Designer Crush: Kevin IsbellAuthor:Michelle Konstantinovsky
Ohio native Kevin Isbell launched his eponymous interior design firm in 2009, and 11 years later, Kevin Isbell Interiors is thriving with a Los Angeles studio, clients on both coasts, and high praise from some of the industry’s biggest names. After earning degrees in business management and art history from Ohio State University, Isbell moved to San Francisco where he received a degree in interior architecture and design from the Academy of Art. Shortly after, he began working for renowned California designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy and later relocated to New York City to become senior designer for Celeste Cooper. In early 2005, Isbell joined Bilhuber & Associates as design director and four years later, he opened the doors of his own firm, creating client-centered interiors that reflect his passion for travel and his commitment to an elegant aesthetic. Learn more in our Q+A below.
How did you get your start in design?
I was in design school in the Bay Area and was fortunate enough to land an internship with designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, which eventually became a full time position. As a student, and a design aficionado, it was such a thrill to see firsthand how much effort and detail goes into a real life project. Greg Stewart, a partner in the firm, whipped my hand drafting skills into shape and awoke a passion in me that I didn’t know existed. To this day I still hand draw all my plans for presentation. It’s a dying art that makes a huge impression with clients.
Having worked on both coasts, what do you consider distinct about California design vs. New York design?
Without question, I would say it is the quality of light and how differently color reads in Los Angeles. The light in New York City is very grey and distorts the clarity of color. If you want something to pop in NYC you need to amp it up. Whereas in Southern California the ample sunlight does all the heavy lifting when it comes to color. As a designer known for his use of color, the move west has been an invigorating boost to my creativity.
How do you describe your style and what makes it unique?
I take a highly personalized and collaborative approach to each project, immersing my heart and soul. During the design process, I hand sketch each space of the home to creatively connect me to the home and to help bring it to life. While I do rely on technology, utilizing artistry to mold and shape a space is important to me and my design process. As a result, I bring authenticity and meaning to all of my clients’ homes. As any of my client’s will attest, I obsess over the details. Those little things that make a room feel nuanced and complete. As a designer, a space doesn’t feel whole without those thoughtful details such as a vintage tape trim on an upholstered chair, or a contrast welt on seat cushion, all of which adds depth to a space. These little details may not be what you notice walking into a room, but they are definitely the things you remember when you exit. This is what I strive for in all of my work.
Who are your biggest professional role models and why?
Although he had me in tears more time than I’d like to admit, Sean Low, my straight talking business adviser, helped me shape the way I do business today. He built a firm around my strengths, focusing on the areas in which I excel. Life changing. Secondly, I would say the designer Jeffrey Bilhuber, with whom I was Design Director for prior to starting my own business in 2009. If Orlando Diaz-Azcuy taught me the rules of design, Jeffrey taught me how to break them. I’ve never met a more fearless designer.
What’s your process for getting to know your clients?
Aside from the standard questioning of their likes and dislikes, how they use the home etc., I am a pretty good judge of character. But more importantly, I have an eagle eye when it comes to observation and nuance. There are subtle clues into ones personality everywhere if you look hard enough. From their personal styling, to their current home décor, people will often project how they wish to be seen in the world. It’s my job as a designer to interpret that essence and bring it into their home.
Describe one particularly memorable project and what made it so special.
Hands down it would be our new home in Los Angeles. A quintessential 1920’s Spanish Revival bungalow is as California as I could have imagined, and is the perfect backdrop to a new life’s chapter out west. More meaningful however, is the fact that this was the first home that my husband, Gianantonio, and I designed together. When we were dating in New York, he moved into my furnished apartment on Gramercy Park. So with this move we get a fresh start in a new city and the chance to create a home that reflected both of us equally. Well almost equally.
What’s your ideal Sunday from a.m. to p.m.?
My travel schedule for work has been brutal this past year, so when I find myself home on a Sunday I like to decompress and recharge. It is often as thrilling as a morning trip to the farmers market, an afternoon yoga class, and dinner at home with my husband and a Netflix binge. Exciting stuff, I know.
Favorite pizza topping?
Most quotable movie or TV show?
Current celebrity crush?
The Artist’s Way.
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