Kerrie Kelly, CEO and Creative Director of Kerrie Kelly, in Sacramento, CA, brings more to the table than interior design. She is a designer, yes; but she’s also a brand partner, an author, a lifestyle personality and a champion for good design and the design trade. While she does so much more than create beautiful environments, interior design has been her passion from a young age.
Encouraged by parents who allowed her to be creative, Kelly says, she knew early on that this was her path. “I never had dolls. Instead, I created little environments. At a young age, I knew interior design was interesting.”
Kelly followed that interest to a degree in interior design from California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), followed by a Master’s degree in business.
From there, she worked for the Ralph Lauren Home Collection for five years, where she was approached to design someone’s home. She designed that home which led to the next step in her career, working for home builder Del Webb, which focused on active adult communities. She started there as a designer and ultimately ended up running the design studio, she says. It was a crazy time, during the boom real estate years of 1999-2006. Kelly was responsible for the design studio and designing model homes, and ultimately designing the approximately 10,000+ homes that were built in the time she worked there. “Tens of thousands of homes were being built at that time,” she says. “We had 86 construction days per home, building 1,000 homes per year just for the one community. Eventually we spun off to Central Valley, Northern California and Central Nevada as well.”
As director of the Del Webb design studio, Kelly was responsible for finishes, which she pared back from 6,000 options to 600, helping to streamline the process, a necessity considering the fast pace of home construction. When Del Webb was acquired by Pulte Homes, she decided to venture out on her own.
“My real education was at Ralph Lauren and Del Webb,” Kelly says. “I was working with trade contractors and homeowners, who in their minds were purchasing their forever homes. When Pulte acquired Del Webb, there was no snap anymore. They took the fun out of design. I decided to do my business full time.”
Kelly had already been working on the side, helping homeowners who wanted their homes to look like the models in the communities. “I always did my own work on the side, even when I was at Ralph Lauren. I’d go to people’s homes where we were selling Ralph Lauren products and thought we could sell more if I offered the whole package,” Kelly says. “Filling in what Ralph Lauren didn’t offer at the time, such as paint and lighting, ended up benefiting the store.”
Taking the Leap
With all of her experience, both in corporate and in her business, Kelly knew it was the right time to do this herself. Even when she started her own firm, hiring employees and interns from the Art Institute, in Sacramento, this was not her only endeavor. She was Director of Design at the Art Institute — how she found many of her interns — and she wrote a design book: Home Decor: A Sunset Design Guide. That book led to a text book for Pearson Education, and Kelly is currently considering her next book. “It’s never been just one thing for me,” she says. “That’s how we’ve remained relevant on the pulse of what’s happening in our industry.”
That first book was a compilation of columns she’d written for the Sacramento Bee. “I turned those into chapters. Partnering with my editor, this was information that people should have. I was able to put [design advice] in a book for people to implement on their own. ‘Everyone deserves great design’ became the tag line.”
There was business to be had at the beginning of Kelly’s solo career, and she realized she couldn’t handle it all. She recognized if she had more hands, she could take on more business, so she hired, at one point growing the company to 12 designers. She also outsourced the financial side of things. “We said yes to a lot of things. We had two storefronts [in addition to the design business], and I started to contemplate if I wanted to be more lean,” Kelly continues. “When it came time to renew the store leases, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that anymore. We dismantled both storefronts and set the designers who worked for us up in their own businesses.”
Building a Brand that Highlights Brands
For Kelly, it was time to move on to the next phase of her career. With a scaled-down design business, which happened about three years prior to Covid, Kelly kept her hand in the field with full renovation and new construction work, and began building her brand partnerships. “I stayed with the full-blown renovations and new builds because it benefits my brand work,” Kelly says. “I want to know what clients are asking for and get the imagery and tell the story.” Kelly is a brand ambassador for companies across the home, including Hestan (cookware and appliances), Westlake Royal Stone Solutions (Eldorado Stone, Cultured Stone and Kindred Living fire pits), Robern (mirrored storage solutions and vanities) and Cosentino (surfaces and countertops). There are also a few brand partnerships in the works such as olive oil and high-end water-filtering systems.
While building her brand ambassador portfolio and continuing with her interior design business, Kelly was still not feeling that she was at her full potential. So, she became National Chair for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in 2020/2021 — she started as a student member and credits ASID for much of her success; is an Interior Design National Spokesperson and Design Advisory Board member for Zillow; Advisory Board Member for Houzz; and most recently, became a National Board Member for the National Kitchen & Bath Association. What speaks to her in her role with the NKBA is the chance to “elevate and appreciate trade contractors,” she says. “Even for me as a designer, unless I have someone who can install the products, I can’t complete the design plan. It’s important to keep those expert relationships intact.”
She is proud of all she’s accomplished, and it’s been energizing to see her brand partnerships deepen as they grow, she says. “These brand partnerships have solidified over time. We’re working with these companies now in a deeper way, working on design councils, consulting and helping with new product development, for example. Plus, when you’re friends with the founding families, the stories you share with your clients [about these companies] are different.”
Many of these companies don’t have interior designers on staff, and Kelly’s expertise is invaluable to them on so many levels. “It’s really fun for me to mash up the brand relationships,” says Kelly. “If I’m doing a kitchen design for Hestan, I’ll specify Cosentino, Sherwin WIlliams and Eldorado Stone, too. We all benefit from my different relationships.”
Working in this manner is also important to Kelly so she can educate the companies and their marketing firms and designers on the value of working with designers in this way. “While they may not have an interior designer on their team, hiring us as consultants is a great way to bring their products to the design community and potential clients,” she notes.
Sitting on her laurels is not something Kelly wants or is capable of doing. Next up, she is working on the plans for her next book, this one featuring more of a lifestyle focus, continuing to tell the stories for her brand partners, and, of course, designing.
Her goal is packaging things in an approachable way. “Interior design shouldn’t be so intimidating. Everyone deserves great design in an elevated way,” she says. Kelly is also working to connect interior designers with opportunities they may not know are out there.
“We’re constantly innovating and evolving, and creating new lanes for interior designers who may not have known how we could collaborate before.”