As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Walsh of Kathleen Walsh Interiors.
Kathleen Walsh’s tailored and serene interiors are the right balance of interesting details, luxury, and the perfect imperfection of things that are made by hand.
The New England-raised entrepreneur entered Pratt Institute for fashion but discovered what she really loved was the tactile, three-dimensional qualities of fabric and the transformational qualities of color. Interiors allowed her to combine both with her love of architecture and sculpture. She finished her studies with a BFA in Interior Design and then earned her MBA in Management from Baruch College.
Walsh spent a decade working with some of New York’s leading designers and architects on residential and commercial projects internationally and throughout the greater New York area before establishing her own firm in 2004. She also created, designed, and managed the production of oona bedding, a customizable line of baby and kids’ bed linens she sold to select high-end boutique stores and interior designers.
Her projects include primary and secondary residences in New York City, Brooklyn, Greenwich CT, Westchester and Fairfield Counties, New England, and on Martha’s Vineyard.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Of course. I often find myself telling people that I became an entrepreneur accidentally. In the early 90s, I started my career and was working for interior design firms throughout Manhattan. By the mid-90s, I launched a custom kid’s bed linen business that I ran for 10 years in addition to my full-time job, and by the late 90s, I started working on smaller, then bigger interior design projects, in whatever waking hours I had, solo on the side. It was, looking back on it, a crazy time. Finally, in 2004, a client that I had previously worked with on a side project convinced me to go out 100% on my own. I’ll never know if I would have made the leap without her but am glad I did. The client continues to be a great friend and resource today.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
There have been tipping points each year I’ve been in business. I’m constantly learning and, one of my biggest pieces of advice to anyone starting out, is to never stop learning and asking questions. The biggest tipping point was definitely making the decision to go out on my own.
Since going out on my own, the thing that has made the biggest difference was when I decided to stop apologizing and start asking for my true worth. This changed the trajectory of my career, but, by the way –is something I’m still working on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are two. The first being a business coach, Kim Kuhteubl, that helped me break the cycle that, I believe, many women business owners fall victim to — justifying everything. She helped me first recognize and second work through my inclination to “pre answer” any objections I anticipated receiving.
The second is the first Public Relations professional I ever worked with. In my early career, I needed someone to help me through social anxiety as it was preventing me from networking within the industry. She was integral in helping with introductions and kicking off conversations. Once we got past the first sentence, I could take it from there. After plenty of practicing, I am comfortable on my own, but truly needed that push in the beginning.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I have turned to the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” time and time again. As a mother, small business owner and creative person, I am constantly trying to evaluate where my true talents lie and how my energy best spent, and this book really has helped me work through that.
I’ve found that motivated people typically fall prey to the fact that there is always going to be something that they’d love to dive into and take on but is not necessarily the best thing in the long run. I believe it takes discipline and knowledge to work against such inclinations.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.
While I am not a homebuilder, I work with architects and builders frequently and am helping to design the homes of the future with my clients now. I do think that the pandemic has affected how our homes will look moving forward. People care about their houses now more than ever before, in my opinion, given the importance that has been put on staying home. This sentiment shifts design elements throughout each and every room of the home, but especially the living spaces. An easy example: people are looking for bigger tables for the living room to support family game nights. Seating is a huge priority, too. Everyone needs a place to relax and unwind after a long day of work on homeschooling knowing families are not venturing out as much as they might have pre-pandemic.
Work from home culture has also shifted the importance of the home office. More importance and priority are being put on this room knowing people will be using it more frequently than pre-pandemic. Not only do families need to consider their day jobs but are dedicated entire spaces to homeschooling. I also believe it is important to fine multiple areas within the home for schooling and work. As adults, we’ve grown accustomed to sitting at a desk for hours at a time, but do we really wish that on our kids too? Instead, try to mix up the house and activate forgotten corners with places to get a change of scenery and read that history assignment away from the place that you just did your zoom class. Add places to easily place a laptop near lounge chairs to make it easier to move one’s workspace. The more we use the ideas from co-working spaces, the better and more flexible the home learning environment can become. Flexibility is the key point. We have no idea how long this scenario will last but the lessons we’re learning look like a new idea of home is here to stay.
Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?
In terms of interior design, antiquing and thrift store shopping are great ways to practice sustainability. There are so many reputable resources, one of my favorites being Charish, doing second-hand furniture and interiors really well.
I also advise my clients to invest in pieces when they can. Though it might be tempting to pay less than 100 dollars for a kitchen table or sofa, the item likely won’t last. If you invest in a high quality albeit more expensive piece in the beginning of your design journey, you’ll have it for a lifetime. I’ve had clients hold on to sofas for more than 20 years!
In addition, there are small, easy changes people can make within their existing homes in an effort to conserve energy and water. One very simple solution? Turn off your central air and open the windows! Not only will you be saving energy, but your whole home will feel refreshed. You can also consider investing in a high efficiency washing machine and ensure you are doing full loads each time you do the laundry. Choose energy saving light bulbs and consider replacing existing faucets with ones that are eco-friendly. There are water saving faucets and toilets are pretty much every price point, nearly all brands are offering them.
There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?
Sure! I think that smart homes felt extremely novel and “of-the-moment” about 10 years ago, but honestly most of my clients are overwhelmed by the notion. They want ease, and definitely less wires. Equipment they can actually use and understand is prioritized. I think there is a balance between making your home smart and truly functional. I am all for machines that make our lives, and homes, easier but once they become cumbersome it’s not worth it.
Smart homes are far less complicated than they used to be because there have been plenty of improvements over the years and the process feels far less cumbersome. There is a smart home option fit for almost every price point today. Whether a homeowner is looking for the convenience of being able to ask Google to turn on a lamp or power on the air conditioning from their car, there’s a solution. I believe we should start to draw the line when it beings to feel like the devices are an invasion of privacy. You do not have to subscribe to every option and I truly believe in picking and choosing what is most important to you, and what will ultimately improve your life. If you have a busy family with young children, a refrigerator that tells you when you’re low on milk is genius and practical.
For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?
More and more big companies, like Facebook, Twitter and Zillow, are allowing employees to work from home either permanently or for the foreseeable future. This will undoubtedly have an effect on where families decide to move or build a second home. It might not be necessary to live in as close a proximity to expensive cities outside of hubs like Manhattan, Los Angeles or San Francisco anymore. As people seek solitude and an escape from everyday life, investing in real estate and projects in alternative areas of the country could be promising. The attraction of “the second cities” has been on a growth curve for years and will undoubtedly continue.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I live in New York City and, while the pandemic has been extremely crippling, the way in which the city banned together, especially in March and April, was inspiring. A group of people decided to clap and bang on pots and pans each night to show appreciation for healthcare heroes and it caught on so quickly. Within a matter of days, it felt like every neighborhood across each of the boroughs was participating. It was moving and reminded us that our actions have an impact on our neighbors. I’d love this sense to community to remain and for us to remember that we don’t have to have so many divisions between us. Ultimately, we all want the same things and should be more tolerant and respectful of each other.
How can our readers follow you online?