With a style described as “inherently Californian,” Katie Monkhouse has established herself among the West Coast design community and well beyond. Her portfolio is a reflection of her creative instincts, with an emphasis on natural materials and a sense of lived-in character. The IDCO Studio team got to know Katie during her custom branding process, and her signature logo is one of our favorite projects to date.
During our interview, we asked Katie what led to her career pivot, the inspiration behind her work, and what’s ahead for her Bay Area studio. Hint: she’s drawing on her background in merchandising. Katie was gracious enough to share the details, all with such an approachable nature that makes her feel like an old friend. Without further adieu, here’s our conversation with Katie Monkhouse.
Photography: Bess Friday
We’d love to hear more about how you first got your start in the interior design industry and how your business was born.
I got my start in design by begging a mom at my son’s preschool, an interior designer, to let me work for her and learn the business! Fortunately, she hired me as a freelancer to help with a few projects.
My background was in buying and merchandising. I had such a passion for the curation on the buying side and developing a feeling/mood/story through merchandising, but when we bought our first home, my focus really shifted to interiors. There was a lot of crossover with the skill set, so once I understood what happens behind the scenes, I started taking small projects on my own.
How would you describe the KMI signature aesthetic? How do you tailor + adapt that to different clients and projects?
I like to think our aesthetic is layered, considered, casual, and inherently Californian. We don’t lean too far into any one style, but we do have aesthetic principles that guide each project—earthy colors and clean lines mixed with organic shapes and natural materials.
I believe a home really speaks to you and tells you what it needs. I tend to understand the aesthetic direction as soon as I walk in, but the trick is getting the clients to see it. A big part of our job is marrying what the house/architecture wants with the clients’ style. Then, filtering all of that through our aesthetic.
“I just love quirk and whimsy so much, and honestly, perfection just isn’t my thing.”
We saw you and your family lived in England for a bit. Did that time abroad influence how you approach design?
SO much. I love everything about Europe. The thing I appreciated the most was the celebration of imperfection. I think in the U.S., everyone is so used to things being new and shiny and perfect that we are scared of age and patina. There is such incredible beauty in the imperfect—worn leather, tarnished brass, even stained marble. I really try to infuse this into every project and educate clients to feel comfortable with using more living finishes. I just love quirk and whimsy so much, and honestly, perfection just isn’t my thing.
Do you have a favorite project thus far? Tell us about it!
We have some truly incredible projects in the works. Each one is so different, and every client is so amazing. But, we do have a city project that is particularly close to my heart. We haven’t photographed it yet because, due to COVID delays, we are still waiting on the fridge (almost a year after it was ordered). It was my first project that included a full gut renovation and a full house of new furnishings. Being able to design everything about this house alongside the best clients that had so much trust was a dream. I also took this project when I still lived in England (February 2020) and, in the span of the project, moved countries, grew from a solo designer to a team of four and moved into our design studio. That’s what makes this project really significant for me personally.
What business advice do you wish you’d received when you were just starting out?
Things come to you when you are ready—don’t worry and don’t rush it. I find the universe serves you only what you can handle. I was always looking at other designers’ projects, wondering why mine were smaller scope, why I never had those larger budgets to work with, or why everyone came to me for furnishings and not renovations. But, the reality was that I wasn’t ready for those things at the time. Those ‘level up’ projects always arrived just when I was ready for them. So with that in mind, enjoy the learning and growth.
What’s the #1 practice that helps you thrive as a designer.
Leaning on good people. I work in a somewhat haphazard way—don’t get me wrong, we have systems and processes, but I definitely don’t have a written road map. I totally lucked out with the three women that keep our studio running. They are amazing, and each has their own strengths that complement each other. Most importantly, their strengths are my weaknesses.
Other than that, I practice trusting my instincts both creatively and on the business side. I find intuition is a muscle that needs to be conditioned. Oh, and I burn a lot of Palo Santo 😉
More to Read: Who to Hire First + How to Afford It
Coffee or tea?
Book currently on your nightstand:
Normal People by Sally Rooney, but I finished it weeks ago and have yet to commit to a new book.
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
These days my favorite accounts are my friends and family (who I don’t see enough) and anything that makes me laugh. Memes are my love language.
“I practice trusting my instincts both creatively and on the business side. I find intuition is a muscle that needs to be conditioned.”
Go-to inspiration source:
Travel—get me on a plane or reminiscing through photos from our travels when that’s not possible. Amsterdam, London, and Mallorca are my top sources.
A recent trend you’re loving? How about a timeless one?
Brown! Give me whiskey-colored velvet, tan boucle, or chocolate marble.
I think a return to more traditional-looking flooring is also making me happy—a timeless medium stain on a smaller plank. I still love a wide plank, white oak floor, but I am starting to worry it’s going to feel like a moment in design (looking at you, encaustic cement Moroccan tiles).
What’s next for Katie Monkhouse Interiors?
Well, we just signed a lease on a new office that is three times the size of our current studio. And, our current studio is turning into a SHOP! I always knew I would return to my retail roots at some point, and when I saw the opportunity, I grabbed it (without any proper planning or rational thought, of course).
The shop will focus heavily on vintage and custom furniture with some small goods and lots of art. I am 150% overwhelmed, but as with everything I do, I am just going to follow my gut and hope for the best!
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IDCO Studio is a full-service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help brands built around beautiful living elevate their digital presence to represent the physical spaces they design. Our recently launched limited-release website templates are the perfect way for interior designers to get a luxury website on a budget. These templates allow designers to maintain control of their content. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.