8 artful design tips from Houston’s Kelly Gale Amen

Some 20 years ago, Houston interior designer Kelly Gale Amen got a call from Traditional Homes magazine, which had named him the designer of the year.

Amen jokes that his response was to ask if they had called the right number.

“I’m so far from being traditional that I can’t tell you what it is,” Amen quipped during a recent Access Design presentation at Meredith O’Donnell Fine Furniture. “They said ‘traditional is what stands the test of time.’”

While Amen’s presentation was about art in home design, the out-of-the-box thinker defines art broadly, putting as much effort into creating a stylish dog bed as he does a beautiful living room and seeing something artistic all around.

In his years of creating beautiful homes, Amen has also designed fabrics and functional art, from bronze benches on display in parks and public buildings to oversized ottomans that are easily converted to dog beds. (The conversion takes place when the dog simply takes it over.)

He also founded and supports the Cancer Below the Belt nonprofit to encourage screening and early detection of cancers that occur “below the belt.”

Here’s a sampling of of his approach to thoughtful, artful design:

Getting started: Sometimes meeting a new client is as simple as asking what they love and what they hate. Toss out the “hates” and focus on the “loves” and you’ll find success, he said.

Household inventory: New design projects don’t have to start with an empty shell — though sometimes they do. Amen likes to assess what a homeowner already has and determine if it works well in another room. “It’s like the flip in real estate. I switch the energy of everything and show how it can work in a different position. It’s a dance, a really wonderful dance,” he said.

Designing around collections: One client had an extensive collection of art, so they decorated in a more minimalist way around it, using vertical stripes to play with color.

Repurposing: When a client hated to part with a lovely but old bedspread, Amen turned it into pillows for a new bedding arrangement. Creating new uses for old things is an easy solution.

Timeless style: Don’t overlook classic style if you’re in search of something new. Maximalism may be creeping back in, but it’s not for everyone. For a client with more understated taste, sticking to simple wall colors and counters with a burst of color on the backsplash is enough.

Country home: City homes and country vacation homes serve different purposes, and for one Hill Country home, Amen kept a bedroom calm and serene in a monochromatic palette of celadon. And the old-fashioned wooden rocker in the corner? It stayed. “Everybody needs a rocker,” said Amen. “If you don’t have a baby, you soon will be the baby.”

Shop wisely: Amen purchased a rug for one client in Kashmir in 1986, and they have taken it to every home they’ve had since; it’s always in use. “If you buy wisely, you will keep those pieces forever,” he said.

Mirrors: Smart use of mirrors is Amen’s signature. Sometimes he uses them to make a room seem larger and at other times, they’re used to reflect something beautiful, especially trees and gardens nearby.

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