Get inspired to reinvent your gatherings with tips from top designers and influencers in this exciting new series. Explore all these compelling design ideas below, and create collections that speak to your style.
For this edition, we spoke with Kate Sykes, a graphic and textile designer specializing in brand design, product strategy, and visual identity, to get her take on defining and creating your own unique style - even if your current space may not be your forever home.
Q: Many people stick to one overarching style when planning their decor, but you combine multiple styles, textures, and colors. What's the method to your madness?
A: I don't think a person needs to necessarily stick to one particular style or genre - it's just a matter of making it reflect your personality and feeling happy when you walk into your home. My advice is: if it sings to you then buy it. If it's something you love and it catches your attention, then you're always going to love it, regardless of what style it is or isn't. I love mixing colors and patterns and prints; it's always unexpected but it totally works. I like to create color stories, and then stretch and evolve them as I move around the room or apartment.
Q: Your aesthetic feels very "more is more" - do you think there's a limit to the number of pieces you can have in a particular space? If so, how do you know when you've reached that limit?
A: I definitely come from the school of thought that more is more, and the more you layer and the more variety there is, the more artful it's going to look. Of course, if you have a minimalist aesthetic and there are only one or two pieces that are significant to you, then that's going to look just as nice. But for me, more is always better.
Q: Talk to me about your collection of trinkets. Do you think any collection can be incorporated into modern design?
A: It's definitely a tradition within my group of friends and where I grew up to give these little dishes. A lot of my trinkets were gifted to me from family and friends for debutante balls, birthdays, graduations, and such. They're a great way to put things that are meaningful to you on display and make it look pretty. I also love collecting critters - I tend to go for tropical or Japanese critters. They're definitely a focus in every room.
Collections are a great way to create a tradition with your friends or family, and displaying them brings character and personality to your house as well. I recently helped a friend redecorate her apartment by simply rearranging all the things she already had. She had these beautiful trinket jars her mother had given her, but she had them back on a bookshelf where you couldn't see them. So we moved them to the mantle, and it totally brightened up the room and changed the vibe completely.
Q: Many of your decorative pieces have sentimental value. Would you encourage everyone to style with pieces they're connected to emotionally?
A: Absolutely. If you have something that's meaningful or special to you, or significant of a certain event or milestone in your life, having those things on display is going to make you happy when you see them. Start with something meaningful and then build around it.
Q: Some renters are hesitant to customize what they might feel is a temporary space. How would you encourage those people to get past that feeling and make any space their own?
A: I totally understand what it's like to live in a rental and not want to decorate, but putting things on display that are significant to you will make your home feel more complete. Traveling has made it easier for me, because I've collected so many trinkets and art and experiences over the years, and I want to be able to represent that in my home. If you don't want to paint the walls, add color in a different way. Wall art is an easy way to make a difference, and that can even include hanging dishes.
If you're going to be moving around, which most young people are, then you want to have things that will mix and match and work from room to room. I always advise for versatility - if you buy something ask yourself: Can you use it in more than one room? Are the colors going to be cohesive or work in another place? My apartment speaks to that, because everything here has been arranged in other ways in other places I've lived throughout the years.
Q: How much consideration do you give to the size of a particular piece before adding it to your collection? Do you think having a smaller space requires more functional forms?
A: I absolutely do. I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to decorating. When I know I'm looking to fill a particular space, I have those measurements in my phone or on a scrap piece of paper, along with a swatch of fabric to make sure the colors are going to match. But then there are times when I buy things on a whim and just hope for the best - usually everything ends up working out. As far as size and scale, I do tend to pay attention. I specifically requested a floor plan from my landlord before I moved into this apartment, because I wanted to make sure some of these little nooks and crannies would actually hold some of my larger pieces of furniture. Planning can be a pain, but it's definitely worth it.
Q: In that vein, what are some tips you could give for entertaining in smaller spaces?
A: My main thing is making sure whatever food I'm serving is something simple, quick, and easy, and doesn't use up a lot of dishes or pots and pans. That makes clean-up a lot more manageable in a small space. Sometimes I'll set things up in advance just to make sure the space is going to work. If you have a bar cart or something on wheels that you're able to use to go in and out of different rooms, that's always great. Another thing you can do when you have a small space, which I've found is also a great ice breaker, is ask everyone to bring something to share with the group. Even if it's something small, it gets people socializing because everyone's so excited about sharing what they brought with them.
Q: Speaking of sharing, you share some tableware with your mom, and the two of you trade pieces back and forth. Is this a family tradition?
A: Dishes have always been very special in our lives. My mom has a big china collection, but she has a lot more storage space than I do, so we like to trade back and forth and play with different sets. A few years ago, my best friend got married and my mom and I hosted the bridal luncheon at the home where I grew up. We used all these sets of dishes that my mom owned, which was wonderful because it was mixing and matching them in a new way. It was such a small thing that made a huge difference for the atmosphere of the party - the bride and her mother totally took notice, and thought it was so lovely and sweet.
Q: You have a background in design - what are some simple steps a person from a non-design background could take to begin developing their own sense of style?
A: Not long after I got my first job, I was looking around my apartment one day and I just lost it. I was like "This is so not my style!" but I didn't know what my style was at the time. So I went to a local antique mall and took pictures of anything and everything that caught my eye - the things that I loved, the things that spoke to me. Then I came home and looked through those pictures, and started searching for things online to identify what style it was so I could give it a name. Once you figure out what your style is, it's a lot easier to go out and find things that fit that style and story. Whenever my friends say "I don't know what my style is" I encourage them to try this same experiment.
Q: Do you have any other decorating or design advice you'd like to share?
A: Remember to be patient, and make sure you're acquiring things that you actually like. It's not going to happen overnight - you're going to build up to getting your ideal look. Just go with your gut, and don't be afraid to try different things. Don't ever be afraid of color. I know tons of people who tell me that they shy away from color, and then once they see my apartment it makes them no longer afraid. That's something that I preach and live by: never be afraid of color. Color can be a challenge, but it's a fun challenge.