Keita, in New York
We are living in a time when an entire generation of African American women are moving forward in ways their mothers were never able to do and less conventional careers, like interior design, are gaining in popularity. While interior design magazines like Elle Decor and House Beautiful are making positive strides, there’s still a lack of balance in their diversity and they often fail to accurately address this growing demographic.
As one of New York City’s most promising interior designers KEITA TURNER is aware of this ongoing dichotomy, but her belief that one should just “keep at it” has moved her closer to her goal of becoming a well-respected interior designer. Since starting KT Design Solutions, LLC in 2000, Keita has concentrated heavily on her client projects, building her portfolio, honing her design skills and most importantly, establishing credibility through hard work. Keita admits that she could have focused more on “creating buzz” through aggressive self-promotion early on, but it was more important that she establish a solid business model first and she has done so in a productive way.
Since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, Keita, a former fashion designer, has worked on film production, residential design and high profile commercial projects like John Legend’s Home School Records headquarters. Keita’s interior design work is now included in the prestigious Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and her designs have been featured in Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Garden, Essence and Heart & Soul. Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of getting to know Keita, and she is not only smart and talented, but self-assured, warm and engaging. My interview proved enlightening, informative and includes images that inspire Keita in her daily work and design projects. I know that you will enjoy getting to know the fabulous Keita.
Do you have a signature style?
My designs are characterized by an eclectic and visually stimulating mix of earthy subtle tones and deliciously vibrant accents, from divergent rough-hewn organic surfaces to glamorously translucent finishes, and high-quality contemporary furnishings and fabrics combined with antiques and architectural pieces. I have a predilection for 1930s and 1940s French and mid-century modern furnishings, soothing palettes, classic modern design, simplistic and flexible elegance. I’m drawn to classically chic interiors that exemplify order, comfort, restraint, or drama. I like interiors that employ a harmonious blend of interesting textures and shapes. I prefer design styles that appeal to all of the senses and keep me discovering. I tend to love using floor-to-ceiling draperies to draw the eye up and create more height and drama in a space. I also love using classic vintage lamps from the 1930s and 1970s whenever possible. I liken table lamps to jewelry or high-end accessories. I believe they add intrigue, pop, class, and sparkle to a space. They help to finish an interior. I also tend to mix textures quite often. Most of my spaces include a mixture of translucent or mirrored surfaces; velvet, mohair, chenille, silk, wool or leather upholstery; bronze, antique brass, pewter, antique nickel, or chrome metal finishes; porcelain china, gilded gold or silver leaf surfaces; and rich, warm wood finishes and rough-hewn textures. I love an eclectic mix of textures that entice the senses. I believe my designs reflect my young spirited nature. They illustrate my ability to be flexible, adaptable, and tolerant of different styles. My designs have challenged me to learn the art of marriage –the marriage of blending divergent elements.
Who are your style icons?
Some of my favorite interior designers are Andree Putman, Christian Liaigre, Vicente Wolf, Thad Hayes, Victoria Hagan, Holly Hunt, and Jamie Drake. They each have influenced me because of their distinct and unwavering design styles. Andree Putman and Christian Liaigre are just genius. I love Jamie Drake’s bold and sometimes unconventional use of color. I share Thad Hayes love for 1940s French furniture. I believe Vicente Wolf and Victoria Hagan design some of the most beautiful, unpretentious and livable spaces. I love Holly Hunt’s furniture line. They do an excellent job of mixing the old world look and architectural details with functionally modern classic pieces. My fashion designer icons are Geoffrey Beene, Claude Montana, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, Alberta Ferretti, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Alexander McQueen, and Karl Lagerfeld.
Speaking of fashion, what is something you wish you could wear, but can’t?
I wish I could wear stacks of bangles on my wrist. I love the way they can pull an outfit together. Some bangles are so decorative and well-designed. However, because my wrists are tiny, bangles will not stay on my arms and hands. They just fall off.
What inspires your creativity?
Nature and all things natural/organic inspire my creativity and work a great deal. Inanimate objects, such as a make-up brush, packing paper with interesting textures, and semi-precious stones can spark creativity. I can find inspiration from architectural structures, graffiti, painted roadways, doors around the world, ironwork, or a landscaped garden. I can find inspiration from a client’s fine art, paintings, antique rugs or lifestyle. Generally, if I’m paying attention to life around me, I can draw inspiration from anything. I believe frequent visits to my favorite museums (The Met, MoMa, Cooper-Hewitt, Studio Museum of Harlem and The Whitney), extensive travel to foreign countries and different US cities, studying works of great master interior designers, and keeping current with trade journals all inspire my creativity and help me to continue to grow and evolve as a designer.
What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?
The most challenging aspect of starting my own business was and continues to be developing campaigns for my company to target affluent demographics in a very competitive and saturated market, and implementing competitive pricing for my products and services. I find it challenging to educate and encourage some clients to value the importance of good design and value-added product. Some clients do not understand the value that good design has on their life or business until the design process is over and the project is complete. It’s challenging, but I have a pretty good track record of converting clients and turning them into believers. It can also be challenging to make some clients understand that there is a “design process” and method to achieving good design. I took a major leap of faith when I decided to launch my design business and go out on my own in such a competitive and daunting city like New York. It requires a lot of faith to let go of the traditional means of earning a steady living by working for a large corporation.
Which philanthropic causes do you support and why?
I support the Alzheimer’s Association because the disease has touched my family. I have supported the Municipal Art Society of New York and Habitat for Humanity also. I like how MAS advocates for thoughtful urban design, planning, and preservation. And I’m a strong believer and champion of what Habitat does in providing affordable and decent housing to disenfranchised people of the world.
Name a song that takes you some place special when you hear it.
Lovely Day by Bill Withers, Higher Than This by Ledisi, A Song For You by Donny Hathaway, and I’m Feeling Good by Nina Simone.
Great choices. I love Donny Hathaway too. OK, now…one word.
Keita, what advice do you have for young women?
I would advise younger women to love and embrace their journey in life because that is how you grow, learn and evolve as a human being, a woman, and citizen of the world.
Describe your idea of perfect happiness.
Giving, experiencing, sharing, showing and receiving plenty of love. Being surrounded by loved ones, family and friends. Living in a well-appointed, well-designed and orderly home. Owning a second home in the country or on the beach with a porch or portico. Having a nice garden, container garden, a colorful meadow, a lake and tennis court on the property. Being able to do what I love in life as a business owner, designer and creative spirit.
Name one place you would like to see before you die.
Asked to write your memoirs, what would the title be?
Don’t Plan For Nothing.
Interviewed July 2010 by Yolanda, editor Zavvi Rodaine.com © Zavvi Rodaine.com 2010. No part of this interview may be used or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the Editor of Zavvi Rodaine.com.
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