Written by Stephy Chung, CNN

In Sanctuaries, a new CNN Style series, top experts share interior design tips for creating calming and inspirational home spaces.

From the charming bright interiors of New York’s Berdorf Goodman restaurant to the rich, Art Deco-inspired accents of Miami’s Tides South Beach hotel, designer Kelly Wearstler has transformed commercial and residential projects into some of the world’s most distinctive spaces.

Wearstler playfully experiments with colors, patterns and textures, mixing furniture from different time periods and finding inspiration “just about anywhere.”

Like much of the US, Wearstler has been spending a disproportionate amount of time indoors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “It actually showed me that you can work from home. There’s so much you can do with the different applications that are available now,” she said. “I think more and more people (in the future) will be working from home, creating their sanctuaries and making them as functional, efficient and as beautiful as they possibly can.

Below, America’s reigning interior design queen lends her expertise on creating ideal work environments and playing with space.

CNN: What does a sanctuary mean to you, and why is it important to create one in your home?

KW: A sanctuary can be any place in your home that makes you feel good, that makes you feel safe. It can be somewhere you can escape to and be inspired by, somewhere you can think and have something that touches all your senses.

Wearstler designed this guest bedroom for a client's home to feel as if it were on a boat. The walls and ceiling are covered in honey toned teak wood, giving warmth and texture to the space. A 1970s zodiac sculpture above the bed is reminiscent of a starfish.

Wearstler designed this guest bedroom for a client’s home to feel as if it were on a boat. The walls and ceiling are covered in honey toned teak wood, giving warmth and texture to the space. A 1970s zodiac sculpture above the bed is reminiscent of a starfish. Credit: Grey Crawford

What key elements can people bring into a space to make it better for working in?

Just get rid of all the clutter. Pare down on anything that you haven’t worn, anything you haven’t used, anything you don’t need. I always say organization is the key to success — and it really is. It makes you efficient (and things feel) less hectic.

Have a comfortable chair. It doesn’t have to be a work chair — just something really comfortable and stylish.

Everyone is doing these virtual meetings and you see so many backgrounds of people’s homes. It’s so funny because some people have a downlight on their head, some people are lit so beautifully, some people will have a dead plant behind them, some people have these dirty dishes. We don’t want to see that. How you dress, how you expose yourself in a virtual meeting, represents who you are.

I recommend having your desk by a window because you can look outside, look at trees or the sky … it’s so inspirational, and helps you clear your head. Also, it’s the perfect lighting for doing a virtual meeting.

In small, cramped spaces, I think color is a huge game-changer. You don’t have to commit to every wall, you could have a color block scenario. All your walls could be a crisp bone color, and behind you can be a citron yellow. And then you can place a piece of art on that, and you have this great background for your virtual meeting. You don’t have to commit to one full color, but it just adds so much drama and interest and it says a lot about you as well.

If people want to be inspired, what sort of colors should they gravitate towards?

A lot of clients will say, ‘Kelly, I love color but I’m not sure what color I want to move forward with.’ I always tell people to go in their closet and look at what they like to wear. If you have a lot of green and a lot of neutral colors in your wardrobe, maybe you want to paint your wall a mint green, which has a really great sense of cleanliness and is uplifting. Or if you have a beautiful conch shell pink color on a bunch of blouses, maybe you would like to be surrounded in a room that has that color scheme. So, what you wear is a great inspirational starting point.

Right now, it’s spring, we want to be optimistic, and I think a citron yellow is a really great color because it makes you happy — it makes you feel good, because color helps to evoke emotions.

For people who are a little nervous or skeptical about using color, I always recommend people start with a monochromatic color palette. So, if you have a powder blue wall, you might want to use a turquoise fabric, maybe a navy pillow. You stay in that color story.

This room in a triplex apartment in New York City has an intimate seating area with a monochromatic palette in hues of teal and mineral fabric by Kelly Wearstler. The walls are covered in vegetable-dyed handmade paper by Cannon Bullock.

