Q & A with Chris Kittrell, Kittrell and Associates – Interior Designer and Instructor


by Lana Johnson

Q: Share your inspiration for interior design.

A: I’m inspired by the styles that my clients want. I start with their preferences and their styles are as unique as they are. We have a project right now in Crystal Cove that is total Hollywood Glam. The client described it as Coco de Chanel meets Marilyn Monroe. She called it sassy French – I would call it French Baroque. It has French curves, over scaled items, mirrored furniture, black accents. We’re doing tufted chairs with faux diamond studs. We’re using some of the more popular colors that are coming out right now, such as passion pink or raspberry, and deep teal (cyan). I just read a color trend analysis … the color and trends we’re seeing in fashion will hit interior fashion about six months later. So what we’re seeing in fashion now we can look forward to in interior design six months from now. The deep bright colors are in.


Q: Any other recent projects?

A: I’ve done two island projects. One on Balboa and one on Lido. The Balboa project was a complete tear down and rebuild. That home was featured on the Balboa Christmas Home Tour this past December. The people purchased it for the purpose of tearing it down and starting from scratch. It’s about 2,700 square feet with three levels and an elevator. We did it in a very authentic Cape Cod style. I do a lot of research to make my designs as authentic as possible. So, I brought in light fixtures from Orleans, Massachusetts. They were hand-crafted on the Cape and I had them shipped here. Then from Hanover, Pennsylvania I brought in some exterior light fixtures. We did painted furniture, planked flooring, a lot of textures such as rag rugs, sisal, Carrera marble and rush seats on the chairs. Buttercup yellow, red and blue was the color palette. We made it beauty but not nautical. I designed a rooftop kitchen – a complete outdoor kitchen on the third level. The project took a year to complete. This Cape Cod-style home was meant to be a heavy entertaining home. so we squeezed seating for 45 people in there and it doesn’t look crowded. Loggia seating out in front, inside courtyard seating, we have bar stool and dining room seating, ottomans in the living room and then upstairs we have chairs as well as outdoor seating in the rooftop kitchen – a variety of vignette seating where people can gather. We put 10 TVs in and used a home automation system called Control4, whereby you can create lighting scenes … from dim for entertaining to bright for cooking in the kitchen, and for reading and relaxing, somewhere in between.


I recently restored another vintage home on Balboa. We didn’t make any changes to the inside. For the purposes of rental, we completely upgraded all of the interior … again with a very, beachy cottage feel.



The Lido project we did was an interesting one. It was also torn down for the most part and rebuilt. The husband’s parents had owned the home and he inherited it, so they invested in remodeling the entire house. They liked beach casual, which I would describe as transitional, with smooth, clean lines. We used a lot of glass mosaics, glass pendants, glass sconces and we used Caeserstone that imitated sand. We wanted to bring the beach in. There’s a big trend in bringing the outside inside in California. We did home automation in terms of mechanizing the shades, so when they come home into the garage they were able to press a button and the solar shades would move up and down. It allowed them to look inside the house from the patio. They have privacy, UV protection … all at a touch of a button. The trick that’s critical with these beach homes is space planning, which is one of my fortes. I like to get in from the grassroots, right when they construction begins. I’m analyzing the blueprints, making sure they have proper bed walls, and that the house works the way the client wants it to from a circulation standpoint.


I’m also working on a 9,000-square-foot home in Villa Park.


Q: How do you integrate the interior with the exterior?

A: I lend my design services to both the inside and out. I bring in landscapers and convey to them the whole concept of the house and the feel I want. Then, they take over to integrate the outdoor spaces with the indoor ones.


Q: What design trends are you seeing right now?

A: It’s good to know that Spanish is still alive and well. What I’m seeing is a new twist – Spanish Colonial. I have one client who’s doing Spanish Colonial or Revival. We do a lot of research on early Santa Barbara. Etched stone with Spanish-inspired designs. I asked my client how authentic he wanted me to be. So, to quote him, he said, “I want to really be there.” He’s traveled to Mexico and Spain and really wants to be surrounded by the early origins of Spanish design. So the look is very authentic and rustic. This project is in Huntington Beach, the home is about 5,000 square feet, and it’s inspired by his collection of plain air paintings.


Q; Any other trends?

