my interview with icon karen mccartney

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With a career spanning over 20 years and many continents, Karen McCartney has become an industry expert on interior design and home styling. The founding Editor of Inside Out magazine is now on board as Temple & Webster’s Editorial Director, revelling in the fast pace of the ever-changing online space. I was lucky enough to take some time out with this interiors icon to learn more about her creative journey, how she styles her own home and so much more!

The first interiors book I ever received was Creative Homes – your 2005 release! What are some of your memories of it?

Creative Homes was a great project because it emerged out of Inside Out content. We ran regular stories in the magazine, which had fantastic photography, on how people in the creative industries lived at home in Australia. We looked at designers and architects, retailers and artists from across the nation and compiled them into a book. The variety of styles and aesthetics is broad and quite fascinating.

You were also founding Editor of Inside Out Magazine. How do you feel about your time there and what were some of the highlights?

I was indeed founding editor and I stayed for a decade! For me the highlights were all to do with the creativity of others. I worked with a talented bunch of people who always over-delivered on expectation and as an editor that is the best feeling of all.

Above: A sale of product that Karen compiled for Temple & Webster

You’re now on deck at Temple & Webster. Can you tell me about your role and what appeals to you about the business?

Having spent my whole career in print, the move to digital, and to a retailer, has been a really interesting one. While on the surface so much is different, in reality what I do is surprisingly similar. My title is Editorial Director and I find, and write about, things that might interest our audience. It is all content and the principles remain consistent. The fast pace is wonderful on one hand and a challenge on the other. One minute you have lots of stories planned and the next minute the cupboard is bare. “Feeding the content beast’ is what my colleague Adam calls it.

Your 2007 and 2011 book releases chronicle iconic Aussie homes and their architecture. What do you think makes a home uniquely Australian from a design and décor perspective?

The books I wrote on Australian iconic homes chronicle our best residential architecture over 50 years and through the research I got a really good understanding of what makes a great house design. So much is to do with the climate – successful orientation for sun and shade – and our ability to link indoor and outdoor spaces seamlessly. There is also more of a ‘push over’ mentality around houses here, which shocked me when I first arrived in Australia because in Europe things are rarely knocked down. This can be good and bad. Good when something ordinary is replaced with a great building and bad when a great building is replaced with something ordinary.

Décor wise it is a case of anything goes and I don’t see a typical Australian interior: a house can have a Balinese influence, a French style interior, modernist or Moroccan. It is a global playing field when it comes to interior fit outs.

Above: That’s me with Karen and T&W’s Editor Victoria Baker

I also have 82 Modern Style Ideas to Create at Home; a must-have for craft lovers. Are you particularly crafty and are you a fan of a DIY project?

That project came about again because of a successful series in Inside Out where we had a section called “Why don’t you”… We were very inventive in terms of ideas and with the passion for craft-projects it seemed a good plan to collate them into a book. I cannot claim to be good at this myself. As an editor you need to recognize a good idea not necessarily be able to do it – thankfully.

Your career has spanned 20 years and many continents – and I’m sure you’ve seen interior designs come and go. What is a timeless look/scheme you still love?

As an editor you need to know when a house story delivers a great impression. Not everything will be to your taste so you need to develop a sense of what is good and why. For me it was always about commitment to a particular style – not a bit of this and a bit of that – but a sense of nailing your colours to the mast, stylistically speaking. Confidence is everything and so you learn to recognise that in the images you see. In a funny way any scheme is timeless when delivered with great aplomb.

How would you sum up your own home style?

We live in a 1967-built house by Australian architect Bruce Rickard. It is a flat roofed brick, glass and timber house which to some degree dictates the style of furniture and accessories. We have mixed 1940s Danish design – chairs by Hans Wegner – with benches made locally by Jeffrey Broadfield and pieces by big name women designers – Patricia Urquiola and Hella Jongerius.

If is a very timber based interior with natural colours and knitted pieces by my favourite craftswoman, Jacqui Fink at Little Dandelion.

Above: A photograph from a recent house shoot in New Zealand, by architects Fearon Hay, for Karen’s forthcoming book

You have a bit of an obsession with stools (I’m consumed by cushions at the moment!). What is it about the stool that makes you so smitten?

I like the honesty and simplicity of a stool and also the enormous design variety within a basic format. The Japanese know a thing or two about creating inventive shapes: just think of the Noguchi Butterfly stool.

Having seen hundreds of homes over the years, what’s one piece of advice you could offer people when they’re starting out creating their space and decorating it?

The more I see the more I am convinced that you need to understand yourself, your taste, and what look you want to live with. Too often I hear the advice ‘just go with what you love’ and I always find it a bit unhelpful. I love lots of different things but that doesn’t mean they will come together in a meaningful way. My advice is to start doing a Pinterest board. Follow your instincts as to the images you like and get a reasonable number together, say 20. Then edit – what works together and what doesn’t. What style have you got the most of? Make a physical mood board or book and make that you personal style guide. Good decorating takes a long time and you will always have your decorating goal clearly in mind.

And lastly, how do you live The Life Creative?

I feel very grateful that I have been able to work in areas where my personal interests and professional life come together. At Temple&Webster things move fast and we are always working on new ideas, making things happen – quickly. I love the speed and energy of it. Conversely the books I work on are two year projects. Slow, measured, considered and will be around for a long time – hopefully.

Photo Credits:
Photo one courtesy of Karen McCartney/Temple & Webster – photography by Natalie  Hunfalvay
Photo two – Styled T&W shot – photography by Denise Braki
Photo three is my own – Photo four via Karen McCartney

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