Drawn to Design
The hand-painted art of this Greenwich-based designer graces linens, fabrics, wallcoverings, and paper products that add up to a multimillion-dollar business.
Home furnishings designer Laurette Kittle is a gushing torrent of ideas. The prolific, hyper-flow of stories seems to be the natural state for this artist, who studied painting and sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design, founded her own company, Laurette Design, Inc., in 1986, and went on to license designs that have sold more than $100 million at retail. (Along the way, she has consulted for Nicole Miller Home Collection, sold her designs at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and Ethan Allen, among others, and created best-selling collections of decorative fabrics, bedding, and wall coverings for Waverly, Martex, and Schumacher, to name a few.)
Among the stories that tumble from her lips are the summer months she spent in a seaside village in Costa Rica watching her sons surf, which inspired her very successful Waves design; the starlit stroll on East Hampton’s Maidstone Beach 26 years ago with the man who would become her husband (he’s now an award-winning travel photographer and commercial director); painting watercolors as a child on the stern of her dad’s boat as it motored among the islands of the Great Lakes; and how she transformed the board-and-batten “ranch burger” in backcountry Greenwich with the royalties from Fiesta (her first big hit in the bedding category) into a two-story postmodern.
It was one of these experiences, a late 2007 journey to remote parts of India, that became the fodder for her latest enterprise: a collection of fabric designs, on Belgian linen, for furniture and upholstery maker George Smith. The collection—entitled A Thousand Flowers at Your Feet and comprising patterns such as Namaste (medallions), Lotus (floral), Shanti (paisley), and Karma (giraffe) in colors including Bengal Rose, Ocean, and Cayenne—will be available for purchase this October at the George Smith showrooms in Manhattan. The target price is about $130 a yard wholesale.
“Inspiration is everywhere,” says Kittle, who paints her patterns by hand in a sunny and colorful studio just off her living room.
She says her creative process for a new design can consume her for just a few weeks or as long as a couple of months. She begins by painting the so-called main pattern in gouache (which she says allows for both opaque and transparent gradations of color while still showcasing her signature painterly style) onto a sheet of watercolor paper that she hangs on her studio wall for contemplation purposes. She then brings the main pattern, along with several coordinating motifs, to life in elaborate, hand-painted story boards that depict room scenes—beds dressed in sheets, comforters and bed skirts, backdrops of coordinated draperies, a chair in a matching fabric. Then, only after she’s got a handle on the entire collection and the scale of the repeat, she scans the patterns onto a large-format printer in the Port Chester, New York, studio she rents, in order to determine the appropriate color ways. After some tinkering, she brings the whole package to a mill in Brooklyn, where the designs are hand-screened onto fabric over the course of several days.
“It usually takes about 25 different color looks to determine the final five or six,” she says, adding that she is often designing a full year in advance of when a new design will appear in the marketplace.
Fabric is not Kittle’s only canvas, however. She also develops schemes for Design Design, Inc., the manufacturer of stationery, gift wrap, and paper tableware, which markets the items to retailers such as J. Papers and the Bruce Museum store.
“The paper products are instant gratification,” she says, adding that whether a particular design sells is an indicator of consumer tastes. “Because they’re high volume, the designs have to grab you; they’ve got to be colorful and bold. They can’t be downbeat, because they’re being used for parties and gifts.”
Downbeat is one thing Laurette Kittle definitely is not.
George Smith Collection, 212-226-4747
Design Design, Inc., 800-334-3348