The Elements of Style

A Q&A with Stylist to the Stars Kate Martindale on Her Secrets for Infusing Passion and Personality into Each New Project

For Los Angeles–based prop stylist, food stylist, and interior designer Kate Martindale, the design is in the specifics. A tremendously tufted banquette in a client’s favorite shade of sunny yellow curved around a classic Eero Saarinen table. A beautiful grouping of found silver-plated utensils, each tarnished to the best finish. Fine Vista Alegre porcelain from a honeymoon in Portugal. These are the aspects—those special little somethings—that make an interior truly inspired.

“It’s all about those pieces that are so rare there’s not many others like them left in this world,” Martindale explained. “It may cost more than another larger piece in your home, but that little extra touch you’re adding—that is you. This is what’s so important in every room, every home.”

Martindale’s distinct group of celebrity and commercial clients, which include notable names like Lauren Conrad, Curtis Stone, and Courtney Love—not to mention Arbonne, Bloomingdale's, Coca-Cola, Target, GQ, InStyle, and C Magazine—seek her detail-driven design artistry. It’s something she also conveyed to the pages of Lauren Conrad's Celebrate, a guide for entertaining in style,and celebrity chef Curtis Stone’s new cookbook, What’s for Dinner?: Delicious Recipes for a Busy Life.

Kate Martindale
Images provided by Kate Martindale.

“With each of my clients, I always try to bring in elements that are a little bit unexpected,” Martindale said. “Most people, when I come to them, it’s all about creating an image. Whatever my clients are trying to do, I always try to bring in elements that really make it feel like we didn’t shoot it in the studio, like we didn’t set it up, like there’s no camera present on set, that it could be a real place where someone lives. I think a lot of people forget that it should look as if it’s unstaged because that’s where the real beauty lies.”

Born and raised in New Orleans, Martindale developed her style while attending the Art Institute of Atlanta and by then traveling broadly through Europe and settling for a time in the Middle East. She engrossed herself in design, fine art, and architecture, and she said she looks to those experiences today, along with her uncanny ability to find amazing, original statement pieces that she then harmoniously blends with existing and new items. For Martindale, it’s all about bringing that perfectly imperfect real beauty to life.

"That little extra touch you’re adding—that is you. This is what’s so important in every room, every home."

“For so many years, I thought it was about me coming in and making everything perfect,” she said. “And I’ve gotten further and further away from that, which is lovely. I really try to inspire my clients and let them know that I’m thinking outside the box. It’s my job to really keep developing for them, bringing back that authenticity and genuine feel.”

And that, Martindale says, returns back to the thrill of the hunt, finding those elements that really make an impression with her clients. Just how does she do it? We couldn’t wait to find out.

Q: Do you approach art direction, prop styling, interiors, and food styling from different perspectives?

Martindale: It’s funny, because I think I’m always the same person no matter which hat I’m wearing, but where it differs is through my clients. When I do anything interior decorating, I’m always really conscientious about what I’m doing for my client, rather than myself. I think homes are so different because this is where people actually live, and I think if you go into a home, it’s important to help guide people in what they buy. When I did Lauren’s house and Curtis’ house, I did a lot of shopping with them. This was really important to me because I didn’t just want to go off and spend thousands of dollars on their credit cards and say, ”I bought all these personalized items for you.” And they were really into that. And perhaps this is one thing that really attracted them to me—that I was willing to personalize their space.

Q: How does color complement your aesthetic? While your design work is diverse, your work with Lauren Conrad is certainly softer, more romantic. Is it safe to say you’re more interested in color palettes that align with that sense of easy elegance?

Martindale: Overall, yes! White and pink are my absolute go-tos, as well as gray. I’m about to repaint my kitchen and do my cabinets in this beautiful gray. I tend to be drawn to these beautiful, English-looking colors, which is why I love the colors of Pratt & Lambert. They have a very Old World feel and a depth, which I actually love. Those beautiful English colors are definitely what I’m drawn to.

Martindale, a fan of Pratt & Lambert paints, is really into whisper lights, sultry grays, and pops of pink right now. Invoke a feminine, luxe look with this color palette inspired by her style.