A: Green design is popular. A lot of my vendors offer fabrics that are recycled, many made from recycled plastic. Some have bamboo in them, which is eco-friendly, because bamboo is so quickly regrown. Kravet uses recycled steel in their sofas and also recycled plastic is some of their fabrics. Lee Industries has a lot of earth-friendly materials they use in chairs, sofas and pillows. They have some soy-based fills instead of petroleum-based as well as recycled fibers, with the core wrapped in corn-based fibers. So, now that vendors are offering more green products it makes it easy for designers to use them. There’s also recycled glass and porcelain, Vetrazzo (recycled glass from beer or wine bottles) that’s used in concrete and on countertops – it’s beautiful! Bamboo and cork flooring are big, too. I’m still doing a lot of engineered plank floor. There’s a lot of companies that are purchasing lumber from re-plenishable forests. I’m also seeing a lot of luxury in bathrooms. People want to get unplugged from their day to day rigors. There’s a thing called Vendana that’s a panel that incorporates an iPod player (you can put it in the shower). It incorporates light therapy. I really utilize my resources to help me find the latest leading-edge products. I’m also an Allied member of ASID, so I learn so much at the monthly meetings. I have so many good sources which really is a plus for my business, which allows me to offer more product to clients. For bathtubs, people are still doing jets, but more often circulation air bubbles, which are not so forceful. They also have chromatherapy light packages to go along with them. There are theories that the blue and green lights really are a positive approach to wellness. I’m seeing a lot of TVs in bathrooms. I installed one behind a mirror in the Balboa house bath. Home theater is huge. I’m doing a lot of flat screens and they’re so thin now (about an inch wide.) Incorporating beverage centers as well as warming drawers (there are several brands where you can actually warm towels) are both great in bathrooms, as well as in outdoor kitchens, when you come out after you come out of the pool or spa. Heated floors are popular too in baths, which I did in the Lido house. You actually can save energy by just heating the floor and not the entire room, but you can incorporate radiant heat in any room.


Q: What about in the kitchen?

A: Double islands – there’s a food prep island where you have a sink, garbage disposal and your chopping block. Then a separate entertaining island with a circulation area in between the two. I’ve done several of these. People like to be close to the people they’re entertaining. Under counter refrigerators are popular, as are refrigerator drawers that can double to hold produce or beverages, and wine coolers, too. Microwaves have come a long way. They can be a microwave, convection oven or a speed cook (which cooks even faster than a microwave.) Most of the new digital ranges are programmable – they come pre-programmed with menus, cooking times and you can even program in your favorite recipes, then just push a button and it will do the work for you. Drawer microwaves are great in islands. Lots of families like two microwaves, and they open and close at the push of a button. There’s a big trend toward technology and its influence on the kitchen.


Q: What’s kid and dog friendly in terms of flooring?

A: In the Lido home, I did a light ash that was sand colored. It had a light wash on it, so it’s not going to show any sand or scratches. There’s a lot of lime-washed oak coming in now. Most of the engineered floors have an aluminum oxide finish on them and it’s put on at the factory and really helps with durability. Hand-distressed wood will show imperfections less, so it’s a great choice.


Q: What about outdoor kitchens?

A: I’m doing one in Coto … same as with the Balboa house. Usually a 36-inch barbecue with side burners and a warming drawer are want clients want. Outdoor sinks, a garbage disposal, refrigerator and beverage centers. I’m doing a spa down there, too. Fire pits and fire rings are big now. People really want to enjoy their lifestyles right now. Once they get home they want to cocoon and enjoy a lot of luxury. They really want their surroundings to be enjoyable.


Q; Where do you find your furnishings? Any favorite finds?

A: I use the Laguna Design Center in Laguna Niguel. They’re going to open up a resource center to the public there. Some of the stores are open to the public, but others are open to the trade only. Qualified designers will be able to register there, display their portfolios and match up with potential clients who might be interested. I also go to the Stonemill Design Center (Bristol and Red Hill in Costa Mesa) where they have great resources. Another resource I use is Vision Art, where I can hide a TV behind artwork. Visit www.visionartgalleries.com. I also do a lot of online research and have a lot of lines of furniture that I deal directly with reps on, so I can offer good prices to my clients.


Q: How would you describe the surroundings in your own home?

