Whitney Casey and Nav Sooch have a photo of interior designer Kelly Wearstler lying on the floor of their apartment in Austin, Texas. It was taken during the building work in the midst of both scaffolding and dust. ‘The construction guys were like, “What’s going on? This beautiful woman lying flat in the middle of the sitting room!”’ recalls Whitney with amusement. ‘She was demonstrating how much space would be needed for a sofa you could sleep on.’
The apartment in question is on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings downtown. Several things attracted the couple to it. One was the eight-metre-high ceilings, another the mind-blowing view over Lady Bird Lake towards the rolling hills in the distance. ‘There are just such magnificent sunsets here,’ says Whitney. Then there was the central location. ‘I’m a big-city girl and wanted to live where it’s a little more gritty, a little edgy,’ she says. ‘There’s actually a dry cleaner and a deli you can walk to.’
The 370m² space, however, was initially ‘lifeless’ and ‘sterile’. There were white walls, concrete floors and little in terms of character. Today it could hardly be more dramatic. There are perforated brass doors and a vertiginous fireplace wall made from Nero Marquina marble, both skilfully installed by a local contractor. And then there are also chairs adorned with graffiti and zebra-skin motifs, and crazy handpainted wallpapers. The one in the master bedroom features a criss-cross pattern of bold lines in different shades of blue. ‘It’s really wild,’ says Wearstler. ‘Whitney loves things that feel artistic and are a little more avant-garde.’
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At 50, Wearstler is very much the queen bee of American decorating. Not only has she made a splash with hotels like The Avalon in Palm Springs and W Miami (previously The Viceroy Miami), but also counts the likes of Cameron Diaz and Gwen Stefani among her private clientele. Whitney’s CV is not bad either. She started out as a CNN anchor, worked for the Clinton Global Initiative, has penned a book entitled The Man Plan: Drive Men Wild, Not Away (Perigee Trade) and is currently a spokesperson and relationship expert for the online dating site match.com.
She is also a die-hard New Yorker and would never have dreamt of living in Austin had she not fallen for Nav. They met in an Austin restaurant while Whitney was in town filming a segment for Great Day Houston – a talk show she hosted on CBS. Today, the couple maintain a flat in Manhattan, but have made the Texan state capital their main base. He has kids there from a previous marriage and is also chairman and founder of the tech company Silicon Labs, whose offices are housed in two buildings on either side of City Hall.
‘It’s a very entrepreneurial city,’ says Whitney. ‘People have big ideas.’ The iconic US supermarket chain Whole Foods Market originated in Austin and Whitney claims the city is also home to the best Japanese restaurant in the United States – Uchiko. ‘[Austin] has a Texan cool, bohemian vibe,’ says Wearstler. ‘Lots of cowboy boots and great shops that carry vintage jewellery and clothing.’
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One of Wearstler’s main goals with the apartment was to keep it as open as possible. To that end, she knocked down a wall that had previously separated the sitting and dining areas. She also turned one bedroom into a TV room, another into a closet, and created a brass and black marble walk-in bar that Whitney compares to a jewel box. For the floors, Wearstler opted for a combination of different stones laid in a geometric pattern. ‘It’s always hot in Austin so stone feels a little more refreshing,’ she says. The installation of the fireplace wall apparently took forever. ‘We had to have engineers in,’ says Whitney. ‘They were worried it would be too heavy and fall through the building.’
It was the abstract oil painting by Los Angeles-based artist John Williams, on that very wall, that provided the starting point for the decoration. ‘It’s really wild and looks unpredictable,’ says Whitney. Wearstler would have liked the overall look to be even more extravagant. She came up with proposals for yellow rugs ‘with crazy yarns’, cobalt sofas and a pink dining table. Whitney nixed them all. ‘I really don’t like colour,’ she says. That said, the all-blue master bedroom somehow made the cut, as did the riotous, multitoned wallpaper in the entrance hall. ‘It’s such a pop when you walk in,’ says Whitney. ‘People’s jaws drop.’
All the sexually suggestive accessories have also been known to raise a few eyebrows. ‘Everyone jokes about the amount of naked women in our house… that aren’t alive,’ jokes Whitney. One object that has garnered particular attention is the vintage glass floor lamp by Italian designer Carlo Nason in the living room. ‘One of the contractors said it was like a condom,’ laughs Wearstler.