Designer Discourse: Kelly Hohla

A Q&A Series with Prominent Designer Circle Members

Of all the terms interior designer Kelly Hohla uses to describe her design philosophy, I love ‘unexpected edge’ the most. I think this is what most people want. It’s what makes a room unique and interesting. Hohla delivers on this with rooms that are tailored and stylish, but never boring; they are layered and intriguing, they draw you in. She opened her San Francisco based firm, KELLY HOHLA INTERIORS, in 2011 after starting in the business working for two other renowned Designer Circle members, Paul Wiseman and Jay Jeffers. Her portfolio includes homes across the United States, from the Bay Area to Hawaii to Montana to New York.

Tahoe open Living/Dining/Kitchen space.  Soaring ceilings paired with pocketed doors that push in to open the entire room to the outdoors.  Sheer drapery softens the architecture and frames the view.  There is a mix of custom and vintage furniture including a 13’-0” slab top walnut dining table paired with vintage chairs by Harvey Prober, vintage inspired chairs by Van Akker, and chandelier by Gabrielle Scott.  Art by Nathan Olivera from Berggruen Gallery.  An extra large bronze coffee table by Tuell and Reynolds is the center of the lounge area, with leather wrapped sofa by Jeup, and vintage inspired chairs atop a custom designed rug fabricated by Mark Nelson, custom designed walnut side tables fabricated by Tom Sellars and blue glass lamps from Porta Romana. Architect: Shay Zak, Contractor: Vineyard Construction, Photographer: Mathew Millman

Hohla’s offering for the 2020 SAN FRANCISCO DECORATOR SHOWCASE, ‘Salon d’Etude’ was one of my favourites in the house. It was a dining room for our current times, a place that understands that dining rooms can (and should) be for more than just formal dining.

Hohla answered my questions about the tools, inspiration and principles that propel her in the design field.

Ariane Trimuschat: What was your first introduction to design-what drew your interest in the field as a career?
Kelly Hohla: My first job in interior design was at the Wiseman Group, where I spent the first 4 ½ years of my career. To be honest, it wasn’t a job that had ever occurred to me before. When I interviewed and learned about all of the detail and creativity that goes into great interior design, I knew it was a good path for me. Not a bad place to learn- I am forever grateful to TWG, & adore them to this day.

AT: What are your key influences? Where do you get your inspiration?
KH: I find that I am inspired by fine art, movement, nature, complimentary contrasts, craft, good conversation, history and travel.

Bay Area Peninsula, CA: Entry to the home we continued many of the exterior materials in through this space so that it would have an in door/outdoor feel such as the limestone floors, stone walls, and cedar ceiling.  The double height windows by Brombal frame the view and set off the sculptural plaster stairs.  Double height sheer drapery was brought in to soften the materials and frame the view, and elegant custom stair runner from Mark Nelson draws you into the space. Architect: Richard Beard, Contractor: PCH, Photographer: Paul Dyer

AT: Name three design tools you can’t live without.
KH: My scale, measuring tape, books.

AT: If you could design any property in the world, which would you tackle?
KH: A 2-story library–anywhere.

Jackson Hole great room.  Custom KHI designed digi-camo rug fabricated by Tai Ping.  Coxy extra large sectional by B & B Italia.  Sculptural coffee tables by Juin Ho, and swivel chairs upholstered in a Holland and Sherry wool check fabric mad by Bright group. Architect: Blaze Makoid, Photographer: Paul Dyer

AT: What are the first three things you consider when planning the layout of a house?
KH: Who is living there, how do they live, and what are their key words that define their ideal home.

AT: What design element should one focus on and invest in most?
KH: We often start with light fixtures–as they feel like part of the architecture and help to build the language for the rest of the interiors. Rugs are also very important–and the foundation of each space.

Bay Area Peninsula: The dining area in the great room was built around the idea to have a backdrop with a wall of chinoiserie wallpaper- hand painted by Fromental and custom colored for the space.  Whimsical and light vintage inspired floral glass pendants bring in the client’s personality, as does the antique rug from Tony Kitz.  Dining table is from Dessin Fournier with whitewashed wood top and hammered bronze bases.  Extra large mirror is from Coup de Etat.  Custom embroidered drapery panels add a layer of detail and elegance.  The teal green butler’s pantry peeks through in the background, drawing you forward to explore that and the kitchen and family spaces behind. Architect: Richard Beard, Contractor: PCH, Photographer: Paul Dyer

AT: What have you learned during this pandemic? How has it affected your business?
KH: Communication is key. Getting on the phone, having personal calls and chats with clients and vendors has really been instrumental in keeping connected and moving things forward with positivity. This has been a stressful time for all of us, & tends to make people a little indecisive, or spun about. Reaching out to connect and let clients know that we are here to help, and that they can lean on us with big decisions has been important & relationship building.

AT: Are you seeing any new trends in what your clients are asking for/ prioritizing after the year we’ve had?
KH: Of course, everyone is thinking differently about their work lives- where is there a table or desk space, how comfortable is the chair, and most importantly what is their home-zoom-background going to be when they are in a meeting. Additionally, people are dreaming about entertaining again, so the dining and entertaining spaces are key, as well as the outdoor spaces.

