04/22/2013 06:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Coffee Talk: Kelly Behun

The work of the interior designer is so much harder than that of the event designer. Why? Our clients go on a fun, creative journey with us when we plan and design their events, BUT they only need to commit to the look and feel of their party worlds for five or six hours tops. When interior designers create worlds for their clients to LIVE in, they need to last for years and years - physically and emotionally, and thus, it's harder for clients to commit to experimentation and fantasy for their spaces.

One of the many reasons why I so admire the work of Kelly Behun and her Studio is because experimentation is at the heart of what she does and her spaces straddle the line between decoration and art installation. The Studio creates the interiors of some of the most chic clientele ever -- art-making is key, out-of-the-box thinking is her trademark, and not only that, she is as lovely as it gets. On first glance, the interiors are super elegant, but when you look closer, amazing and experimental details jump out - a side table, for instance, accompanies a modern icon of a chair while a waterfall "pour" of black and white streams over the side of the table into a puddle, creating an optical illusion of viscosity.


Resin 'Pour Table', hand poured by Alex P White for Kelly Behun Studio
Photo by Daniel Kukla

I first met Kelly years ago when she was one of the chairs of New Yorkers for Children's Fall Gala, and we immediately clicked. Birds of a creative feather, I was honored to recently get to chatting ...

David Stark: How did you get started in the design world?

Kelly Behun: It was a circuitous path, I got a degree in economics and then after graduating had some detours into fashion and graphic design, all great experiences but I never felt like I was truly where I should be. I'd always find myself daydreaming about how I might rearrange things, move that chair over here, toss that sofa please, and ohhh that shade of green is not doing us any favors is it? I must have thought it was some form of OCD, until I realized it was more like a calling. So while I always knew I loved interior design it was not exactly a straight line getting there.

DS: Your recent show at the R20th Century was really special. Was it a very different process for you to design individual pieces of furniture and art pieces rather than a whole interior?

KB: I have been designing custom pieces for clients for many years; what was different this time was the fantasy aspect of getting to make things on your own terms without some of the usual constraints. Our goal with the gallery installation was to create a total environment; one where you felt transported which is more or less what I try to do with people's homes. While it was great getting to create things completely on my own terms, there is something to be said for the collaborative process. What I value when working with clients is that you don't necessarily get to have everything your way; there are boundaries, existing conditions and differing points of view that on the surface can seem limiting, but in fact can push you to be more creative, to do wonderful and unexpected things.


3D model for R20th Century installation.


R20th Century installation; Gaze Mirror & After Gordon table by Kelly Behun Studio, alongside Wendell Castle lamp
Photos above by Sherry Griffin

DS: Did you design those pieces with a particular space in mind? In other words, was there a design muse of a space?

KB: To be honest I always think of whether I'd want it in my own home. That is the ultimate litmus test for me.



R20th Century Installation; table of hand-cut mosaic base with macassar ebony top and wallpaper by Kelly Behun Studio
Photos above by Sherry Griffin

DS: One of the pieces that I just adore and think about often is that grand, grand hanging plant holder that you created. I am often looking for half spheres that are that size (48 inches in diameter!) or larger and can't find them. How did that piece come about for you?

KB: I have always had a soft spot for macramé, I have a collection of wacky books from the 70's showing the most insane lampshades and tablecloths and chairs all in more or less the trippy surroundings you'd expect. I wanted to do something incorporating the traditional art of macramé knotting but using a different language, updating it and playing with scale. I grew up with a groovy plant hanger in my bedroom with a spider fern in a dome planter that I thought was the definition of cool -- that was the starting point. So for the show we did a massive 13-foot long planter with a 4-foot wide Lucite dome planter and very thick 1" diameter cotton rope that was dyed black, and instead of wood beads we had accents of black leather. It was one of my favorite pieces in the collection.



R20th Century installation; 'After Sally' macrame plant hanger, hand knotted by Sally England for Kelly Behun Studio
Photos above by Sherry Griffin

DS: What is your dream project?

KB: Doing the interiors of Casa Malaparte in Capri would be a dream, for me it is one of the most beautiful houses, such a perfect distillation of a pure idea. I'd love to take a stab at Antti Lovag's Villa Gaudet or Paul Rudolph's Milam residence in Sarasota. Oh and a riad in Marrakesh would be nice.


Casa Malaparte


Antti Lovag, Villa Gaudet, interior

DS: I play this game a lot with myself: If you were not a designer and were going to HIRE someone to design your home and world, who would that be and why?

KB: Antoni Gaudi, if he were still alive. Or you David, I'd love to live in a David Stark world, can we make that happen?

DS: BLUSHING!!!! And honored . . . ok . . . Who or what are your inspirations?

KB: I am inspired by so many things, by movies, by art, by New York, by travel, my children, but lately most of all by the little old ladies I see who are still getting their hair done every week and putting on perfume and lipstick. If you get up every day still caring, and wanting to be a part of life, and wanting to create beauty in whatever way you can, that's inspiring.


Photo by Gentl + Hyers

DS: If you can design a space and furniture for anyone in the world, who would that be?

KB: The Obamas. While they're still on Pennsylvania Avenue.



Photos above by Daniel Kukla

DS: What is next for you?

KB: I am working on a line that is a bit more mid-priced, with an eye towards doing something mass market as well. And I will always want to continue working with interesting clients, I love the process of getting to know people and how they live, it is such a personal thing and I am always honored to be invited into a person's world in that way, I take the whole process very seriously. It may seem like a collection of chairs and rugs and fabrics, but the way it is put together is everything. In a way your home is like a film set, and the movie is your why not make it a beautiful one?

DS: I second that. Absolutely.