A Design Lesson: Perfect Proportions ala Kathryn Ireland



SORRY!   I accidently posted this story after I had written a few paragraphs and had no clue I had done so!  Thanks for being understanding.   I’ve added a lot to this story, so if you read parts of it before, give it a second read!!

Interior Designer Kathryn “M” Ireland has put together a few How-To-Decorate short videos which she posts on her web site and instagram.  I was watching them the other day – “How To Decorate With Accessories” – and I was struck by the way she designs. 

Kathryn has a very casual style which has remained constant throughout the years:

One of Kathryn’s first designs from decades ago.

A photo of a house decorated by her from the early 1990s is almost indistinguishable from a house she designed last year.

A brand new Ireland design.

Her classic style is part English Country Manor and part Southern Californian Beach.  She uses antique furniture mixed with fabulously designed upholstered furniture, curtains, rugs, and piles of pillows.

Two of her How-To videos that I watched made me huge impact on me for a reason that I really don’t think much about – but, as a designer and blogger,  should:  Proportion.

The two videos were filmed in her showroom/studio where she has set up a large space like a drawing room, right next to a garage where 2 men create her hand screened fabrics!  I had NO idea her fabrics were made right in her office!!  I assumed they were hand-screened overseas in France or England.  But, no.  There, in her studio space, on an extended table – yards and yards of Belgian linen have cans of paint poured over them – thus creating her fabulous fabrics.

The showroom/studio space is relatively new.   She moved here just a few years ago in order to consolidate all aspects of her work into one place:  showroom, sales, shipping & receiving, sewing soft goods, and manufacturing her fabrics.   The space was also created to double as a destination where she can entertain with both large and small events and it includes a small catering kitchen.  It is also where she can host her very popular Design Camps.

On the showroom side, the ceilings are double height with skylights.  The paneled walls are cream with gray stripes and a large, antique pink rug anchors the space.   She has set it up as a drawing room, complete with a piano (she says every house needs three things, a sewing machine, a piano, and a piles and piles of books.   OK, I am lacking two of  her VIP items!!)

For the first How-To-Design-With-Pillows, she strips her large slipcovered sofa and creates different looks with different throws and pillows.  But what struck me immediately and very viscerally was her innate sense of proportion.  She sizes up a room and what it needs – without any ruler or rule.  It’s all instinct and she never second guesses herself.  It was amazing to watch her in action.

First she takes a cotton throw and folds it so that it just perfectly fits over the back of her slipped covered sofa.  How many times have you fought with a throw and just gave up because you couldn’t get it right?

Katherine gets the proportion of the throw to the sofa just perfectly, the very first time.

Here is Kathryn putting on the throw.  She has folded it perfectly so it fits – just so – and then she tucks it into the seat.  And here is where the proportion comes in, she uses a throw that covers the entire back.   If not, she folds a smaller one just so.   The proportion is perfect. 

In one video, she played around with different pillow combinations.  She said – the large pillows should be on the corners – to anchor the sofa.  Exactly.  Very well put. 

On pillows Kathryn says this: “A 24-inch and then a 21-inch, and then a bolster. It’s all about proportion.”

She also points out that the pillow fill is very important, especially the quality of the feathers.  And you could see how wonderful her pillows were, soft and downy.  On her web site, the covers come with the pillow and the fill is 90/10.   The reasonable price is well worth the cost of the fill.    Kathryn says to be sure to have the zipper on the hidden side.  Look how perfect this arrangement is.  It’s so Kathryn. It’s not about the fabrics, but the size and the fill.   And, NO karate chop!!  Just say no to the chop, she said.

I found this answer from Kathryn in an interview that told me I was on the right trail:

What turns you on in design?


In the How-To video,  she settled on this pillow choice with two large blue pillows, two smaller cream ones and a large pattern pillow in the middle.  In the second video – How-To-Decorate-With-Accessories, she gets the showroom ready for a party – using accessories and flowers.  In this photo, notice the lamps and the oil painting of Kathryn’s grandmother behind the sofa.  Notice how tall the lamps are.  The proportion is perfect.  The painting is the exact correct size, just as the console is.  There is no second guessing with Kathryn.  It’s like she has an antenna in her brain that directs her.   Then, notice the one large painting behind the sofa on the right side.  Again, it’s the perfect scale and the composition is also perfect – contemporary mixed with the English Country Manor look.   She flanks that sofa with two matching consoles with tall twin mirrors and two tall matching lamps.  Just perfect.


