Katie Leede

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

Our interview this week involved a thoughtful discussion with designer Katie Leede about the intersection between acting and designing. The former was something she wanted to do but, as she puts it, “didn’t have the talent for my talent”. The latter, however, was something that just seemed to come naturally in the way that acting did not. And yet, she says they still inform one another. Her interior design work involves improvisation, presentation and a degree of performance and, since she has not completely written off acting, her observations of how people live their lives over the course of her seventeen-year career is something she feels she could one day bring to a role: “My understanding of how I live my life is so much richer because I know so much about how other people live their lives.”

I think your style is really wonderful—it’s not so studied, that’s what I like about it.

I like things to look undecorated. I like things to be comfortable. When I’m working with people, I do like to mix in the things that they have. I don’t think I’m a very “ego” person at all—I like stories and for people to feel connected to their homes.

In here it was just a matter of things accumulated over time. Lampshades need replacing … it’s all fine though. And guess what? It gets inhabited and it gets used, like on Saturday night, Lucia (Katie’s daughter) is painting, her boyfriend is drawing at the table and I’m reading them a book on personality types. They’re like, “Oh my God, Saturday night and we’re hanging out with Mom!”

The elevator landing of Katie and her husband, Averill Power’s Soho loft. A contemporary bullseye mirror, a gift from Katie’s mother, and a vintage movie poster hang on “Uzbek” wallpaper by Katie Leede and Co. The stripe fabric on the bench, “Cairo Stripe” also by Katie, was inspired by the painted stripes encircling the neck of Nofret, on display in the Cairo Museum.
The walls of the front entrance hall are filled with drawings and family photos of Katie and Averill, their five children and vintage photos of grandparents. A fixture from Urban Electric hangs above a runner from Merida.
You seem to live a very charmed life—does it seem that way from your perspective?

Uh-huh. I’m very charmed. And I’m very grateful every day. I think the more grateful you are the more likely the charm will come to you. I have a real belief system about that. I feel very lucky. I get to travel a lot. We’re very adventurous. I think what we value is adventure and connection and beauty and a good life and being there through thick and thin with everybody.

Did you think you were going to become an interior designer when you were younger?

I started because I started getting hired. I had no [design] schooling—I wanted to be an actress. I just didn’t have the talent for my talent. I think I felt very raw when it came to auditioning and I felt like I was like judged—my self-judgement was very strong when I auditioned. I felt very self-conscious about my physical self—how I looked. Whereas with decorating, I grew up in great homes—it’s so natural for me. Even my astrological chart lines up where home is really important.

Did you completely give up on becoming an actor?

No. My ex-husband said, “You can’t be all things” and I actually don’t think that’s true. I’m on panels a lot and I have to bring in a lot of that [acting] training to the forefront. I think sometimes it would be fun, if I had time and I could figure it out, how to bring the beauty of the whole world to a TV show—a kind of high-low experience, like going to India and going to Paris and going into the markets to show people stalls and all the personal choices I would make.

Looking across the main seating of the loft into a light filled corner where a leather chair from London stands next to a side table from Ruby Beets.
Averill’s night-blooming Cereus plant comes from cuttings that have been passed down from his great-grandfather.
A sofa from Ochre faces an organically shaped coffee table from Interieurs. Hanging above the sofa is a print by Sam Francis and to the left, three prints by Frank Stella.
A small tribal drum stands next to a wing back chair that Katie chose to cover in her “Old Kimono” fabric.
I think acting, or at least performance, is a huge element of this job, don’t you?

Without a question. Through studying acting, you learn how to improvise; you learn how to be in the moment; you get to have a lot of self-knowledge. And it’s a ton of fun to do. There are so many things I wouldn’t give up from that experience.
I have several friends who are very famous actors and I love being around actors. I love their liveliness and sense of fun. If anything came up, I would love to give it another go—just for fun.

So you have more confidence now.

Absolutely—I don’t need approval now, the way I did. And I’m more comfortable being vulnerable.

Yes, you do just get rid of a lot of stuff as you get older.

I’ve [also] learned a lot through interior decorating, for example like now I’m pouring a cup of tea … I don’t know how I’m going to explain this … I’m going down a path and I’m not exactly sure what it is I want to say but the thought is that in acting what makes someone really fascinating to watch is that there is something that they want from any given situation but a really great actor will also be doing things, like pouring a cup of tea. It would be fun to go back and look and say, “So what is this person doing as they’re living their life? How are they living their life?” [Because of interior decorating] my understanding of how I live my life is so much richer because I know so much about how other people live their lives.