DESIGNER WHITE 33-1

PINK HIBISCUS 2-2

CERISE DELIGHT 2-14

DEEP CHARCOAL 25-18

HEARTHSTONE 28-27

STEEL WOOL 33-14

Q: Tell us about white. How do you use this designer favorite shade?

Martindale: For the project with Lauren, I was definitely able to steer her toward using white, mostly because white would let in the most light, and it will bounce off the walls to create this great effect throughout the home. Plus, it’s clean, and you can always switch your furniture in and out. Especially with such high ceilings, you want to be really comfortable with what you paint walls. So many people paint walls with a stark color and then leave it there forever. I always tell people if they haven’t picked out furniture yet, or they’re not really sure about how they feel, they should paint with whites. There are so many beautiful whites out there. I tend to gravitate toward whites that are clean yet soft and have a little bit of warmth to them.

Kate Martindale
Images provided by Kate Martindale.

Q: What do you envision for a well-designed home?

Martindale: For me, it’s at least having one large open space in your home. I think if you have a kitchen or a living room that’s a bit open with a large amount of light, that’s super important. Cheerful and happy light is what everyone should always have.

Q: You’re known for discovering that one crucial piece that adds a perfect finishing touch. How do you go about looking for one-of-a kind styles?

Martindale: Honestly, I usually head to the flea markets for my last little touch because I think one of the best ways to really warm up a space is to then find items that have a bit of a history and some life to them that you can incorporate to give it a little soul. Thrift stores are also great. Many times people donate things they believe to have lost value, but they’re really unique treasures. Shopping the L.A. flea markets is a must too! I just search for really cool items that give that personal touch.

Kate Martindale
Images provided by Kate Martindale.

Q: Tell us more about the penthouse design with Lauren Conrad. What was your prized space that the two of you pieced together?

Martindale: Her upstairs patio, the very top! Lauren really let me run with that, and do what I wanted there, which was marbled, tumbled black-and-white 25-inch-by-24-inch tile. Her table I had custom-made, and the chairs I picked out at a flea market.

Q: In addition to the work you did for Lauren Conrad, you’ve done extensive restaurant-design work for celebrity chef Curtis Stone. How did these jobs contrast?

Martindale: Curtis originally hired me to do his cookbook, and I kind of introduced Curtis to the vintage world. He grew up in Australia, with two grandmothers who taught him how to cook, and I think he wanted to know how to introduce that and make a brand for himself, especially when starting his own restaurants. And when he saw me show up with all these old spoons and plates, we immediately bonded with all of that. He loved antiques and vintage in the same way that I do. He then hired me on to style the two restaurants.

Kate Martindale
Images provided by Kate Martindale.

Q: How did you introduce your personal design approach into Curtis’ restaurants, which are titled after his grandmothers, Gwen and Maude?

Martindale: For Gwen, he hired a design firm out of New York, so I worked with them. I loved the aesthetic that they’ve inspired. They used a lot of reclaimed wood, light fixtures from the ’20s. It’s incredible. I worked alongside them, but Curtis also hired me separately to create all the plateware, glassware, and napkins. I used a local ceramist, and had her create a lot of the dishes—layered vintage plates. I wanted people to sit down and see this beautiful place setting that was all white in front of them. Yet when you get to that last course, it’s presented on this soft-gray plate. All these dishes and palettes layer so beautifully and match the vibe of the restaurant itself. Maude is a bit more English. A bit—no, very—”glam grandma.” Curtis even let me pick out pieces that have more patina and are a little older, which I appreciated. People come in and are surprised to see a mix of both modern and vintage. It’s this constant push-and-pull aesthetic between modern and vintage for both restaurants.

Q: What’s next for you?

Martindale: I’m doing another shoot with Rachel Ashwell of Shabby Chic Couture, who is creating new pieces for Target. This year, it’s all about bedding. We do all the packaging for these items, so it’s always really fun. Stay tuned!

We definitely will! For more updates on Martindale and our other co-conspirators in style, be sure to follow Design in Color on Instagram.