How designer Christopher Kennedy finishes off a room

Allegra Muzzillo
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Known for his use of vibrant colors, contemporary furnishings and layouts, his “easy-elegant” approach to designing, and for his burgeoning furniture and home accessories lines, Palm Springs-based decorator Christopher Kennedy sure has California glamour down pat.

Born in San Francisco and raised along the state’s central coastline, Kennedy, who moved to the desert oasis eight years ago and started his eponymous firm in 2005, credits the resort town “with its mid-century architecture and rich Hollywood history” as a tremendous influence on his work.

Kennedy’s love of the past translates to his eclectic interiors; he’s fond of combining modern and vintage elements with practically seamless results. “Pieces from the past give a home patina and make it feel truly done — not like you just shopped and decorated yesterday,” says Kennedy.

Living and dining areas are prime zones to highlight a client’s personality. “Even in the age of the Kindle and the Nook, I like seeing books on a coffee table and one special vintage piece or a collection up on a shelf,” Kennedy says. “Those items tell you exactly what piques a homeowner’s interest — and what she really loves. And a room, any room, is finished when it feels personalized — when it feels like it’s yours.”

Dining areas also benefit from an area rug, especially on wood or tile floors (“Even if it’s just a sisal, the room is more comfortable and the table and chairs feel like a family”) and statement lighting, such as an overhead chandelier or wall sconces, “which are actually more flattering,” says Kennedy.

In a bedroom, the designer favors simple white-cotton bed linens, a small upholstered bench at the foot of the bed for interest and comfort, and — even in the smallest quarters — “every bedroom should contain a comfy reading chair,” he says.

Bathrooms should receive the hotel treatment with a lovely tray, fragrant candles, and even plant life. “Corral everyday items on a streamlined tray, or create a pretty vignette,” Kennedy says. “It’s a fun, tidy layer that shows a space is lived in.” He lights citrus-scented candles and sets a potted orchid (which thrives in moist environs) in his own bathroom, and lines a tray in his guest bath with products visitors might need in a pinch.

Kennedy, who admits he’s no cook, is still fond of an interesting kitchen backsplash. “Typically, tile backsplashes aren’t incredibly large, so spend a little extra for glass or texturized porcelain to give your kitchen that wow factor,” he advises. Kennedy’s ultimate pièces de résistance? A set of good old kitchen canisters.

 “I know, it’s silly because nobody uses them. But I still use them! Growing up, my mother had a custom-made ceramic set,” recalls Kennedy. “Even though I just store dog treats inside, I always love seeing them there on the counter.

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Liberace living room

To Kennedy, no living room is finished without a comfy reading-chair-and-ottoman set — or two! He helped clients remodel the Piazza de Liberace (the late pianist’s first home in Palm Springs) last year, and used his David chairs and hassocks to flank a mid-century bench-as-coffee table. “I also created a salon-style installation of 1960s paintings by the homeowner's aunt,” says Kennedy. “Grouping collections always enhances impact.”

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Small living area

A diminutive space gets a color and pattern injection with three different throw pillows. Books reflect the homeowner's interests, and a vintage biomorphic sculpture adds a historical element. “The triptych is actually a folding screen I disassembled and hung,” Kennedy reveals.

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Dragnet Estate living room

Dubbed the “Dragnet” house by many in its Palm Springs community, the 1960s-built vacation home formerly owned by actor Jack Webb is a study in eclecticism. A large grouping of contemporary sectional sofas and small, movable coffee tables is held together by an oversize retro-patterned area rug. Says Kennedy, “the vintage armchair is the client's favorite reading spot.”

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Liberace kitchen

Kennedy combined three smaller rooms to create one show-stopping kitchen, culminating with a glistening, vertical glass-tile backsplash. A fun twist on a crystal chandelier is also, “a respectful nod to the illustrious former homeowner,” says Kennedy.