Another corner of the front sitting area typifies Katie’s casual but chic mix of antiques with art and contemporary accents. A carved vintage pine mirror and gilt mounted horse heads hang above a plaster Giacometti style lamp standing on an English center table. Nearby, a sofa covered in Jack Lenor Larsen fabric stands behind an ottoman from Shabby Chic.
Daughter Lucia’s painting studio finds a home in a sunny corner of the loft.
In the dining area leather covered chairs designed by Katie surround a large Portuguese antique farm table purchased in L.A. Blue-and-white faience from Royal Copenhagen that belonged to Katie’s mother fills a bookcase from CB2.
A pharmacy lamp from Michele Varian stands atop a small glass side table from Paul Marra in L.A. The three black and white prints are by Frank Stella.
A Photo of Katie and Averill is arranged next to “Earth Goddess,” a table lamp from Atelier Demiurge as well as small ceramic pieces by Averill.
What did you find so interesting about the book you mentioned earlier on personality types?

I was just in L.A. for something called Legends of Design—it’s like the big designer week from both coasts … it’s a big hoopla, so I was having dinner one night with my friend John Danzer and another designer, Paul Wiseman and they were talking about personality types and I had studied the enneagram, which is an ancient system of understanding the nine personality types and Paul had also studied that in depth … it happened that we were all “sevens”.

What does that mean?

A seven is … The Enthusiast.

Ah, and I read you also got “The Most Spirited” award in high school.


A view towards the open kitchen. An iron chandelier purchased in Denver hangs above the TV seating area.
Looking across the dining table and bar towards the TV area. A bust of Joan of Arc was Katie’s first purchase when she moved to New York. The small side chair, a street find, is covered in velvet from Holland and Sherry.
The kitchen is a combination of re-finished but existing butcher-block counters with a smaller marble-top island designed by Katie. On the far wall, the waxed cabinet fronts are by plaster artist Rebecca Spivak.
A comfy L-shaped sofa from Dmitry & Co. is the perfect place for lounging and TV viewing. A coffee table is from Charles Jacobsen in L.A. stands on top of a flat weave rug from ABC Carpet.
A carved stone head that Averill bought during a trip to Cambodia finds its place on top of an English antique pine trunk.
A petrified wood tree trunk from Arianna Sharmaris stands in front of a standing lamp that Katie had when she lived in Texas. She later added the whimsical shade. All the curtains in the main living space are out of “Mummy Cloth,” a diaphanous, airy linen from Katie Leede & Co.
So you knew that already—you didn’t need to read this book!

But it’s fun to think where you go when your personality type is stressed.

And where you do you go when you’re stressed?

I get very persnickety, really like focused on the task. If you don’t do it one hundred percent, the whole world is going to fall apart. You lose perspective and a sense of joy. And sevens love to have a good time—we’re the cheerleaders.

So you like to have fun.

I really like to have fun. Who doesn’t?

That sort of comes through in your work in a way.

Does it? [sounds very surprised]

It’s relaxed, I guess, it never goes in and out of style.

That’s the thing. I’m not shiny. I’m not “on trend”. I do not resist trends. I love being inspired by people. I’m totally enamored of a lot of people’s work that is vibrant and bold and shiny and chic … I love all of that but I have a tendency to balance it with really wanting things to feel a certain way, which is like homey.

Peeking into the master bedroom. The walls are covered in paper-backed fabric. The fabric pattern was inspired by her many trips to India and will be available in March 2019.
Katie used an eye-catching antique suzani for the master bedroom headboard then dressed up the bed with antique sari and green velvet pillows and a paisley throw from India. Swing arm lamps from Urban Archeology and bedside tables from Objects Plus flank the bed. The painting on the far wall by Jay Wright was Katie’s first art purchase from a Soho gallery in the mid-1980s.
A print by Robert Motherwell (upper left) and a painting by Averill’s mother (right) hang above a bookcase from Get Back Inc. and a slant top desk that is a family heirloom.
Katie’s closet.
A bust kept from childhood is dressed up with a hat from Nicaragua, a feather necklace from Venice and a vintage Native American turquoise necklace. The curtain fabric is “Isis” from Katie Leede & Co.
In Averill’s dressing area, a watercolor by Raoul Dufy hangs above a collection of boxes and family photos.
Averill’s closet.
Do you think the desire to impress is more masculine than feminine? It’s close to the desire to intimidate.

[Whispers] It is. It’s very New York. And listen, I love it when I go to those places, don’t get me wrong. I’m impressed! It’s artful.

Do you get clients who want to impress?

I think we all struggle with that [desire] a little bit. It’s just a question of degree.

You must know that your lifestyle is immensely enviable to most people.

I don’t. You’re so kind … I mean it’s weird. I think I’m a very accessible person. I know what it is to envy—I have it too but again I think that we live in a creative universe and how do you make a comfortable lifestyle? I mean you can get a lot of stuff on Chairish or you can paint your own painting.

