If you stripped all of fashion designer Kylie Tate’s possessions from her Herne Bay townhouse, you’d be left with a series of very plain spaces, hard-edged and ultra-modern.
“When we moved here three years ago it was awful,” admits the owner of fashion label Redhead. “The place was devoid of personality, with grey walls and carpet. But I looked at it and thought I could do things to the house to warm it up.”
Those cold, featureless rooms provided the perfect blank canvas for Kylie to colour in her quirky and original style. Now flooded with warmth and light, richly decorated and filled with an unexpected mélange of intriguing objects, the rooms reflect her vibrant personality.
Decorative feathered lamps, classic Eames chairs, art deco statues, Twenties Bakelite, coffee sets, canisters, tasselled and bejewelled curtain ties – all are juxtaposed and the rooms are, consequently, drenched in detail. It could easily seem chaotic but Kylie has layered her possessions thoughtfully and the result is eclectic and sumptuous rather than overwhelming.
It was the space that first attracted Kylie to her roomy three-level home. She wanted a place her 10-year-old daughter Molly could grow up in and where she’d have her own private areas. Although she’s always been passionate about renovating, Melbourne-born Kylie was too busy to tackle a major project this time round so instead confined herself to dressing the space, bringing in a touch of drama and softening the hard edges.
The only structural change she made was to remove a couple of doors and replace them with theatrical sweeping curtains. Then it was simply a matter of integrating furniture and collectables from different eras, filling the empty expanse of walls with art and unleashing her idiosyncratic creative spirit.
“I’m a collector of everything, whether it’s shoes, art or furniture,”
she admits. “I think I’m a bit quirky in everything I do and my home is a mixture of styles – vintage and modern. I couldn’t be minimalist any more than I could fly to the moon.”
Kylie’s taste is all about breaking the rules. She’s not interested in living somewhere that looks staged or overly designed. Comfort is as important as style and indulging in her passion of the moment is paramount. “I enjoy colour and different fabrics,” she explains. “I don’t stick to any one thing. The only thing that’s important about anything I buy is that I love it.” >>
“I couldn’t be minimalist
any more than I
could fly to the moon!”
“I love the richness and fullness of the colour in my bedroom,” she says. “On a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon I like to sit up here and watch movies. I prefer the old ones: anything with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn or Lauren Bacall. And I love musicals. I’m such an old romantic.” Her own family’s history is dramatically displayed in a collection of framed black and white portraits on the stairway to her bedroom. They’re the work of Julian Smith, a Melbourne surgeon and photographer who, in the Thirties and Forties, created a series of images of people dressed as characters from classic books. One of the unusual antique portraits is of Kylie’s father and she inherited her copies of the photographs from him.
“They’ve looked stunning in every home I’ve lived in, no matter what its style,” she says. The rest of the artwork comes mostly from local artists and Kylie has built up her collection slowly over the past 18 years or so. She doesn’t have the budget to buy work by the big names so chooses canvases purely because they appeal to her and often buys several works from the same artist.
“I’m really particular about hanging pictures properly,” she admits. “I don’t think you should ever ask your partner to do it because there’ll only be an argument over whether it’s straight. I use an expert, Robert the picture hanger, and he’s fabulous. He’s like a hairdresser. You can tell him everything that’s going on in your life and he says exactly what he thinks about it from a man’s perspective as he’s hanging your art. And he never fights with you when you can’t make up your mind where you want to put things.”
Some examples of Kylie’s own craft projects are dotted around the home: a paua-studded mannequin in the hallway and the piles of tapestry cushions on the bed and sofas. “I’m addicted to creating,” she says, “I plan it and think about it all the time. I became very interested in the Arts and Crafts movement at one stage and stitched a lot of William Morris designs. I also love Elizabeth Bradley, a needlepoint designer who takes inspiration from the Victorian period and uses images of birds, flowers and fruit. I know my cushions ought to be in a villa looking all restrained but I think they look great on my Fifties-style Italian sofa.”
Kylie brings her distinctive sense of joie de vivre and originality, so evident in her home, to her clothing label, Redhead.
“Our clothes are feminine and sexy,” she says. “We like to mix fabrics and produce garments that are wearable but unexpected.”
Although she works from an office, the house plays an important part in her business. When new ranges are released it provides the perfect context for showings and the quirky character of the décor has become an element of the personality of the Redhead brand. >>
“We usually go to San Francisco, because the climate is similar to here and then on to London where I love shopping the most, because it’s fantastic. I’m forever hunting down things you can’t buy in New Zealand. I’ve got a black belt in shopping – I love it. I think a woman is born to shop!”
Second-hand stalls, furniture shops, department stores – Kylie is indefatigable. Often, rather than carrier bags full of new purchases, what she brings home with her are original ideas. Like the gorgeous crystal-beaded curtain ties she found in London store Harvey Nichols. “I loved them but they were really heavy and cost a fortune,” she says. “So I went into one of those shops you find in the shopping malls, bought a whole load of beads for about $15 and made them myself.”
Kylie’s personality, irreverent and passionate, is imprinted on her unusual home. “I’m not a purist,” she says. “I’d describe my style as imaginative. I like to play around with ideas in my brain and blend things from different ages. It’s all about trial and error and, as you get better at it, you don’t make so many errors.” A focus on balance is what prevents the space appearing overcrowded or piled up with too many diverse possessions. “I have a good eye,” explains Kylie, “and I try to keep the lines clear. For instance I’ll find the height of a door and won’t hang a picture any higher than that.
I learned some valuable lessons very young from a family friend who was an architect. He taught me about mixing style and how everything has to relate to something else.” Her obsession with collecting was inherited from her mother who used to take her around antique shops when she was a child. “I was always going to be someone who had too much stuff,” she laughs. “When I get into something I research it, become really interested and then buy lots of it – like my collection of Twenties Bakelite or the perfume bottles displayed in my bathroom. I’m attracted to shapes and colours and like to put them together.”
Unafraid of change, Kylie is constantly dreaming up new ideas for her living space and can’t imagine ever losing her fascination for collecting objects that capture her eye. “If I wake up in the middle of the night I’m planning another onslaught of it,” she laughs. “I already know what I’d love to collect next. I’ve been training my daughter Molly to tell anyone who asks what her Mum would like for birthdays or Christmas –Lalique crystal!”
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