“I love when clients say, ‘I feel like this is a room we’ve always had, like it’s just been like this forever.’ That’s a really fun compliment for us to receive,” says Fran Keenan of Fran Keenan Design Studio. “I never want it to feel like a catalogue or a showroom.” And her spaces are the farthest thing from a catalogue image. Each project is entirely original. Scroll through her Instagram feed or website, and it’s an endless smorgasbord of different colors and looks, reflecting what is obviously a completely diverse clientele. Fran takes inventory not only of their personal treasures but also of their personalities and styles. Most importantly, she gets down to the heart of the problem they need solved, so that her team delivers a beautiful space that really works for them. We are delighted to introduce our latest interior designer crush, Fran Keenan. We sat down with Fran and asked her to describe her design aesthetic, let us in on some tricks of the trade and give us a glimpse of her stunning portfolio. We hope you enjoy!
What is your design aesthetic and how do you translate that to a client’s home?
It’s definitely client-driven. I really want to hear and learn what it is they want to achieve. But there is an underlying approach; most of our projects have a mixture of things. I love always including something old with the end result feeling fresh and gathered through the years, like the space could be from 20 years ago or 40 years ago, but you’re not really sure, so sort of having that timelessness. All of us in the studio really try hard to capture that mix, so that we are pulling things that are old and using new things too, just depending on the pulse of the project, but the overall design aesthetic is an eclectic mix. So we might not buy all new lighting or all new upholstery, and color can be in that mix. Art can be extremely important, and not necessarily extravagant art. We do deal with extravagant art at times, but a lot of times it’s vintage pieces that we’ve found and lovingly cherished that were serendipitous in the search.
It’s so specific to each project, but I do love the details. And you’ll see the details in every project we do. We do sweat the small stuff. The trim on the pillow, the pleat on the ottoman, the grosgrain on the drape. How far is it off of the hem, how far is it off of the leading edge, a lot of attention to those details is because of my background in fashion, so I really love that aspect of the work that we get to do.
Tell us a bit about your background and experience in design.
My career began in New York City, and I worked in several fashion houses. As a student, I spent some time in New York doing an internship that was required for my graduation from The University of Alabama. I negotiated with my parents so that I could stay in the city, and they were very kind to let me stay on. So I wound up working for Polo Jeans, a Ralph Lauren licensee that was owned by Jones Apparel, and I did menswear, designing shirts, prints, denim and all sorts of things. It was a small design team, and we had lots of exposure to Ralph, which was really inspiring, needless to say.
I learned a lot about understanding a customer, which translates into my work now, understanding a client, what they really want — not just giving them what I think they should have, but really leaning into the fact that they’ve come to us for something, and we really need to help them find what they’re looking to achieve. I feel like fashion design really helped me hone that skill of being able to focus specifically on each project.
How did you go from fashion to interior design?
I had this really close friend who was working for a high-end design firm, Diamond and Baratta Design with William Diamond and Anthony Baratta. They did a lot of custom textiles, custom rugs, lots of custom color, the whole gamut; it was just an unrelenting chase of custom elements in projects with huge budgets. She was like, “You know, I really think that you would enjoy talking to Bill and Tony.”
So I met with Bill and Tony, and we just hit it off. I fell in love with the process of how they design. They were tremendous mentors. I was just a sponge in learning how to walk into a room that they haven’t touched and to hear their vision of what they see that is redeeming about the room and what they see that they need to play down in the room and all of the elements, how the light hits it, what the color’s going to do in it. It was better than any college degree I could have gotten. I got the house bug, so it was definitely a good move for me.
Are there any trends you’re loving at the moment, and, alternately, any timeless aspects of design that you cling to?
I would say that there are definitely things that we tend to avoid because we don’t want it to have a 2019 feel. And I love to do this at the studio: I’ll find some of the most mainstream rooms on Instagram, and we analyze those rooms, discussing questions like, Is this room going to stand the test of time? What elements will look dated? and What elements will still feel fresh? Decorating is such an investment, and I never want to compromise the element of timelessness.
What brings you the most professional joy?
Install days are my favorite. They are like the Superbowl of our world, where we get to bring everything together and the client finally gets to see what’s been swirling around in our heads for years. That’s really exciting!
There’s a synergy that comes with each project. I say this a lot at the studio: The number one thing we bring to the table is ideas and momentum. The clients are coming to us because they want to complete a project. So, that’s really fun for us to set the wheels on the track and lead them through this journey. Also, when the client understands that we are hearing them and we may be pushing them a little bit in some ways. We are going to bring things to the table that they never would have thought of, but they understand that this is going to be different, but even better than they thought. So there’s a tremendous amount of trust that has to happen in each project in order for that project to succeed, but when that synergy happens, that’s the sweet spot for us, for sure.
Do you have a favorite space in the home to design?
I love small rooms, studies … I have a weakness for any rooms with tons of books. That’s the dirty secret: No matter how big your house is, smaller rooms are typically your favorite, because they are just cozy and you are able to find comfort more easily in those rooms; whereas, in a large room, you have to work really hard to make it comfortable. Those spaces that are cozy with books and just call you in, the rooms you work hard all day for and then you can go and sit in them at night — those are the rooms that I love.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from everywhere. I read lots of European magazines. I find that it is nice to pull away from screens and just meander through magazines. Years ago, I discovered that I needed to be buying those great European interior design magazines. Australian Vogue Living is probably my favorite. European designers do a great job pulling a room together; they feel lived in and they feel classic, but they also have an airiness to them. I tend to be inspired by a lot of European designers.
Where do you take chances in design?
I really love the idea of us trying things and doing things that we haven’t done before. I do that at home first, and I would say that my husband Matt is pretty patient with me trying new things. My favorite quote was when he said, “Have you tried this before?” And I’m like, “Nope. That’s why we’re trying it here.” So, I have to give him a lot of credit, because if he were buttoned up really tightly, I don’t know that I would have discovered all of these new things that work.
I think finding a place where you don’t have a lot of limitations in terms of your ideas can be really, really healthy for a creative person — a place where you can work on a passion project, where you are able to flex that muscle and say, “OK, this might be really crazy and really ugly, but I’m just going to try it.” The biggest mistakes I’ve made have been in my own house, but you learn from them, and fortunately, it’s not on someone else’s dime.
If you could choose one designer to redo your home right now, who would it be?
I love the edited vibe that Albert Hadley has. Everything feels sleek but still comfortable, and he’s able to work pattern in on modern spaces. I did a black-stained floor because of him in the house we are in now. His rooms are timeless. I love his play with color.
And then Rita’s approach: Nobody layers a room like she does. She has this serendipitous approach. It feels like the room has always been there and the room feels really loved by those who live there — you just get that vibe when you see all of her spaces. Her eclectic mix is huge. She’ll mix in a quirky wingback in a new kitchen. It’s just really genius.
Share one designer secret with us regular folk.
When we are working on a project with color, what I’ve learned is that if I do a white trim next to a colored wall, then all of a sudden, the color becomes kind of spunky and crisp and bright, because you have that contrast next to the colorful tone.
If we are working on a house and we want the house to have color, but we want it to feel quiet and sophisticated, then typically, we will paint the trim to match the walls. And a lot of that helps quiet the color, but it also reduces the contrast we have throughout the spaces, giving us this quiet backdrop that we are able to use, like if we have a rug that is graphic or textural or whatever direction we are going. It kind of neutralizes the color.
What three home decor items can you not live without?
Beautiful lamps, old chests and quirky chairs … and books are just a given. You have to have books in your house.
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?
Timeless, clean, eclectic, strong, gathered
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