House Beautiful Interview With Suzanne Kasler

  • Caroline McDonald

Suzanne Kasler

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about redoing a room?

Suzanne Kasler: Be true to what you love. That’s really the key to creating a space that feels personal. Buy things that you like, and don’t worry about whether or not they match. Matching is overrated.

But how do you know it will all go together?

You don’t. You may have to add or subtract once you get everything into the same room. But somehow, if these are all things you love, they will just naturally come together and complete a certain feeling. And that will express you and your style.

How would you describe your own style?

I think there’s a traditional foundation that comes through in all of my work. However, I’m not stuck in the past. I’m very comfortable with moving forward and using traditional pieces in non-traditional ways. Like most people, I like a lot of different things—Fortuny fabric, Chippendale chairs, Biedermeier furniture, and anything French. I’ve always just mixed it up and developed my own interpretation. If you bring in a few contemporary pieces and put them next to your antiques, it makes the things that are crusty and old look even more special.

Suzanne Kasler

Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere and anywhere. Wherever I go, I’m always looking. I was in a store buying some shirts for my husband and noticed how smart the sisal rug and white slipcovered chairs looked against the dark, more traditional paneling. I have to say I just love to shop. I could spend days going through flea markets and antiques shops and retail stores. And then I get in bed at night and look through all the catalogues.

Where do you start in a room?

I look at the space and try to understand how it’s going to live and flow in the context of the whole house. Then I start with the architecture. I may want to open up a dark corner or realign the doors. Getting the architecture right makes the decorating easier—there’s nothing you have to hide.

When I think of your work, I think fresh and light.

White is my signature. It’s so crisp and clean, and I like the way it lets other colors stand out. When I’m doing a room, I usually keep the walls and floors kind of neutral. There might be a sisal rug that brings in a little pattern, but almost always the color of the walls and floor will be very similar in tone. That creates a strong envelope. Then I look for a light fixture that makes a statement. It could be a chandelier with crystals that catch the sun or an old brass lantern. This is an opportunity to bring in some patina. A hanging light is like a centerpiece and it can be a little more decorative than you might expect.

Suzanne Kasler

What comes next?

I look for a unique piece that’s going to be the thing that draws your eye as soon as you walk in. I think of it as the anchor in the room and it’s usually a major piece, like a bookcase or a console. That may be where you spend more money to get something special. It’s not the sofa. It’s a place where you can put your collections. It can be as simple as a bulletin board or the fireplace mantel. The point is, pick one place and make it the focus of attention. And you can get more accessories in there than you might think. One mistake many people make is that they don’t layer enough.

What do you mean?

They don’t bring in enough accessories to make the room look finished. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like overdecorating. There is still editing involved. But you need enough objects to give people a glimpse of who you are and where you’ve been and what you find interesting. I might put a little doorknob I like, because of its patina, on top of an arrangement of books and boxes. I love boxes. Someone else might have a beautiful stone they picked up when they were out hiking. It’s interesting to add these odd things. You’re gathering a collection of objects in one place, to create interest, and then you don’t have to do so much in the rest of the room.

What else could you include?

I’ll often add some ceramic pieces, or maybe a little architectural sculpture like those carved wooden stair models. Maybe a great lamp. You need something large, medium, and small to balance out your composition. And I love to mix in my Eiffel towers. I’ve been collecting those for years at little souvenir shops whenever I go to Paris. They cost nothing but they look great, especially when you have a group so you can compare and contrast all the details. And I love globes. Actually, I love everything.

What does your own sofa look like?

In my family room, I’ve got a big comfortable sofa slipcovered in beautiful heavy Belgian linen. And an odd collection of chairs. There’s an antique French chair upholstered in Hermes-orange leather, a classic Rose Tarlow saber-leg chair, and a white leather folding chair that I got in Aspen. I love chairs. Each is like a different character in the room. It’s all part of that layering.

How else can you personalize a room?

I will do upholstery with a special touch, like a welt made of grosgrain ribbon. When I’m in Paris, I always go to the ribbon department at Bon Marché and buy dozens of ribbons in the most luscious colors. I’m very inspired by fashion. I love all those dressmaker details. I’ll often incorporate ribbons and bows into my design, but in a very tailored way—as a cord on a chair or a trim on a tableskirt. You may not notice it at first, but it gives the room more depth and character. It’s also a way to bring in a color without overdoing it.

What makes you happy?

My husband and my daughter. Big branches of forsythia. A weekend at the Paris flea market. I love finding beautiful things for my clients. I love to organize space and make a house work better. I know that good design does make a difference in people’s lives.

Suzanne Kasler


This may be the most elegant mudroom I’ve ever seen. What’s the story?

