Article Contributed by The Local Vault.
With a background in both art history and interior design, Caroline Kopp honed her skills on both coasts of the US as well as overseas studying at UC Berkeley, Parsons School of Design and Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. Having made Westport her home base, she now uses her eye for international style to bring a sophisticated take on interior design to her clients here at home.
This month as Caroline Kopp shares her favorite Local Vault finds, we chatted with her about the surprising stylistic difference between British and American architectural design, the easiest way to add color to your home and the one item in her home she can’t live without.
TLV: Having studied at UC Berkeley as well as at Parsons, what did you observe to be the biggest difference between East Coast and West Coast style?
CK: Great Question. Of course, stylistic preferences are so individual, you can’t make sweeping generalizations on taste. Having said that, I think the West Coast attitude and lifestyle tend to be more laid back and informal, and that is the look most associated with this country. Whereas in and around New York, there are more clients with an appreciation of a formal look that is more dressy and serious — some might criticize it as uptight. But my perception is that New Yorkers have a greater appreciation for tradition and a love of old-school status signifiers, whereas on the West Coast you see more of a tendency towards a rejection of the old way of doing things. California is also geographically more connected to the Asia and that influences design, while on the East Coast, Europe is a more predominant influence. Again, it is so critical to recognize that every client is different, regardless of which coast they are on.
TLV: Did studying in London impact your design aesthetic?
CK: Yes, I studied Decorative Arts there and the experience certainly influenced my design aesthetic. London is an amazing city architecturally and I do love Georgian and Regency style so much. One of my mentors, Thomas O’Brien, also had a great love for the masculinity of the English style, especially the bolder and stronger forms you find in their furniture and moldings, so I of course love high ceilings and very strong moldings. Unfortunately, here in the States lower ceilings and uninspiring, perfunctory molding are the norm. But as a designer that presents just another challenge to overcome!
TLV: What is the best piece of advice that has impacted your life as a designer?
CK: I was trained by Thomas O’Brien at Aero, in a method that is totally financially transparent and client-focused, which suits my natural tendencies and is definitely the way to go. Being honest and forthright with your clients, it is everything. Having trusting, caring, and long-lasting relationships with clients is the bedrock of a good business. I have worked very briefly in an office where absolutely everything was dishonest — my boss’s hair was literally falling out from the stress. Just have integrity, life is SO MUCH easier.
TLV: Do you have any design rules you follow?
CK: My taste is what I would call “young classic” and my overarching rule is to create rooms that my clients can make their own. Homes should evolve, so I encourage my clients to layer in their own personal artwork and interesting accessories over time, while maintaining a look that is clean, uncluttered, and in very good taste. I love extra empty space, I don’t want to fill every surface and corner. To me, emptiness is part of luxury. I can’t stand a jammed up room and I also want it to feel personal from my client’s point of view. A homeowner should not feel like they can’t add to their own house once the designer is finished, so I make sure that there is some extra space, so that if my clients add something it won’t all of a sudden be way too much stuff. A curated life is a more beautiful one.
TLV: What current trend are you over? What current trend can you not get enough of?
CK: Personally, I was never a grey person so that trend just didn’t grab me. I love the trend back towards a higher level of detail, whether that be with trims or more complex woodwork. It is important to invest in making things unique, special and subtly complex.
TLV: What are 3 favorite sources of inspiration?
CK: Travel is an awesome source of inspiration. I find it very freeing to see things I have not before, it always opens my eyes to ideas I hadn’t ever considered. A great and knowledgeable vendor or craftsperson is also a source of inspiration and I value their suggestions for details or new treatments, etc. My clients are my primary inspiration, as it is so important that I give them what they want and help express themselves, while ensuring that they feel safe and secure throughout the process.
TLV: What tips can you share for adding color to a home?
CK: Plants and flowers are a quick, inexpensive, low commitment way to add color — they just do something great to a room. Pay attention to the colors around you, even in your wardrobe, or when you walk into a store or restaurant, and take notice of the color palette that just makes you feel good — that is the best way to find guidance on what colors you would enjoy seeing in your own space. Another time-tested way of creating a color palette for your home is to start with a carpet, a wallpaper, or a fabric that you just love and then use some of the colors there to spread around the room. It’s a pre-made palette that you can follow that you already know you love.
TLV: What is one item in your home that you can’t live without?
CK: I love my shower — to me, that is such a therapeutic moment in my day. And I can’t live without my phone or computer. And of course my husband and daughter! Décor wise I love mirrors so I can’t live without my mirror collection. I could put one in every room if I had more wall space. I also love big pieces of art. If I could only have furniture OR art and mirrors, I would probably live in a house with a huge amazing bed and then all art and mirrors. But I would also want a great carpet and end table and light! If I have to choose just one object then it’s no contest — my antique shell-pink shagreen box is my most treasured décor item. I have a thing with boxes.
TLV: What are your decorating trend predictions for spring and summer?
CK: Green is a huge trend, which I love, and obviously a natural fit for spring and summer. There are so many greens, each with their own vibe, and I love how refreshing and versatile the palette is. I also love the trend for decorating outdoor rooms complete with carpet, lighting, accessories. I did my own screened porch last summer and it is my favorite space in the house.
TLV: Any advice for amateur designers or someone redoing a room or home on their own?
CK: Follow the classical design method: 1) Determine your functional needs for the space and also pull some images that show the look you are going for. 2) Measure rooms and create a scaled floor plan that addresses your needs while having a good flow. 3) Make a list of all the pieces you now know are needed and assign a budget number to each one so you have an idea of the total. 4) Bring in a few workers to let you know how much your paint job and any cabinetry or structural changes will be and add that to your budget. 5) Gather images, finish samples, fabrics, and relevant information on your furniture. Now look at EVERYTHING together and see if it feels right and captures the style you were going for. Don’t forget to check that the scale is correct for your plan. 6) OK, now you are allowed to buy things! But seriously, plan everything first and then buy. You can thank me later.