One of the best parts about our work at Clos-ette is the chance to collaborate with extraordinarily talented designers like Celerie Kemble. Even better? Working with Kemble on her own Manhattan dressing room, which became one of the web’s most buzzed-about interior design images after it appeared in online décor bible Lonny. The room is a perfect example of Kemble’s signature style –classic, with a touch of whimsy, eclecticism and comfort –and evidence of why she’s in demand for residential and commercial projects all over the world. (Current projects include a Palm Beach home for which Clos-ette is designing the dream closet). Somehow, between globe-trotting for work, designing a line of fabrics for Schumacher and raising three young children, Kemble even made time to pen an advice-packed tome called “To Your Taste: Creating Modern Rooms with a Traditional Twist.”
© Douglas Friedman
We caught up with the busy designer to get the story behind her gorgeous dressing room, and the inside scoop on what she stores in its custom-made shelves.
What was the inspiration behind your beautiful closet?
One of my favorite antique stores in NYC, 145 Antiques, buys beautiful ebony cabinets from France. My little apartment in the West Village wasn't large enough to hold one, so when I moved uptown, after almost five years of visiting a huge linen press that somehow always felt like it belonged to me (I mean, I visited it so often that the oils from my hands fondling it start to add patina!) I bought it and reconfigured my bathroom to hold it. I cut the back out to increase the depth to 24" so it could hold hangers, covered the crafty work with pale blue leather, added lucite curtain poles, and begged my favorite cabinet maker, Dog Productions to make me a "new" one to fill the other wall and serve as a vanity, dressing table, general bathroom storage piece. All this happened in a mad rush and thanks to Melanie’s help (I made off with the silent auction purchase of her time at a DIFFA benefit), we pulled it off in about 10 days before a photo-shoot.
How do you live in the space?
When I come home from work, my bathroom/closet seems to be the main terminal of our household while I pack, get dressed to go out, the kids bathe, and my husband showers, etc. Having it integrated into a room instead of being "closeted" in a wall had a surprising effect in the way we live –immodestly, messily, but closely. It sounds odd, but it has taken some pressure off our tiny galley kitchen. Even during parties, my good friends tend to flock into the bathroom-closet zone, and it turns into an intimate cocktail spot. My friends perch on the tub side and toilet, and someone's usually rummaging for lip gloss or a more comfortable pair of shoes. There is something about being in the bathroom or closet that lets girls be girls.
Manhattan dressing room, on which Clos-ette collaborated
What’s your best advice for turning a closet into a chic and stylish room?
I like to see a closet have mirrored doors. Especially in NYC, it expands whatever room it is in and helps with the dressing. Matching hangers are a must – I like the very thin flocked ones in black because they match my cabinet and help me cram lots of clothing in a small space [clos-ette too’s Signature Hangers are a perfect solution]. If you have the space, a beautiful vintage boudoir chair is a great catch-all and place to park a friend if you are dressing and chatting.
How does your eye for interior design inform your fashion choices?
I feel that my fashion choices influence my design more than the other way around. The pallets change faster in the fashion world, and allow more challenging color combinations and juxtapositions. A craving for an exotic material –say, tessellated shell, shagreen, ostrich leg, or even right now, plastics –looks particularly appetizing in a bangle or clutch, and from there a coffee table, mirror surround, or side table is born. Also, I tell my clients, maybe five times a day, if it doesn't fit or isn't comfortable, it doesn't deserve a place on your floor. It is harder to keep this in mind in a sample sale feeding frenzy, but it is still a principal to be guided by at the cash register.
What’s your daily work uniform?
Jeans and a dressy blouse with a chunky necklace, and flats (YSL or Toms if it is a work-on-the floor kind of day). Or, a Lela Rose dress –one that might pass into dinner attire with the addition of an evening bag (like Celestina) and some vintage baubles (from House of Lavande), and heels that I’ve stored in my purse (usually a big YSL tote of some kind).
How would you describe your personal style?
example of a Kemble/Clos-ette Collaboration
What are some your favorite investment pieces from over the years?
I always get the most mileage out of light coats. I buy a new one from Lela Rose every year, and it becomes my city armor. Christina Murphy use to laugh that in LA, like a hermit crab, someone's car becomes their shell, but for me in NYC, it is that coat!
How do you keep your closet organized?
No one should look to me for closet organization. I can make them pretty, but closet order is something that must be imposed upon me from the outside, and would go over even better if I was anesthetized.
Is there anything in particular you have a hard time getting rid of?
It is not a question of “anything” –it is more like “tonnage.” I'm very sentimental and remember things visually, so even a dress or a pair of shoes reminds me of a time in my life, travels, or certain friends. If it weren't for some extra storage in my basement, I would be in real trouble. There are a few Tuleh dresses that I bought at a sample sale in the late 90's that made me feel glamorous, young, and like New York was becoming my city. It was a very “Sex in the City” period in my life that comes back to me if I even catch a glimpse of a glass button or peony-color organza sundress.
If you could raid anyone's closet, whose would you raid?
Amanda Brooks'. I could go in in the dark and strike around blindly stuffing things in a garbage bag, and I'd still come out with chic vintage pieces (that almost fit me –like in 10 pounds), crazy, insane mod-sexy shoes, and classic useful pieces. Perhaps I'd even find a long-lost hooded red “Groton Cross Country Running” sweatshirt. (We've been best friends since childhood, and whenever I lose a relic like that, I'm comforted thinking it has gone on to a higher place).