From the video, the finished showroom, with the tables decorated for the party.  You can see the back wall with the matching consoles and mirrors and lamps.  To the right is another sofa from her upholstery collection, with its beautiful lines.   I was just struck at how effortless it all was for her.  She took a warehouse full of pillows, accessories and chairs and art – and she pulled it all together.   The size of the paintings and lamps and the mirrors – are perfect.  They are large, but not comical.  They fit the tall ceilings.    The paintings and lamps and mirrors all came from Kathryn’s Santa Monica home which she recently sold. 


And for a party, Kathryn accessorized the main salon this way, with a few different tables and pillows.   The porteries hide the office areas which also doubles as the dining room.

The dining room in the studio set for a dinner party.

Here, in another photograph taken earlier – you can see how it was once decorated.  Again, the proportion of the large bookcase against the wall is perfect.  So is the size of the chandelier.  These two chairs were once in Kathryn’s living room. 

Another view – of how is was with tapestries on the wall.


In the How-To-Make-Handscreened-Fabric video, Kathryn takes us through her showroom filled with her fabrics.  Here she shows us her most popular fabric – ever – Suzani.  It takes 12 screens to print it because there are 12 colors in it. 

Here are the long, extended tables that the fabric lies on.  The screen is on top of it with the color poured onto it.  This reminds me of the story that Hillary Clinton told during the election – of her father working in his factory printing fabrics on long tables with screens!! 

This video of the print process is really worth watching – I’ll link all the videos at the end of this story.

And here are the different screens for all her different fabrics.  It’s amazing that she learned how to do this lost art – and that she makes her fabric right here in Los Angeles!  I always assumed the fabrics were made in Belgium or France, but no, they are made in this very humble factory, with just two men working a screen with paint on it. 


Additionally, there is a small catering kitchen with not one, but TWO red AGAs.  As a spokesman for AGA,  this makes perfect sense. 


The first time I really came to see how wonderfully Kathryn used proportions was during the filming of Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators.  Why did Bravo ever cancel that fabulous show???  This Dallas bedroom was decorated using items that Houston’s Chateau Domingue’s Ruth Gay had driven up to Dallas in a huge truck.  Oh to die for that truck to come to my house!!!  Anyway – Kathryn redid this bedroom using a fabulous oversized antique map that was just the perfect size.  Another item was the bench at the end of the bed – overscaled but perfect for this large room that had been underfurnished.  The pillows on the bed were just perfect.  This was probably my favorite redo that Kathryn did on the Bravo show mainly because of the quality of furnishings brought to Dallas by Gay. 


Here is a house Kathryn did for a client which again shows her perfect sense for proportions.  Two large sofas, one with a textile on its back, flank a large mantel.  Over the mantel, she placed a round shape, which is a right foil to all the large rectangles in the room.  The striped rug is bold enough to accent the white sofas.  I love her lamps flanking the fireplace – with the red shades – large enough to make a statement and become the focal point.   I love this room!  It’s a favorite.

Apparently Kathryn has been making some big changes.  

She moved to her new studio space in 2014, creating out of its 8,000 sq ft., a space for all her work endeavors.  The studio is now listed for sale.   Another change involved her vacation house.

Years ago, Kathryn bought a farmhouse in the south of France.  Some time ago, Kathryn surprisingly bought a ranch in Ojai thinking she would sell her French farmhouse and would consolidate her life in California.   She redid the ranch and published one of her most popular books about the renovation.

But, Kathryn’s three boys objected to the sale of her French farm, so she sold the Ojai ranch to Reese Witherspoon instead.  


Kathryn’s large living room in the Ojai ranch showed off her perfect sense of proportion.   A tall Spanish painting graced the mantel and flanking it were cords of firewood.


Kathryn has spent every summer for almost 25 years at her farmhouse, La Castellane in France.  She has entertained all her friends and family there, including once having Barbra Streisand and Robert DeNiro.    She also hosted a series of successful design/yoga retreats there. 


