Behind the Design: Christopher Kennedy
Behind the Design: Christopher Kennedy – Palm Springs, CA
How did you get where you are today?
Christopher Kennedy: I was born in San Francisco and raised on the Central Coast of California, before going to school for architecture in Missouri. I thought I wanted to be a Disney Imagineer, but that didn’t work out as planned. I received my MBA after getting my B.Arch and spent a of couple miserable years in the finance world while living in Los Angeles. Then I realized that life was too short not to do what you love, so when I was 27, I moved out to Palm Springs to get back to my roots in architecture and design.
“A Golden State of Mind” is your self-description…how does that define you as a designer?
CK: I definitely like to infuse my designs with a healthy dose of sunny California optimism. I also believe that everything in life begins with our thoughts – so I like my designs to inspire people, lift their spirits, and bring out their best.
You are remarkably nostalgic and value tradition and rituals. How do you apply this passion and life essence to your design work?
CK: I definitely think very carefully about floor plans, function, and the small rituals of daily life. Where are my clients chopping their vegetables? Does their furniture plan entertain gracefully for a party of 6, or a fundraiser for 600 if that’s their style? How can we encourage our clients to be organized, to have meaningful conversations with their loved ones, to get a good night’s rest, to wake up in a bedroom that inspires them….all these questions factor into my designs.
“We really owe it to our clients to bring our best and most creative selves to the table. And that takes time.”
What are your thoughts on color?
CK: Well, I do love color. But I also believe in giving color some room to breathe. Honestly, I tend to keep my large furniture pieces on the neutral side. I love white walls. Of course, it’s true that I did give some of my favorite clients Adrian Pearsall sofas recovered in “Smurf Blue” fabric!
You’re based in Palm Springs…what’s the design scene like?
CK: Of course, we are the capital of midcentury modernism! In Palm Springs, people love design. It’s a hobby and a pastime. There’s loads of nostalgia in this town. Everything old is new again. That said, I never want my interiors to feel overly retro or “kitsch-y”. I strive to keep my designs sophisticated – grounded in the past but looking towards a bright future. It is my firm belief that if the great midcentury architects and designers were alive today, they would not be resting on their 60-year old laurels. They were futurists and thinkers…they would be asking, “What’s next?”.
What are the quintessential colors you can see in people’s homes in Palm Springs?
CK: My favorites are blue and green – aqua, turquoise, lime, grass – think the color of the trees and the golf course; the pool water and the sky.
In your opinion, what is the Palm Springs “heart of the home”?
CK: Hands down, the bar. We really do live the Rat Pack cocktail culture here! Second would be the pool. Every home has one.
What’s your business model?
CK: I believe in design fees plus profit on product. I offer both hourly rates (with a minimum number of hours) and flat fee contracts. I find it works out about the same, but people have different preferences. I want us as an industry to quit using the word “markup”! It’s just not accurate. “Markup” makes it sounds like we are making money for doing nothing. At the very worst, it is a purchasing fee. It is a service.
Currently, how I charge for products is that I split my difference between wholesale and retail with clients. This is about a 60-100% “markup” depending on your net pricing structure. And yet, clients will go from questioning your markup to thanking you for the discount! It is a small mental shift for the clients that makes a big impact on your company’s bottom line. It’s been a real game-changer for me.
Personally, my next goal is to start charging MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) for products, or just beating the average online price by a buck or two. There really is no reason why clients should buy through us for less than they can buy for themselves online.
Frankly, we as an industry should be charging the average/lowest online price for products PLUS a 10% purchasing fee, but that is whole other conversation!
How does designing make you feel? What’s your business mantra?
CK: Designing makes me feel GREAT! But, it is such a small part of my daily activity. We probably spend 15% of our time designing, 30% of our time marketing, and the rest of our time implementing. Of course, there are whole books on this subject – but it takes so much time just to “transition” into the creative space. I have to silence my phone and turn off my computer. We really owe it to our clients to bring our best and most creative selves to the table. And that takes time.
As a firm, you champion several causes close to your hearts, one being your annual charity event “The Christopher Kennedy Compound” at Modernism. What can we expect from this Show House in 2019?
CK: I started The Christopher Kennedy Compound five years ago because I thought it was crazy that Palm Springs – this design mecca – didn’t have a Decorator Show House like other cities do. And because I believe that Palm Springs is a world-class resort town, I like to bring together the best and brightest designers in the country. This year, we have Celerie Kemble, Michael Berman, Joe Lucas, Lori Paranjape, Brian Paquette, and other fabulous designers all creating rooms. It is going to be a show-stopper for sure! The best part is that the proceeds benefit architectural preservation and scholarships for local architecture and design students.
What are the big Markets that you go to? Why does you think it’s so crucial to attend?
CK: I attend both Las Vegas Markets and both High Point Markets annually. I also like the Atlanta AmericasMart and MAISON & OBJET Paris in January (though I don’t often get to attend the latter.) To me, Markets are such a great opportunity to – of course – see products in person. But more than that, you get to know the people behind the brands. It is also a fabulous time to network with other designers. We need to support each other more in this industry. We need to discuss our business models. It would be fabulous if we had standardized business models, so that clients would be less confused! We need to band together and charge more! One of my core beliefs is that there is enough to go around. Just do your best and don’t worry about “competition” – there is plenty of abundance out there!
“I realize that I have been given a platform and have a certain standing in the community. I strive to use it for good.”
Why did you choose Ivy as your software of choice for your business management needs?
CK: Ivy is such a great company to work with. They are adaptive, easy to reach, and agile.
How has Ivy transformed your design business?
CK: Clients pay so much faster! Clients love the interactive nature of Ivy and they LOVE being able to pay with credit card or bank transfer (I prefer the latter but accept the former).
What’s an Ivy feature you can’t live without?
CK: Charging clients the credit card or transfer fees.
What have you learned from the Ivy Design Community (the Facebook Group)?
CK: Too many good things to count! But really, I think the biggest takeaway is that “it’s not just me!” We tend to all struggle with the same things. Putting yourself out there, admitting what you struggle with, and asking for help can be intimidating. But, it helps us all grow as a community. I realize that I have been given a platform and have a certain standing in the community. I strive to use it for good. I realize that when other designers out there hear that I have the same struggles, it can help to ease theirs. But, really, it is about all of us growing and learning together.
Ivy is the # 1 business management software for designers. To learn more about Ivy, schedule a demo with an Ivy Guru who can show how Ivy can streamline your sourcing, invoicing, and purchasing tasks so you can make time for what you love most, design.