A: It’s piled high with blueprints! Among my favorites is a wooden drafting board that serves me well. It’s beautiful. It has an X supporting element at the end. I positioned it to have a view of the canyon while I draft. (Chris resides in Turtle Rock in Irvine where she takes advantage of the canyon views.) I like my flat screen TV and custom bedding and draperies. I like traditional furniture in my home, but I also own a desert condo that’s about 1,300 square feet and I did it with a very contemporary feel. It’s located in Rancho Mirage and won “Home of the Year for Under 3,500 Square Feet” in Orange Coast magazine in 2009, as judged by the magazine and ASID, as well as featured on a desert home tour. In fact, second homes, such as those in the desert as well as vacation homes an beach rentals, are a big secondary market for me. Having my own second home has really helped me understand what other people are looking for. If clients rent them out in the high seasons, I choose all durable materials, such as ultrasuedes, porcelains, granites or Caeserstone – things that hold up well to seasonal tenants. I even put tempered glass on end tables so you don’t get the rings. And I try to avoid sharp corners so youngsters who might bump into the furniture don’t get injured.


Q: When you meet with a client, take us through the process.

A: I think what differentiates me from other designers is the business approach I take. I have a 20-year background in the corporate world with a masters in business and I’m a certified interior designer, so I take my profession very seriously. I think people want more transparency in terms of clarity and design fees, and I offer that. Fair pricing is important to me as well as value. My clients are busy professionals and busy parents who want to rely and understand the expertise and value that a designer can bring to their life. Most of my clients want things done for them because they don’t have the time. They want to be guided through the process. The golden rule is have as many resources and work as efficiently as possible. I really try to make the process easy for my clients and fun. I would say 60% of my clients keep coming back. I offer a one-hour complimentary interview to show my portfolio and discuss the scope of services. I try to identify a style and provide an estimate of the hours it will take to get the job done. With most of my clients we have some starting point … something that inspires them or they’ll have their dream file (pulling out examples they’ve cut out and saved of objects and colors they love.) I usually take a contract with me and explain my fees up front. I write a program of what I will do for “X” number of hours and we set a timeline. I do a lot of remodeling, but I also do the home furnishings … and I love both. I thought it would be fun to work with colors and textiles, but what I didn’t expect was how much it meant to the people I work with.


Q: Let’s talk about fabrics. Are you seeing a lot more use of Sunbrella?

A: Yes. Both outdoors and in, because weather resistant fabrics like Sunbrella, are really beautiful. They’re even coming out with chenilles that look great. So, if your home has a high exposure to UV or sun, it behooves you to use an outdoor fabric so it doesn’t fade. In addition, I use Pindler and Pindler fabrics a lot, because they offer a wide range of price points and offer myriad. Another trend we’re seeing is large graphic design. By that I mean larger than life damasks and prints, not just in fabrics but in wallpaper as well … you name it.


Q: What types of fabrics do you like working with?

A: I also love to work with chenilles, tapestries and velvet.


Q: Discuss your background and the classes you teach at the Interior Designers Institute in Newport.

A: I graduated with a degree in art education; I was going to be an art teacher early on … then I pursued a corporate career. I decided to go back to school to the Interior Designers Institute (IDI). I took the certificate class and then the AA. About five years ago, Judy Deaton, who is the school director, saw me make a presentation at a Showcase House (Chris participated in two Showcase Houses as a designer). And in 2008, I was the ASID design chair for the Philharmonic House of Design in Crystal Cove. The home was 8,500 square feet, there were 27 designers, and I had to take the project from construction in October to showcase ready in April. I teach the introductory class or certificate program which is 12 weeks. There is an AA program that can take one to two years, as well as a bachelor’s where you can take your AA there and complete your general ed. classes at a community college. They recently started a master’s program at IDI, referred to as Masters in Design. I’m teaching the decorative arts portion of this, as well as the Business Practices course, which I wrote the syllabus for, because I have an M.B.A. The common thread for all students here is they had an early calling – they either pushed the furniture around in the family home, or they tried space planning or painting their rooms several times – they all have some kind of a passion for design. I’ve been teaching for 14 years; it truly revitalizes me. And the more I learn, the more I can give to my students.


Reach Chris Kittrell at Kittrell & Associates, 10 Baristo, Irvine. Call 949.737.5511 or email her at 3kits@cox.nwt. Visit her Web site www.chriskittrell.com.