Last year or so, it was announced in articles and Architectural Digest that her French farm was for sale.  In an interview, Kathryn revealed there was a property in her Scottish hometown that she was very interested in.    But, since then, nothing else was said of the farmhouse sale and the French house appears to be still be hers.  No recent word about her moving to Scotland either.   This summer, she again hosted her yoga/design retreats in France.

And then there is Kathryn’s famous Santa Monica house, where so many photoshoots for magazine articles occurred.  The  house was totally Kathryn, a laboratory which she often changed to show off  her latest fabric collections and professional associations like the one with AGA.  Two years ago, with her three sons now grown – and so handsome! – she sold the Santa Monica house and moved to a soft contemporary house in Venice.  The new house appeared in her latest book and a few magazine articles.  But, apparently, she has already moved on from that new house – it very recently sold.  Lots of changes!   I think all of us go through this when our nests are suddenly empty.  Statistically it is said that second houses last ten years.  Her French farmhouse has alaready lasted over 25.

For old times sakes, here’s a look at her old Santa Monica house, where the real estate photos show tons of rooms rarely seen.  It’s interesting to see how much the decor has changed through the years.  And, then we’ll look at her new house!


The facade of the Santa Monica house has completely changed over the years.  Originally, the 1920s Spanish house had bright blue shutters and a grass filled front yard bordered by a white picket fence.


Later, the shutters were painted a soft French blue.  The grass was removed to make the front yard a gravel filled courtyard.  In the center of the new garden, a tiled fountain with a turquoise urn became the focal point of the front facade.


The front courtyard with the newly installed Spanish fountain.  The ground is gravel, with seating areas made up of Kubu chairs.  Upstairs, the bedroom with a window box with orange flowers and French blue shutters overlooks the courtyard.   Besides installing the new front garden, Kathryn removed the window in the front window that leads to the living room and installed a French door, thereby facilitating the indoor outdoor feel of the house.

Another front view of the new fountain, with a bench piled high with Kathryn’s fabric pillows.  Through the French doors – you can now enter into the living room.

Inside, the front living room has seen several different designs during the years Kathryn lived here.  One of the early looks was two sofas, one striped, with two Matryn Bullard’s Suzani covered chairs.    Today, the oil painting of Kathryn’s grandmother is now in her studio/showroom.  I like this decor of the living room better than the ones that came afterwards.  At this time, the curtains were a classic pinch pleated version.

The living room – a collection of small antique pillows.  This is something that Kathryn rarely does today.  She mostly uses her own fabrics for pillows, and if she uses an antique pillow, it’s made from a more plain textile instead of a needlepoint. 


Later, she removed the second sofa and pushed these chairs over there.  Early on, Kathryn painted the wood floors white.  She noted that this was a good fix for wood floors that need refinishing.  And yes, I’m still grappling with this issue!!! 

Still later, Kathryn posed with a new arrangement.   The contemporary painting is, also, now in the studio.  She added a contemporary rug and new curtain panels on rings replaced the pinch pleated versions.   The two suzani chairs were removed when she added two different chairs wearing her fabrics.


Even later, she added another rug that is now in her new home’s master bedroom.   Originally there were windows here that looked over the front yard.  Later, Kathryn installed French doors that opened up the living room to the courtyard.  Actually, the house had some damage in an earthquake, which might have been the impetus to change the window out. 

The view from the courtyard into the living room through the new French doors. 


This is one vignette that never changed over the years – a gorgeous antique chest and mirror.  Kathryn kept these two pieces here for the duration.   These two pieces are not in her house that I could see.  To the right of this vignette is the Front Door foyer:

The entry with Spanish tiled floors.


Another view – it looks like Kathryn had to replace the floor, probably another casualty of the earthquake.  These white tiles are also in her kitchen.


Across from the front door and the living room is this alcove bordered by archways.  Kathryn’s collection of antique prints was hung without a ruler when she first moved in.  At one point, she added a runner to the stairs.


Another version with a later rug.   The stairs have a kilim rug runner.


Past the living room arch – is the dining room, located in the hall between the family room and kitchen.    Originally, Kathryn decorated this room with rust linen curtains,  French upholstered chairs and a large wood farm table.   The yellow check tablecloth is one of her more popular fabrics.   Through the French doors is the back yard terrace and pool.


Another view of the farm table and French chairs in the dining room back then.   Through the arch is the family room done then in yellow and red and rust fabrics.


