Karen Chien is the face behind Karen Chien Inc, the esteemed interior design company based in New York City. Chien, who got her start working for interiors icon Thomas Britt, started her firm in 2005 with the goal to deliver personalized, custom service to clients. This Dumbo resident has since worked on such projects as a penthouse loft in her own neighborhood, as well as a Brooklyn loft and apartments in Park Slope and the Upper East Side. (See examples of her work here.) Below, she shares her insights on starting her own firm, when to hire an interior designer, and her most memorable project.
Can you talk about your beginnings in interior design and what brought you to Brooklyn?
Karen Chien: I started in the interior design industry in 1995, working with Thomas Britt, whom I consider my mentor. Tom’s an icon in the industry, and he taught me to never be too afraid to use color, and that incorporating a sense of scale in a space is important. After moving several times in Manhattan and living two years abroad in Buenos Aires, my husband and I decided to move to Brooklyn for its laid-back vibe, fantastic restaurants, and great culture. We are proud to be able to live, work, and play in Dumbo.
When you started your own firm, how did you want to distinguish it and make it stand out?
KC: I wanted to bring my large firm expertise to clients who didn’t yet have the budget to work with top-tier designers, but wanted access to custom interior design. Working with a designer removes a lot of the headaches that come along with doing a project yourself.
Most of my clients are very busy with work and their families so the last thing they want to deal with is managing all the people involved in a decorating project from painters, upholsterers, furniture makers, and installers.
Dining table that pops
What kind of aesthetic can Karen Chien Inc achieve for its clients?
KC: We design spaces tailored to fit our client’s design aesthetic by taking into account their everyday life. Whether we’re working for a family of five or designing a bachelor pad, it’s important that our clients feel comfortable in their own home. Sometimes this means helping them get furnishings that are perfect for daily use, while other times we seek out signature pieces that will turn heads when company comes over.
When do you recommend that someone hire an interior designer?
KC: It’s always best to start working with an interior designer early in the design process. Depending on the scope of the project, we’ll put together a construction plan, assist in hiring contractors, handle the paperwork, and make sure everything happens in a way that makes sense. When done this way, it saves our clients a lot of time and money.
We have a team of top contractors, painters, upholstery workrooms, furniture makers, and refinishers we work with regularly to ensure that we get the best possible results for our clients.
Period bench refinished in 22K gold leaf
Can you talk about one of your most memorable projects, and how you tackled any challenges that came up?
KC: My most memorable project was one where I was hired to help with some simple design and furnishings after the contractor completed a central air conditioning installation. What started out as a small project that was supposed to take three months, ended up becoming a complete renovation and design project once the client realized the type of look I could help her create. Her enthusiasm led us to source custom fabrics and materials from Paris. We found this period bench and refinished it in 22k gold leaf and covered it with stamped, hand-painted velvet to restore it to an Empire Napoleonic look.
This has definitely been a memorable project and has allowed me to expand my range of what I can provide my clients to make them happy in their newly furnished spaces.