This room in a triplex apartment in New York City has an intimate seating area with a monochromatic palette in hues of teal and mineral fabric by Kelly Wearstler. The walls are covered in vegetable-dyed handmade paper by Cannon Bullock. Credit: Annie Schlechter

Where do you find inspiration for your interiors? What sites do you visit?

I think it’s important to find inspiration in many different things. Go look at the latest fashion shows. Go online and look at beautiful art galleries. Do virtual tours of museums and look at their archived collections. (Look to) nature.

1stdibs is an incredible platform. You can find anything from lighting, to furniture, to art and accessories. Vintage, antique, contemporary. There’s also Artsy, which is a great platform for art … you can shop at different galleries around the world. I love Sight Unseen. It supports emerging furniture and lighting designers. Also going to Pinterest, you can often shop direct to different brands or companies. And Instagram, it’s an amazing place to discover artists, different companies that make rugs and textiles. I use all of these daily.
Concierge seating area at Santa Monica Proper Hotel. Vintage pieces include a gold leaf chair, a ceramic vase, an upholstered vintage Sottsass Associati "Lodge Chair" and a Frank Gehry "Hat Trick" chair.

Concierge seating area at Santa Monica Proper Hotel. Vintage pieces include a gold leaf chair, a ceramic vase, an upholstered vintage Sottsass Associati “Lodge Chair” and a Frank Gehry “Hat Trick” chair. Credit: The Ingalls

A lot of people are doing business through the internet. If you want to buy a vintage chair, for example, a lot of times, I’ll call the dealer and say, ‘Can you have someone sit in the chair and take video or photos of all the different elevations of that chair?’ That really gives you a perspective on whether it looks comfortable and the back height. It’s the same thing with other furniture — a dining table, a dining chair. Don’t look at just the chair, look at it with a table that’s around the size and shape (as the one) you’re looking at, because that will give you a really good understanding about the scale of the chair.

How do you break up parts of the home so that everyone has their own spaces for work, for play and for life — so things don’t just bleed into one another? What design hacks do you have to help people divide up spaces better, especially those who might not have separate rooms?

For someone that has an open-floor plan, or a smaller-scale place, create a space-within-a-space by using objects, a folding screen, a sculpture, drapery or plants. If you want to create a nook in a room, get maybe six plants. They can be at different heights. I also recommend noise-canceling headsets because if you’re trying to focus, and you’re in a small space, then that helps to take you into another zone.

A menagerie of potted greenery at the new Austin Proper hotel, designed with a residential, warm southern hospital feel in mind.

A menagerie of potted greenery at the new Austin Proper hotel, designed with a residential, warm southern hospital feel in mind. Credit: The Ingalls

Re-doing spaces can feel quite intimidating and can lead to a lot of unfinished little projects. If people want to update their space, what is the first thing they should look at, to make an impact?

To get the most bang for your buck (start with) paint. And if you can’t do anything to your walls, then give them a piece of art. Look at the bigger things in the room that will give you the most impact. Is it recovering a sofa? Is it bringing in some lamps? Those are some of the bigger moves.

Wearstler's own living room in her home in Beverly Hills, California. The furnishings are a melange of progressive contemporary furniture designers and artists, as well as unique finds from Wearstler's travels.

Wearstler’s own living room in her home in Beverly Hills, California. The furnishings are a melange of progressive contemporary furniture designers and artists, as well as unique finds from Wearstler’s travels. Credit: The Ingalls

Describe the room in your own home that you find most relaxing.

It’s a family room in our home. It’s next to a set of windows and doors, (and looks out to a) garden with all this green landscaping, and there’s a fireplace in there. There’s nothing more relaxing than a fire and the light it creates, the sound and just the visual energy. The room is paneled and painted in a really rich and beautiful taupe. It’s just warm; I feel like I’m in a womb. The furniture is very comfortable, and there’s a really great plush rug. It’s got great acoustics and natural light.