Designer Crush: Kristen Peña

1. How did you get your start in design?

After a major remodel of my own home and deciding that my kids' fashion company was no longer making me happy every day, I decided to pivot my creative juices in a new direction. I started taking interior design classes, and before I knew it, I had so much client work that I could not finish my homework!

2. Travel is a huge part of your life—how has it influenced your approach to design?

YES. For a gal that grew up in Syracuse and never left the country until I was 20, when I started traveling my mind was blown. I started my travel journeys in Europe, like most, but quickly decided that I like to go places that were not so polished. We plan our family vacations around what type of design inspiration we can take away from the trip. I like to go to places that I can still see and meet the makers of goods. I love the process of how things are made and purchasing them from the source. I meet people all over the world that I continue to work with and import items for clients’ homes. And personally, I only accessorize my own home with what I call "treasure from travel." Just about every accessory, rug, or throw pillow in my house has a story and a memory.  For me, that is home. 

3. You’ve worked in a variety of fields—advertising, children’s clothing design, etc.—what are some lessons you learned in those roles that you apply to your career as a designer?

Client service is the same no matter what the field. I have learned how to be a really good listener and to deliver on what is asked for. Sure, we try to push it all the time, but we also deliver options that really show we hear you. I feel it is easier to sell a great idea when you also give people the comfortable option too. And in the end our clients’ homes should be the best representation of them, not of me. 

4. Describe how the room you created for the San Francisco Decorator Showcase exemplifies your creative process and client-centered approach. 

Showcase for me was a real eye into the design world. I submitted for it with designs that were really realistic and really approachable because that is how I design. Being a newbie into the design world I had no idea how over the top some spaces would be. I give major kudos to those who push it for artistic expression, but for me, I can’t be anything but real and true to myself. If I push a design too far for more wow or showmanship it doesn’t feel right in my gut. I’m a very realistic and approachable person (at least I think), and my designs need to feel the same way. So, getting to the answer, this room was designed for a teenage girl. Being a teenage girl is hard, it’s a time when young girls seek more freedom from the adults in their lives and fiercely explore their identity, their relationships with their peers, and their role in the world at large.  We wanted to create the perfect sanctuary in which she could escape and where her deepest secrets and her beloved childhood teddy bear can live side by side. Mixing black with pale pink represents the push and pull of that time. 

5. What’s your process for getting to know your clients?

This is the most important step in the entire design process. Listen. Listen. Listen. I sit down with the homeowners at the start of the project and ask them a million questions about their lives, their hobbies, families, jobs, hopes and dreams. The more info they are willing to share the better eye into their sensibilities I get. I also am very much a people person in that I think I can read what makes people tick pretty quickly. This is helpful in posing the right questions to them. We also look at a lot of photos together, and I ask for a tour of their favorite items in their current home.

6. Who is your dream celebrity client and why?

Christy Turlington. She seems so real and approachable out and about with her kids. I love all the philanthropic things she is doing for women. And I love New York design. Growing up on the East Coast, I would love to design with some exposed brick. 

7. If you could travel anywhere in the world you haven’t visited yet, where would it be and why? 

We work really hard to be able to travel, and I feel very fortunate for all the places I’ve been. I have not yet been to South Africa nor Australia and so much great design is currently coming out of there. I love the organic, casual, beachy vibe that they are cranking out. It’s so perfect for California. I hope to get there soon.

Lightning round! 

8. Sand or snow?

Sand. 

9. Netflix or night out?

Netflix. 

10. Sneakers or heels?

Sneakers. 

11. Hike or bike?

Run! 

12. Dancing queen or wallflower?

Dancing queen.