The dining room today – with the family room on the left and kitchen on the right.   Against the left wall, two wood consoles and matching mirrors flank the arch.    These two mirrors are now in her studio/salon.    At some point, she took out the farm table and French chairs, using this oval contemporary pedestal table and  wood chairs instead.   She reuses this table and chairs and chandelier in her new contemporary (!) house.

The view back towards the front door foyer, and the living area with the center skirted table, and the stair hall.  
After Kathryn had moved here, she redid the kitchen several years later taking space from both the living and dining rooms.  She created this new dining room, repeating the arches found throughout the house.  I can’t figure out how the space used to look!  It seems as if the dining and living room always looked this way.  


Originally, the family room had a seagrass rug, and yellow and red fabrics.  Her famous patchwork fabric was used for curtains.   Earlier this small window was a French door.  Probably another earthquake casualty?   The fireplace in here was also damaged and Kathryn had to redo it.   I love the way this room was decorated.  It doesn’t seem dated to me at all – perhaps just the colorways are???     Imagine if it was done like this but in blues and greens, it would be great.

The family room today – is the haven for her three boys.   Her classic furnishings were replaced by these more contemporary ones now found in the room.


Another view of the family room.    Can’t say I like this arrangement too much compared to how it was before!   The couch overtakes the room, but obviously it is for the comfort of the boys and their friends.  

When Kathryn bought the house, the kitchen was smaller.   Above is a very rare, early view of the kitchen before the room was enlarged and the AGA was installed.   Kathryn says she no longer likes upper cabinets – she thinks they make spaces look smaller.


The remodeled kitchen – first it had a red AGA and shade.


A second decor.  Kathryn became the spokesman for AGA appliances and she changed out her red Aga for this turquoise one.  In  her studio/showroom, she installed two red AGAs in the catering kitchen.  Along with the new turquoise Aga, she put in a new shade in a turquoise colorway.  Must be nice to have free access to all her fabulous fabrics!  I think I would change out my bedding, curtains, and upholstery every few years!!


Upstairs, Kathryn’s bedroom was a showstopper.  The large canopy was done in a taupe fabric with red lining.  She kept this decor for almost 20 years.  The large lamps were perfectly proportioned to the canopy. 

A view of the canopy and the lamps.  In front was a sofa in an earlier fabric.

Kathryn and her boys in the iconic photo.  Who of us didn’t lust after this bed!?!?!

Along the right wall was a collection of antique oil paintings.  Her bedroom was always the most fabulous room in her house. 

The windows look out to the Juliet balcony. 


The canopy in the bedroom mirror. 

Later, Kathryn redid her entire room in her new fabric collection, Summer In France.  It was an instant hit.  She changed the curtains and the desk, but kept the mirror and sofa – now recovered.  

The bedroom windows.  This canopy bed did not make the move to the new contemporary house, but the sofa and coffee table did.


When Lindsey Lohan saw Kathryn’s bedroom – she asked her to copy it for her own bedroom on the Bravo show.


The guest room in her Santa Monica house was shown in many magazines.  Here was one early view of the decor in her green fabric.

Another view showed the pink chaise.


Later, she used this bed and the painting that came from the Ojai house.  This bed was then moved to the pool house that was once used as her office.  These lamps were later moved to her own bedroom and are now in the new house.

Later, after 20 something years, the room in the real estate brochure looks a little worse for wear compared to the photoshoots. 

Early on – there was no pool.  Once it was installed, the dining room opened to the terrace that looked over the pool.  At the end – was a bench.  Later, Kathryn would add a permanent Spanish inspired concrete bench.

The dining terrace today with the view toward the pool.   Notice the same fabric in the pink bedroom is here in green on the table.


The pool with the new permanent bench.  The poolhouse is at the right, along with the fireplace.


Here the cushions are the early yellow, not blue.


Looking back to the house.


The view towards the fireplace.


The fireplace and BBQ area has a gravel floor.


The guest house was decorated to celebrate Kathryn’s then new collection – the hugely popular Mexico Meets Morocco.  Again, the lamps and the canopy bed – perfect proportions.

Another view of the guest house.

Kathryn with her new collection for Scalamandre out on the concrete bench.

