Talking with Celerie Kemble

Designer Celerie Kemble chats with Bob about color, showhouses, kids and her new book, "Black & White (and a Bit in Between)."

Bob Vila: Any thoughts on good color choices for specific rooms, like kitchens or bathrooms, for example?

Celerie Kemble: Well, I think kitchens and bathrooms is where white is just a good standby because those are your operating rooms. You want to be able to ensure cleanliness and keep them bright. Kitchens and bathrooms are places where you might only want one or two colors. Most people feel much more clarity and space when it’s simplified and the natural default goes to white.

Bob Vila: What about the size of the space, does that have any impact on the color choice?

Celerie Kemble: Size wouldn’t have impact on color for me unless I was planning to go really bold, and then the bigger it is the less likely I want to do something intense.  For me, it would seem a little over-served. 

Bob Vila: Any advice on paint finishes?  When it is best to go with a flat or a gloss, an eggshell or super glossy finish?

Celerie Kemble: I’ve been using a lot of the super glosses, like Fine Paints of Europe oil paints, because they really mimic the effect of lacquer.  I tend to use those in the stronger colors because you can really see the deep well of color through the layers of gloss. I’ve been using those super glosses in libraries, entry halls, and dining rooms.  Lately, almost every project I work on has at least one room where we’ve really gone for the gloss. And, I am also putting it up on the ceiling in some rooms to create a little bit of sparkle and reflected light.  Generally though, the paler the paint the more matt I want the finish.

Bob Vila: Do you find that if you are going with those super gloss paints you sometimes have trouble with the quality of the sheetrock whether it’s the walls or the ceiling?

Celerie Kemble: Always. I mean every blemish shows, and that’s why it’s really important to have an excellent skim coat. But, I’ve also learned that, even though contractors are really eager to use spray guns to achieve an auto-like finish, the solvent they add to the paint grays the shine. Even if it is applied with a really fine roller, if you get close enough you can still see the marks. So, I’ve resorted to having gloss finishes hand applied.

Bob Vila: When you say “hand applied” are you talking about a brush on?

Celerie Kemble: Brushing it, yes. It’s expensive—and the paints themselves are expensive—but the effect when you use the really good stuff makes the walls look like they are wet forever.  I mean they become almost ceramic.

Bob Vila: It sounds gorgeous. Let’s talk about the influence of growing up in Florida on your color palette since you now call New York home?

Celerie Kemble: Well, I crave levity and cheer and in almost every design I work on I am much more concerned about things that will feel delightful rather than impressive. The feeling that when you enter a room you’ve had your thirst quenched as opposed to just making a statement.

Bob Vila: Yes, I follow that. And, do you still apply that kind of sensibility even if you’re working in a really formal Georgian interior?

Celerie Kemble: I do. I think that color really has no provenance. So, you have the right to use it as long as you are using the right materials. It can make a place feel really fresh to have unexpected color.