Photography by Cathy Copp
Meet Kelly O’Neal, interior designer, artist, entrepreneur and the brainchild behind Design Legacy by Kelly O’Neal. He is a longtime friend of the Architect’s Wife and her love affair with Mr. O’Neal began at trade markets and evolved when she began carrying his pillows, accessories and textiles based on vintage finds in her Bozeman furniture store.
The Architect’s Wife was immediately drawn to Kelly
because of his authenticity. The more she got to know him, it was obvious that he’s not afraid to use color and he’s incredibly versatile. So, when the opportunity arose to collaborate with Kelly on a client project, The Architect’s Wife pounced.
The uber modern house, nestled in Bridger Canyon, was begging for a wall mural for the guest bedroom and Kelly was the perfect artist for the job. The finished piece conjures glimpses of the backyard it looks out upon — its green trees in Springtime, the copper leaves of Fall or perhaps even a topographic map.
Detail of the mural Kelly painted for an AW client.
So special is this guy that The Architect’s Wife sat down with Kelly for a little one-on-one time to ask him about his life and career as an artist and interior designer. Read on to find out more about Kelly and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at our collaboration and see more of his work!
Painting outside the lines.
Tell me a little about the Bridger Canyon project. What was your inspiration for the guest room walls? I think with any project the brush channels my current mood. In this case, I was influenced by the client’s delightful personality and the AMAZING surroundings. The room looks out over the beautiful Bridger mountains. As for the color palette, Abby was instrumental in the direction and the client also had valuable creative input which helped guide me. I love fluidity of the finished mural it is a lovely contrast to very structured design of the house. I think it softened the space nicely.
What do you like most about working collaboratively? It gets an artist out of his own head. I’m currently working on a licensed collection with another designer, Michelle Nussbaumer, and I think the result has a frivolity about it that reflects both our personalities. I think the collection would be much less sophisticated without her input. I have the same opinion about the Bridger Canyon project as well.
Adding detail to the Bridger Canyon guest bedroom mural.
You began your career as an interior designer, when did your career as an artist get started?
I studied art and design, earning my BFA at the University of North Texas
in 1985. I’ve always created, but my artwork became a major focus about 6 years ago when a more sleek division of the [design legacy] wholesale division (for which I am also the designer) called for complimentary wall art.
Are you still doing interior design work? Absolutely! It’s a creative avenue of a different sort which I will likely never give up.
Do you have an interior design project you’re most proud of? Each is SO different so it’s hard to pick just one and I’m proud to say I have no “signature” style.
How did you know you wanted to work as an artist and do you remember the moment when you made that decision? My home town is in North Texas with a population of 700, so, aside from finger painting in first grade, there were no art programs or classes. My mom, who is an educator, saw my creative side and drove me to a nearby town for painting classes with a bunch of 60-plus-year-olds in the evenings. It was the equivalent of today’s “wine and paint” classes but it spurred a life-long need to create. University of North Texas sealed the deal where, against my dad’s wishes, I pursued the arts (he wanted me to study finance – whatever that means). If I had to credit anything else it would be a strong aversion to math.
How did you decide to make the leap from interior design to art & textile production? I had a large retail store here in Dallas (Legacy Trading Co.) for about 20 years. The wholesale division was born of a need for product there which I could not find in the market. The store is no longer in I business as the other entities were less consuming, but it did give me a unique perspective on our wholesale division.
Do you have a favorite piece of art that you’ve created? There seems to be a new fave each day! I have three (of thousands) that I don’t plan to sell, but, of course, if the right space comes along…
What is the next step/ what are your goals for your business? I would love to do some solo art exhibitions. I think I’m nearing the point in my career where a solo art show isn’t completely terrifying to me. I also just signed a third licensing deal with a large importer to develop collections for major retailers. As I’ve matured, I feel like my goals have become less grandiose and more personal, hence my interest in pursuing a gallery show. Until recently, this I would say on the top of my list of goals but as I’ve matured these have become less grandiose and more personal I.e. Gallery showings.
Some of Kelly’s finished pieces on display at the Las Vegas Design Market. Image courtesy of Kelly O’Neal
What advice do you have for young artists/interior designers/entrepreneurs? Work hard. Be the first in and the last out and NEVER turn down work. I find the younger generation trending to the lazy. Some of the most seemingly insignificant projects turn out to be the most rewarding. I learn from everything I do, and sometimes say “yes” just for the experience. You’re never too old to learn.
Where does your inspiration come from? I’m a nature lover, but color is a constant source of inspiration. And, I love using and observing odd combinations in design and art.
Describe your creative space/studio. My art studio is about 1,000 square feet with concrete floors and plank walls, both of which are covered in paint. I work on many canvases at once so the walls are covered with about 20 different working pieces at any given time. My design studio is a random mix of antiques and is large and open. Neither space is especially romantic but they are comfortable and serve as places where I can get my work done. I’m currently planning a studio at my home which will be done some time in 2017.
Layer upon layer of paint on Kelly’s studio wall serve as a frame for this O’Neal original that is in progress. Image courtesy of Kelly O’Neal
Your collection of imagery is vast. How long did it take you to source these images? I’ve collected since I was a child. Anything from antique paper goods, postcards, and books which became our “library”. Today, it’s in excess of 5,000 images and the collection grows on a daily basis.
Where did you find these images? As a child my Grandmother and Aunt agreed to take me to flea markets where I was awarded for carrying their purchases with a choice of my own flea find. It was usually some oddity or paper antique.
What book are you reading right now? “The Girls” by Emma Cline. Just started it.
Favorite TV show? “Call the Midwife” on PBS. I like its innocence and that it’s true to its form. Before that it was Dexter.
Favorite color? ORANGE!
What’s your favorite design trend? I’m an old house kind of guy, but I do love that Americans have finally embraced mixing contemporary design with vintage pieces. I never tire of that approach, something European in me I suppose. And, I love that this has led to a greater appreciation of American “Craft” goods. That said, I’ve never been one for junk. I think that my days in the apparel industry instilled the “if you can’t buy anything good, buy nothing” mantra in me.
A room divider hand-painted by Kelly O’Neal graces the showroom at The Architect’s Wife. Note the splashes of orange (Kelly’s favorite color).