Kathy Kuo is the founder and CEO of Kathy Kuo Home (KKH), an award-winning interior designer, recognized television personality and mother of two. With more than 20 years’ experience, she is one of the preeminent figures in the industry. While she considers the Upper West Side of Manhattan home, she has clients all over the country through both her traditional and e-design businesses. In 2012, she started her retail operation to help both individuals and trade professionals everywhere find a beautifully curated selection of furniture and decor for the midtier and luxury segments. I recently spoke with Kuo to learn how she got her start, what her secret design sauce is as well as how she became a leader in e-commerce.
When did you realize you wanted to become an interior designer?
Growing up, my family moved around a lot due to my father’s work. Because of that, I developed a sense of “home” that went far beyond just any one physical space. “Home” is where you feel peace, love and inspiration. So, from a young age, I definitely had the mindset of “Love Where You Live,” which pretty quickly became our company motto at Kathy Kuo Home.
I studied Industrial Design at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] and it really sparked my love affair with design on a theoretical and technical level. My passion for interiors quickly drove my career path into the world of product design within the home space. After graduation, I worked on the design and manufacturing side and really gained an intimate understanding of how and why a given decor item or furniture piece is created and how it fits into the broader industry as a whole.
I started Kathy Kuo Home after being laid off during the 2008 recession from a product design job at Interlude Home―which is one of our current KKH vendors―that I loved. Before being laid off, I learned a lot about e-commerce strategy. There was an opportunity and certainly a few twists along the way, but it led me to start a company and, ultimately, fill a gap in the luxury home furnishings and premium design services e-commerce markets.
How would you describe your style?
My personal style is classically inspired, luxuriously layered and always elegant. But it’s always evolving, expanding and taking on elements inspired by my life and my travels. I would describe the baseline as classically inspired, with influences from European, Moorish and Asian cultural aesthetics blended in.
What’s your secret design sauce?
At KKH, our “secret sauce” is that we live by the motto “Love Where You Live.” This mantra is at the heart of how my team and I approach every project, regardless of size, scope or style. We want every client to feel truly happy and at peace in their home and that’s trickier to achieve than simply filling a space with beautiful furniture. We listen to how our clients need their homes to function as well as to what they’re drawn to visually. It’s at this intersection of style and substance that good design flourishes and makes a space feel like a home.
What’s the first thing you do when you start working with a new client?
My design services team and I always want to get to know our clients on a personal level and understand the heart of what needs to be achieved with a design project. Before our interior designers even get into the details of budget and measurements, it’s important to understand how the client sees the space serving them. So, we like to ask about their family. Do they have children or pets? Do they entertain? What rooms do they spend the most time in? How do they spend their time? How do they envision memories being made in their new space?
Once you understand how a client lives, what their values are and what brings them peace and happiness, the design details flow easily from there. A home is so personal, and I’m extremely proud of our team’s ability to navigate the nuances and guide a client through the design process to arrive at a design that’s perfect for their lifestyle, aesthetics and budget.
What interior design trends or aesthetics are your favorites?
I am naturally drawn to timeless design elements and beautifully proportioned architectural details. I’m trend-aware but, if I’m being honest, I’m not overly reliant on trends. I always love quality construction and materials and especially objects with meaning. I like incorporating heirlooms, antiques and personal treasures into the design of a space. I’m definitely drawn to the look of classically elegant motifs— elevated neutrals, clean lines and timeless silhouettes—accented with treasured pieces.
What trends or looks are your least favorite?
We all have our own aesthetic that speaks to us, so I hesitate to single out any one style as my least favorite, but I do think it can be a design hindrance to get too wrapped up in trends simply because you’re seeing them over and over on social media or on home renovation shows. Don’t misunderstand me, I love Pinterest, Instagram and the occasional HGTV binge as jumping-off points for inspiration, but I would caution against letting those sources rule over your design choices.
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What’s an area of the home most people overlook regarding design?
It varies by home, but I always remind clients not to forget about those subtle in-between spaces that really can have a big impact on setting the overall tone. I’m talking about spaces like the entryway, the breakfast nook, the little tucked-away sitting areas by window sills and the transitional space between the kitchen and the dining room.
Have you ever had to overcome a design challenge?
Two years ago my team and I designed several rooms in a new-build home in Westport, Connecticut. There were many pieces slated for delivery at different times and, on top of that, we were working under a time crunch based on our client’s move-in date and a scheduled date for a professional photo shoot in the space—and all of this was happening during the pandemic before vaccines were widely available, so every precaution was needed to keep everyone healthy.
Of course, at the moment we thought everything was fully under control and on track, a hurricane hit the area and our delivery drivers were faced with downed trees all over the roads and power was knocked out in the home. Somehow, despite all of those logistical obstacles, the space turned out beautifully and it’s still one of my favorite projects to date.
What’s a project you’ve worked on that you’re incredibly proud of?
In 2021 my team and I worked on a farmhouse in Far Hills, New Jersey, that was in serious need of an upgrade—our client had purchased the home as a weekend getaway and was looking to transform it from a very dated and dark look to something that felt modern and full of light.
Our interior designers worked with the client on everything from choosing the perfect paint color to brighten everything up—Chantilly Lace from Benjamin Moore, which is one of my faves—to selecting elegant light fixtures to cast the right glow in the right places. Of course, an array of modern classic-meets-rustic chic KKH furniture pieces really set the mood for the space to be light and airy in the spring and summer and super-cozy in the colder months.
How do you curate your e-commerce assortment?
I’m fortunate to work with a tight-knit team of incredible merchandisers who help our brand stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the best furniture and decor options on the market. KKH is proud to offer an unparalleled collection of furniture and decor essentials in the distinct style categories of French Country, Coastal Beach, Rustic Lodge, Industrial Loft, Hollywood Regency, Modern Classic, Mid-Century Modern and Global Bazaar. Within these key styles, my buyers and I are constantly combing the market for vendors and pieces we love, all of which meet very high standards for innovative design and top-quality materials and manufacturing.
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