"I don’t want to be known as ‘that goth decorator,’" frets Kara Mann, but this gutsy designer, who will open a namesake showroom in River North this winter, can’t help herself: she’s a hopeless fan of skulls, leather, and rock ‘n’ roll. You wouldn’t guess it from the interiors she does for her clients, which tend to be classically elegant with a modern edge. But you’ll find her yen for the dark side represented in her home (to wit, a Blackman Cruz skull lamp in her living room) and showroom (a bergère chair upholstered in leather with music lyrics hand-painted on it by the British design duo Jimmie Martin). We asked the reluctant rebel to help us deconstruct her look.
Where does your rock ‘n’ roll design aesthetic come from? It’s what’s inside of me, I guess. I love beautiful things, but I’m also attracted to things that are a little unexpected, darker. I love skulls because they’re old, they’re natural, they’re curious. And I love dark colors, too. Right now, I’m really into this gold citrine green-it’s this very muddy, murky green.
How does your love of fashion play into your work as a designer? I get my inspiration more from fashion than I do from interiors. One of my favorites is Thomas Wylde [a line known for jarring juxtapositions, such as skull prints on delicate fabrics]. Everything in her collection is feminine, but it’s got an undertone of rocker-lots of blacks and whites and high contrasts. I also love Libertine’s reconstructions of vintage clothes, with big prints of chandeliers and florals-a look that transfers well to furniture. It’s quirky and a little tongue-in-cheek.
How would you describe your look? I like a beautiful base: classic architecture, clean lines. The idea is that the room is still elegant and refined, but done with an edge. For example, at home, we have this taxidermy chicken-a French artist worked with a fashion designer to dress these chickens in formalwear. It’s edgy, but in a fun way. It’s not Marilyn Manson. It’s more Ozzy Osbourne-the later, more commercial Ozzy.
A bronze bat incense burner from Blackman Cruz, available through Kara Mann Design (karamanndesign.com)
How can one incorporate black into one’s home without it feeling like Dungeons and Dragons? It depends on the architecture. If you’ve got moldings, you could paint the walls black and use a glossy white trim. That way, it’s less about being dark and more about being graphic. I always mix in a brown with my black so that it has more depth. It’s softer. Also, I use an accent color like orange, which adds warmth and makes the darkness seem less ominous.
Let’s say you really want to put a skull in your home, but you’re just not sure how, or where . . . I could see a very traditional, refined room, and then, all of a sudden, in a corner, there is a little white porcelain skull.
What lines will you carry in your showroom, and how do they fit with your look? Ochre is a very elegant line of furniture and accessories, not necessarily edgy. But if you choose a black velvet upholstery instead of an earth tone, you’ve got a whole different look. BDDW out of New York uses unfinished-looking natural materials-big, chunky slabs of wood-and combines them with really clean lines. It’s that rawness mixed with refinement that I’m attracted to. Jimmie Martin does reproductions of European period pieces-very regal, but painted with graffiti and song lyrics. It’s all custom-it can be done with your favorite song. I love the way it ties in fashion with interiors.
Photograph: (image1) Adam Heneghan