friends with my clients after the project ends – that was something I never expected when I got into this business but it has come to mean a lot to me.
My signature Design Elements question – what are the most important design elements?
Good lighting, and knowing when to stop! I don’t like a space that has been over-designed…i prefer a bit of “negative space” where the eye can pause and rest. I’ve found it to be a powerful tool to achieving a beautiful environment…..
photos: Kelly Behun Studio