Interior designer Karen Wolf shares her unique approach to purposeful design
Photos by: Raquel Longworthy
Take a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, add a Postgrad in Marketing, sprinkle a touch of New-Jersey no-nonsense, raw authenticity and what you get is an explosive combination resulting in one of the most well-established interior design firms on the East Coast - KBW Interiors. And here at The Nopo, we hold ourselves lucky to call its founder, Karen Wolf, a friend and collaborator.
“In today’s market where almost everything is a mass-produced commodity, the handcrafted, unique aspect of The Nopo was very attractive to me,” Karen said, “And when you pair that with the fact that it’s craftsmanship with a designer’s approach to aesthetics, you have me in heaven!”
Originally trained as a fine artist, Karen approached the world of business and marketing with her second degree, where she specialized in market trends and consumer behavior analysis. Fascinated by the psychology of what people buy, why, and how, Karen brings that psychological aspect to her home interior work today.
“In some ways, interior design is part psychology. For me, it’s paramount to understand what life experiences the client brings to the table, what they want to get out of their home and why they decided to work with an interior designer in the first place. That bond of mutual trust and building a strong, personal relationship with clients are the most important parts of my job.”
Each project develops through an intake phase, where Karen and her team look at inspirations the client sent to understand their needs exactly. Once the interior design style is agreed on, the team takes the client through a flat laying meeting, the most exciting part of the process yet. “It’s a very empowering moment for homeowners because they are able to physically walk through the house, touch the fabric samples, move things around and get a feel for the flow and consistency of the home interior. It’s a true “home sweet home” moment that makes them feel very involved.”
Flow and consistency are key in Karen’s aesthetics, which she defines as a blend of elevated comfort, layered modern mix, and curated color. Indeed KBW is known in the industry for their intentional approach to color, which they use purposefully to create meaning and a consistent style to the overall house. Coupled with this, Karen’s homes often layer materials and textures to create unusual combinations of harder materials such as metals and softer lines given by natural fibers.
Building on these key design principles, Karen has worked on an impressive portfolio, ranging from modern luxury apartments to boho family farmhouses, to cozy coastal homes. The latter has become an area of expertise for the company after their first job designing a multigenerational home in Long Beach. “I love these kinds of jobs because they are a really high point in a client’s life - they might have saved up all their lives to do this and they have finally decided to go ahead. I love working with clients who show a love for home comfort and design, and being able to deliver their life’s dream brings us so much joy.”
Behind the inspiring designs and flawless execution sits an all-female team (“Randomly, by the way, I would love to have a man in the team!”, laughs Karen) that she has been carefully building through the fourteen years since starting the business. Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs and becoming a fine artist, business and art were the two things she only ever saw, and jumping into the thick of it creating her own company was the most natural way to bridge them.
“I started off in my garage fourteen years ago and I cannot believe I’ve then moved into a storefront and I’m about to expand into the next one! Even though every new idea normally starts with me panicking and then doing it,” Karen laughs, “I wouldn’t have it any other way today.”
Besides building teams and processes and cultivating authentic relationships with her clients, the one aspect that still excites Karen the most is sourcing. Scouting local fairs for handmade furniture, following trends in hospitality, and looking at storefronts and the work of makers’ collectives helps her craft her sensibility and create a holistic vision for her home interiors.
“The key thing about us is that we do not repeat spaces. Even though the founding principles might be similar, no two homes will be the same, and that’s why it’s so important for me to stay on top of trends in the industry.”
Following the challenging two years the world has faced, Karen has identified a shifting trend in paying more attention to the why of a product. Consumers are much more attuned to how products will add value to their homes and, ultimately, to their lives. “Whether it be color, manufacturing, or style, interior design has an amazing power to bring whole new meaning and value to people’s lives, bringing families together, providing entertainment or peace of mind. Surrounding yourself with meaningful items that bring back memories or tell a story has become hugely important.”
With home becoming a multi-functional space and being invested with a sacrality previously unknown to most people, there’s also been a shift towards home comfort products, with softer lines and fabrics such as boucle, cashmere, and chenille, as well as a move away from color maximalism in favor of more neutral tones which are more suitable for the long periods of time we now spend indoors.
No matter what the trends or the market are though, Karen is adamant that anyone looking to design their homes stick to three key ideas. “First off you need to know what you want from your home. Do you want it to be magazine-ready or an elevated casual, liveable place?”
Next, Karen continues, it’s important to start from the ground up. In a new build, the flooring decisions will drive the whole of the house, or if it’s a renovation, will you choose carpet or wooden? And lastly, the golden rule is to give lighting the importance and attention it deserves. “Many people underestimate the importance of styling your lighting properly, treating it as an afterthought when it really can make or break a space.”
Encouraging us to think of decorative fixtures like the jewelry of a house, Karen prepared a stunning collection of her favorites from The Nopo, including Rafful Estudio’s 12 Feather Wall Hanging and Côté Bougie’s Sabra Gold Scented Candle. Shop the collection now and bring some of Karen’s layered, modern and thoughtful aesthetics to your home.
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