Mixing antiques and modern elements in rooms splashed with color, this designer adds graphic florals and garden favorites to make her eclectic spaces come alive
flower: When did you first get an inkling that decorating would become your career?
KATIE RIDDER: I grew up watching my mother’s decorator, and I remember writing a paper for school when I was 10 years old saying that I wanted to be a decorator. However, I didn’t pursue it until after I spent some time working for magazines and then owning a shop. When I moved to New York I started as an assistant to the architecture critic and the decorating editor at House & Garden during Anna Wintour’s tenure. Eventually I moved on to House Beautiful. At the time everything in House Beautiful had to be available at retail, and I noticed there was so much I was looking for but couldn’t find. That’s what inspired me to open my own home furnishings shop, and soon people started asking me to decorate their houses, too.
At one time I also tinkered with the idea of becoming an architect. While I was at House & Garden, the magazine sent me to follow Peter Pennoyer’s work. Peter advised me against architecture school. He said the hours were horrible and that math was a very big part of it. That was the deciding factor—I’m horrible at math! Funny that we ended up getting married, and we’ve since collaborated on our own houses and beyond.
How would you describe your decorating style?
I naturally gravitate toward color–maybe it comes from growing up in California, where people tend to live with a lot of color. I’m definitely on the casual side and take a very practical approach. I like to mix antiques and modern designs. People always remark that I use a lot of ethnic and exotic touches. I guess that’s true. I was incredibly influenced by a trip Peter and I took to Turkey early on in our marriage, and that Middle Eastern design sensibility still enchants me today.
Of course, the client’s style is what most guides the direction I take. I once was presenting a scheme for a new client, and she pointed out that I had a bird print in every room. Now I do love birds in fabric and wallpaper, but unfortunately that particular client hated birds–so it was back to the drawing board! But no doubt, nature is my biggest design inspiration.
I do see floral motif’s and patterns in so many of your rooms. I think one of my favorite is a lime-green powder room–it looks like the inside of a jewelry box.
There’s sort of an interesting story behind that. The starting point actually came from a cover of a Sotheby’s catalogue. There was a beautiful collection of porcelain flowers up for auction. I bid on them, but didn’t get them. So I found an artist who created some wonderful, painted-tin flowers that we applied to the walls.
What are some other surprising ways that you’ve incorporated floral designs into your rooms?
I’m always using flowers in one way or another. I try to do different things with lampshades–they may seem like a small element in a room, but they’re really important, so I’ll often use a floral fabric for the shades. I like to line the inside of a children’s armoire in a floral wallpaper. And I recently embroidered leaves on some dining room chairs.
When it comes to wallpaper and fabrics, I go for graphic patterns, not literal interpretations. I want designs to look a bit primitive, so I’ll choose stencils and hand-blocked prints.
Your spaces already seem to come alive with color and pattern. Where do fresh flowers fit into the mix?
I’m always bringing things in from the garden. I collect vases from my friend Frances Palmer, and also have these big, blue-green sea bottles. I’ll just fill them with whatever is blooming. I also clip my pansies and put them in small silver cups. Flowers are just real life. Without them, a room can be really sterile. I work hard, and when I get home, they make me feel that I’m taking good care of our house.
Which room in your house calms and relaxes you the most?
Do outdoor spaces count? My favorite room is a porch where I have climbing roses, clematis, herbs, and pots of peas and lettuces. It’s secluded and private, surrounded by evergreen trees and river tree birch, which I love because the bark is so interesting. It’s just a pleasant spot where I really can get away and de-stress. Now if we’re talking inside the house, my favorite is the living room. It’s the one room that’s always clutter-free. With three children, that’s no small thing.
I love that your happy place is outdoors. Do you happen to come from a family of gardeners?
Absolutely. I grew up in Northern California, and my mother was always out in the garden. She was the ultimate do-it-yourselfer—digging in the dirt, laying brick paths, even fixing the sprinkler system.
On Sundays my father would wake us up early and call us out to the garden to help. We’d roll our eyes, but we’d get out there with the wheelbarrow and weed, and we’d do it all together. However, I had zero interest in gardening until I had my own house. Now I do just about everything except the mowing and blowing. I enjoy visiting nurseries and tucking my finds in the back of the car. Variegated plants are my favorite, and I’ll travel far and wide for them. I have a lot of shade and I love the shade and I love the striped effect they add to the garden.
Ok, you’re spearheading decorating projects all over the world, while raising a family. You’ve recently published a book (Katie Ridder Rooms, Vendome Press, 2011) and designed your own line of fabrics and wallpapers. Pray tell, when can tou even find the time to garden?
Well, while we’ve been talking, I’ve been weeding, walking the dog, and deadheading my pansies. I guess I’m a multitasker by nature!
Katie’s Floral Favorites
Isabelle Bosquet Morra of Fleurisa (www.fleurisa.com; 917.815.3351). She comes to our office every week to do flowers, and I always admire her combination of materials. She makes arrangements that look like she just went and picked them from the garden, but they are much more sophisticated than anything I could ever do!
Dahlias—they’re bold, colorful, and happy.
Lily-of-the-valley. Fragrance really pulls me into a room, and there’s nothing better than bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on the bedside table.
My pottery by Frances Palmer (www.francespalmerpottery.com)
I’m a big reader of blogs, and I spend as much time on gardening blogs as I do decorating ones. Margaret Roach’s “A Way to Garden” (www.awaytogarden.com) and Ken Druse’s “Real Dirt” (www.kendruse.typepad.com) are two of my must-reads.
I probably go to New York Botanical Garden at least 10 times a year. The perennial beds always inspire me.
Floral Fabric Source:
I use so many, but I am particularly taken with the hand printed fabrics by the Swedish company Jobs Handtryck. Raoul Textiles, Peter Dunham, and Lisa Fine are other favorites.