I live in an older Atlanta neighborhood, where houses are very open to the outdoors. People are constantly coming in and out, and I believe an entryway should be practical as well as pretty. These black wooden units are a more elegant version of a locker, and I put three together because multiples are always more interesting. And you should have one for each person in the family! They’re good-looking and let you keep all your outdoor gear in one place, so it automatically organizes you. There are drawers underneath for scarves and hats and the open shelf can act as bench when you take off your boots. I added the big clock so everybody can check the time as they’re running out.

I want that wicker chair.

Isn’t it great? I love the texture, and I think you should always have a chair in an entryway, if you have the space. It humanizes the room and makes it feel more welcoming.

I notice you used multiples again with the bulletin boards.

Again, each person can have his own. One can be dedicated to school events, and the parents can tack up their own invitations. I love the fact that they’re covered in heavy raffia, and the bow at the top is my kind of dressmaker detail.

Suzanne Kasler


What’s different about this living room?

I did a sofa with two shelf units on either side, instead of two end tables. When you have a big coffee table, you really don’t need end tables. And I like the idea of shelves because they’re a little unexpected. These have a casual elegance, with that pretty X detail, and great scale. They anchor the room.

I notice you didn’t fill them all with books.

No, too predictable. I needed them to hold collections—all those interesting things like shells and vases that add personality to the room. Everything is layered and stacked, so no two shelves look alike.

Neither do the woods. You mixed dark and light.

Why not? The dark shelves are a little more traditional and refined, and then the coffee table has that lighter, more rustic wood. It’s a little industrial, but still elegant, with that strong, simple silhouette.

What’s the secret to hanging a group of prints?

Don’t do those dull rows. And add some random piece that doesn’t match all the others. It catches the eye and enhances everything else. Here, I grouped everything around that great mirror, and then added those unexpected sconces. I love mirrors. They add sparkle and open up a space. This one is pretty but not too feminine. It’s like a piece of jewelry pinned to the wall.

Tell me about those two chairs by the fireplace.

The armchair looks like it could be a French antique, but then it’s painted white, which gives it a more contemporary look. The white looks so striking against the dark taupe upholstery. And who could resist that chair with the writing on the fabric? Very French, and so chic.

What’s the tableskirt made out of?

Burlap, with burlap fringe. Great texture, and it can be dressed up or down. I love skirted tables. This is an interior room with no windows, and a skirted table gives you another place to bring in some fabric.

That’s a great idea—that wooden table by the window that can double as a desk.

Those are two narrow tables, put together to make a larger work surface. It reminds me of an architect’s drafting table. It has such good lines, and looks great with the barstools.


What a pretty bedroom. It feels even fresher with that soft shade of pink on the walls.

I love pink! The color reflects on your skin and makes people look more attractive. Of course, this is a subtle pink, and I didn’t overdo it. Everything else in the room is neutral—white bed, white bookcase, white chair—with just a few pink accents to carry on the theme.

I like the two ottomans at the foot of a bed—it seems to finish it off.

They’ve got a great shape, and I love the nailhead trim. They also provide extra seating. I thought of this as a young girl’s room, a place where she could hang out with friends. They can sit on the sofa or the stools or the rug. Actually, it’s two rugs put together. You can usually find a way to make readymade rugs work, even if they’re not the perfect size for the room.

She’s a lucky girl. These furnishings are very sophisticated.

I chose the kind of classic pieces you can keep forever. But even when I’m designing a younger child’s room, I look for furniture that can grow up with the child. You may want to change the bedding or the paint color when they’re older, but you don’t have to buy new furniture unless you want to. This room could work for a woman of any age. Only the pictures on the bulletin board would give it away.

Suzanne Kasler


That’s it. You’ve convinced me. I’m getting rid of everything in my kitchen that isn’t white.

It does look amazingly good, doesn’t it? And then I mixed in some wicker baskets, just to give you that contrast of dark and light. That cabinet is a lesson in display. It’s all about multiples. Even the cabinets are five separate shelf units. They’re usually shown in twos, with a piece in the middle that’s wider and taller. But I just wanted the skinny ones, and I wanted five. Repetition is powerful. It always works. Pick one or two colors, and then stick to them.

It makes the kitchen look very organized.

You can see exactly what you have at a glance. And I found a great lantern and a table that can expand, when you need to. Both pieces have great proportions and continue the theme of dark and light.

Suzanne Kasler


I can actually imagine looking forward to ironing, if I had this laundry room.

There’s no reason why a laundry room can’t be a great space. I stacked all these cabinet components together on the back wall, with great big baskets on the open shelves for easy storage. Then I put two consoles back-to-back in the center of the room to make a worktable. You could do projects in here, wrap presents, pay bills. And look at that great drying rack on the wall. Everything in here is functional, and it looks so light and airy. Even the laundry detergent is attractive, and it smells great!

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.