Bay Area Peninsula: Architect: Richard Beard, Contractor: PCH, Photographer: Paul Dyer

AT: What course of study was most relevant to what you do as an interior designer?
KH: Visual Arts- drawing, painting, sculpture. Also, I have a Communications degree, which is heavy in writing- and has been helpful with PR/Social Media.

Bay Area Peninsula: Kitchen with marble slab walls, waterworks fixtures, and an Aqua La Corneu range for a splash of color.  Pendants by Urban Electric, and comfy bar stools by Bright Chair.  A subtle grasscloth was applied to the ceiling to add texture and warmth to the clean white space. Architect: Richard Beard, Contractor: PCH, Photographer: Paul Dyer

AT: What is the most impactful interior design lesson you’ve learned in your career?
KH: There is no “wrong” or “right” in design- just different people, and opinions. If you are in the creative realm- there are going to be people that LOVE what you do, and people who just have a different perspective. The good news is – there are so many designers out there, so there is truly someone for everyone! Don’t force a client relationship, or “look”, or a budget that just isn’t a fit for your company or brand. Put yourself out there for projects and people that you are excited about (and who are excited about you). If it is meant to be, it will be.

Bay Area Peninsula: The Living room side of the great room has a steel bookcase to mimic the window materials, and feature the client’s collection of antique porcelain, and boxes.  The fireplace wall is mad of limestone that runs throughout the house, and the mantle is a Sir Edwin Lutchens inspired design.  Custom designed brass and marble coffee tables anchor the room, and are surrounded by holly hunt chairs, and a pair of Paul Frankel vintage chairs, and antique side tables. Architect: Richard Beard, Contractor: PCH, Photographer: Paul Dyer

AT: What keeps you coming back to the Fall Show each year? What do you most look forward to at the show?
KH: I have been attending for about 20 years now, and it’s been fun to watch things change over time. There are fewer antique galleries in San Francisco now than there used to be, it is really a great opportunity to see amazing and unique pieces with soul from around the globe, under one roof. Even if you can’t personally afford any of the pieces, to be in their presence & appreciate them is a gift, and hear about their stories. So many wonderful contemporary ideas come from inspiration opportunities such as this. Just as many great abstract painters first master more traditional techniques, I think many great designers do the same. Learning about the past is the most informed, and interesting path to the future.

Additionally, I get inspiration from conversation- so I look forward to that aspect of the Show as well. Connecting with individuals who make you think about something in a different way is inspiring to me. I don’t want mirrors around me- I want communication and thought-provoking contradiction. By connecting with other colleagues who I may only see once a year and hearing their experiences and opinions, and also by connecting with the dealers who are so passionate about their pieces- new ideas flow.

Tahoe master bedroom with custom designed bed, rug and ottoman.  Vintage benches add a kick of personality to the serene space.  Vintage inspired wing chairs are placed in the window to take in the views.  Chevron wallpaper by Philip Jeffries adds texture and warmth to the space. Architect: Shay Zak, Contractor: Vineyard Construction, Photographer: Mathew Millman

AT: What are three things you see shaping the future of design?
KH: The pandemic has definitely changed the way that we work, and present to clients. People’s ability & comfortability with Zoom and other online meeting tools has completely changed the way that we are able to work- it is easier to be more available, there are more short quick meetings, and you can work from anywhere. Additionally, I think that the end of the pandemic will bring a good amount of growth and change to the design industry- as people are looking at their homes differently and placing different value on the things in their home than they may have before. People are also evaluating relationships & who they want to spend time with- and where. I hear many people saying that they want to get back to entertaining, and can’t wait to have intimate groups of friends and family back into their homes. Less big parties- more quality time with loved ones.

Renderings have gone from watercolor/or hand drawn (which I love)- to photorealistic quality. There are good and bad elements to this for me. On the one hand, clients are able to see clearly and understand what they are getting, on the other hand- it takes a bit of the artistic quality and whimsy out of a space evolving more organically in the mind of the designer. Over-rendering can be painful when people spend too much time what-if-ing every minute detail. Sometimes the unexpected/unplanned elements are the best part of a fresh design- so we have to leave room for that.

Social Media continues to play a huge part in current design trends- as magazines get thinner as they shift more heavily to their online platforms. Instagram and Pinterest put images and ideas out at rapid rates- clients are participating more in the design process and ideas than they have previously. Again- this has both positives and negatives. Images, ideas and inspiration are at everyone’s fingertips- but it leads to a bit of an indecisiveness at the same time, and can water down the creative process. Designers can use images to be inspired, clients tend to want to duplicate only what they “can see”. At the same time, these are also great tools for designers, architects, and contractors to spread their vision to a wider audience and come in contact with more potential clients than was previously possible. Lots of growth and change the last several years- we are enjoying riding the wave and experiencing new ways of doing things, and watching new young designers emerge out of all of this.

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat

Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director-at-Large, living in London with her family. Follow Ariane on her blog, SOJOURNEST, where she focuses on all things home and travel and on Instagram at @arianetrim