In the seating area of son, Lionel’s bedroom, a print by Andy Warhol hangs above a sofa from Design Within Reach. The wall light fixture was purchased through 1stDibs and the carpet is from Stark. All the doors in the loft, originally an office space, were kept during the renovation.
A work by Lucio Fontana hangs above a headboard designed by Katie in her “Thatch” fabric. The stool fabric is “Kota,” coming out in March and the window shades are in the Egyptian-inspired pattern, “Papyrus.”
It’s true—this style isn’t necessarily one that requires a lot of money to re-create.

That’s right. It’s about style. But I’ve spent a lot of money! Although now I’m really into sample sales. I just started going because I don’t go shopping for myself a lot but I’m telling you … it’s incredible, eighty-five percent off! I got two pairs of boots for $150 each, originally $900! I’ll show them to you!

You said you when you’re stressed you get hung up on details but this is very detail-oriented business, so how do cope with that?

Well I’ve got a lot of planets in Virgo, so that’s good. [Starts to laugh] I sound like a total astrology freak … I’m not this thing, like woo-hoo-hoo … but it is something that I really enjoy. But the details … that’s where my eye goes. I have a very keen eye.

And the boring details? The accounts and the paper chase.

I don’t do that. I have an accountant and three fabulous interns. They want experience. My son said, “Mom, I think I’m wanting to intern for you after I get back from hiking six weeks on the Pacific Trail this summer.” And I’m like, “Well, I hope you’re going to bring your game because you’re not coming in late … it’s not like a casual thing. It’s serious.” I mean we’re all just like this all day … I rarely stop for lunch unless someone comes in and we have a working lunch.

In daughter Lucia’s room a painting by Jay Wright hangs above a bed from CB2. It is covered in a suzani purchased in Santa Fe and throw pillows from Anthropologie and Lisa Fine fabrics. The window shades are out of fabric by Brigitte Singh for Aleta.
A large print by Ivor Abrahams as well as photography by Jerry Uelsmann and Andre Kertesz hangs above a desk from Design With Reach.
Lucia’s hand-painted sneakers rest on top of a carpet from Stark.
An old-fashioned typewriter occasionally replaces Lucia’s laptop.
Inspiration makes it’s way to the closet doors in Lucia’s bedroom.
So how long have you lived in New York?

It’s now eight years. I lived in Texas until I was fifteen and then I went to Andover and my family moved to Denver. I went to Dartmouth and then I lived in New York for about seven years after that. [Katie has also lived in L.A.]

That’s when you were doing acting—when you were at Dartmouth?

And hat making.

Tell us about the hat making.

Oh God, I’ll show you some crazy pictures. I was in Twelfth Night at Dartmouth and I worked in the costume department and so I was quite eccentric at that time. I don’t consider myself eccentric anymore actually. What made me eccentric was that I was so awkward. I think it’s taken me a long time to process how much energy I have. I had not mastered my energy and I wasn’t able to take in the largesse of energy I’ve been blessed with. It took me a long time. I couldn’t be in a confined space … I would go to Harry’s Bar and knock over chairs … I was not in control of my body. I was like a skittish horse.

In the main hall a painting of a Flemish wedding that was a present from Katie’s grandparents to her parents on their wedding hangs above a glass-fronted bookcase that is a family heirloom.
A lithograph by Alexander Calder hangs next to doorway to the kid’s bath.
In Katie’s bath an antique mirror is flanked by a pair of Ralph Lauren sconces from Circa Lighting. The ceiling fixture is by Tazi Designs in San Francisco and the sink vanity was faux painted by Rebecca Spivak.
A portrait of Katie, taken by the grandson of Alexander Calder, hangs above a deep tub, perfect for relaxing after a hectic day.
The design on the walls of the kid’s bath is of an Agapanthus plant and came from a stencil that Katie ordered from London; Alpha Workshops painted the design.  The print is by friend and artist Anne Neeley.
Don’t you get exhausted?

Not very often. I have a belief that it’s divine energy that I’m just pulling from … I don’t want to come off as like, super … airy-fairy. I’m a very practical person but this is like, how the love that I feel every day and the experience I have.

And the hat making?

So right after college we had an amazing house up in Maine and I ended up spending a year there in Seal Harbor—it is like a ghost town in the winter and I needed something to do, so I started making these hats. [She shows us pictures of very extravagant hats] These are my crazy hats. They were not even wearable! But people did end up wearing them at dinner parties and things. I bought all the materials in the Garment District. Bergdorf Goodman was interested but they said I’d have to tone it down and I said, “I don’t know how to do that.”