The Santa Monica house was sold, and judging by their comments on Instagram – her boys were going to miss the good times they all obviously had around the house and pool.  Kathryn’s new house was at first a surprise, but it makes perfect sense for a single woman, living alone.  Additionally, the change from an old, charming house to a new contemporary one was also a surprise but judging from someone who has been yearning for the same thing – I can understand the appeal.

And – the real surprise was that the new house that Kathryn bought and showed in her new book “Kathryn At Home” popped up for sale on the real estate blogs, and it quickly sold.  Now, it will be REALLY interesting to see where she moved to. 

Located in Venice, the house is painted white, with a turquoise front door.

The front door opens to a long hall with a staircase on the left.    The view leads all the way to the back garden.   The floors are light wood, the walls are stark white.

Scatter rugs lead the way down the long hall.   A guest room is at the right, along with the library.  At the left is small courtyard.

The library.  Two contemporary leather chairs sit across from Kathryn’s piano.  Long sheer curtains grace all the windows. 

A collection of photos line the walls. Books are in the cubbies.


The chairs are quite chic.   The courtyard garden lets in the sunlight.

The living area is one big room – with the kitchen and dining area all in the same space.  The doors open to the large garden.

The room is blue and white – with a new sofa.  The coffee table made the move, as did the striped chair.   The other chair is in her suzani print, blue colorway.  The blue and white is quite the surprise, but I love it!!  The curtains – hung from right below the ceiling are again, in perfect proportion to the walls.  The breezy striped, sheers create a feeling of movement and are a perfect choice, especially if the doors are kept open.

The dining table is contemporary, while the chairs made the move, as did the sconces.   The chandelier also made the move from her old house.

The kitchen with two pendants and an assortment of bar stools.   I love the lights over the shelves.   Surprise  - no AGA!

The textile is over the sofa back as usual.   Hanging on the walls is a collection of modern art.

For a photoshoot – a blue and white tablecloth.


I love all the blue denim and stripes.  I had no idea she liked blue and white. 


Another view of the kitchen and living area.


Kathryn posed in her new back yard which she created with gravel and plants.  The focal point is the large tree from which she hung rattan globes that light up.


At night, the back yard looks particularly beautiful all lit up.


A word about gravel.   When you lay the gravel, be sure it’s not thick – just deep enough to cover the dirt, otherwise you will sink into it when you walk.


For Traditional Home Kathryn showed off her new back yard.  So curious as to why she’s moved so soon?


A view of the tree with the lit rattan globes.

These days, no yard is complete with a fire pit.

Ready to go upstairs?

When you go back towards the front door and stairs, the guest room is at the left.


The guest room all done up in the Kathryn fabrics overlooks a private garden.


The bathroom with tiny turquoise tiles.

The front door lets in the light through the sheer shades. 

Contemporary wire banister.

A contemporary chandelier hangs over the tall, two story foyer.


The black bed made the move from the old house – but with all new fabrics in red and white from her collection for Scalamandre. 


The chaise is in the turquoise Greta fabric.  The balcony overlooks the front yard.


The view off the front balcony.


The bathroom with gray tiles and green glass tiles.


The next room is in red, white, and blue.

Upstairs laundry.

Down the long hall, like on the first floor, sheer curtains line the windows.   Drawings of her boys are on the right.


The master bedroom is done in Kathryn’s newest collection – The British Isles.  It’s quite a difference from her former bedroom, but it suits the style of the house.


A photoshoot produced this fabulous photo.  The colors look so different here.  She added the rug that was once in the Santa Monica living room.  I love the Scottish plaid textile from her new collection.   And again, the proportions prove perfect in the bedroom.  The tall curtains, the tall headboard – full and properly over-padded, the long sofa that fits exactly, the two chairs and round coffee table – this could not be any more perfect. 

Another textile on the bed. 

The master bathroom.


The balcony over the back garden.

Beautiful Kathryn in her new bed – with its perfectly proportioned headboard.  And trust me – getting proportions perfect is not easy.  It’s hard.  And it takes experience.  Watching her work in the videos showed me that Kathryn really has an ‘eye’ for it and it almost seems natural.  One of her many talents, for sure!

I hope you have enjoyed this look at proportions and Kathryn Ireland.

To see her How-To videos, go HERE.

To order her books just click on the cover you want:

My favorite Kathryn book – about the Ojai house:

Listen the Skirted Roundtable Interview with Kathryn Ireland HERE. 

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? 


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