Recently we interviewed Kathleen Rubin, an interior designer based out of Austin. She gave us some of her time to give her perspective on her life, work, inspirations, and incredible eye for design.
Kathleen Rubin is a designer and owner of ROOM IS BLUE, an Interior Design Studio located in Austin, Texas. With a background in Urban Design, Kathleen thinks strategically and creatively about how spaces enhance quality of life. She believes that beautiful interiors and public spaces should be accessible and comfortable – where human behavior is supported including the need for creative expression.
After studying Interior Design at the New York Institute of Art & Design, Kathleen founded ROOM IS BLUE in 2017. The studio offers a variety of design services for both residential and commercial projects, from creative direction and styling to space planning and renovation. Kathleen photographs and styles the studio's home tour and interview series, to recognize creative people in their living spaces through the lens of her own design sensibilities. ROOM IS BLUE celebrates the way people live and their spaces.
How did you get started in Interior Design?
My background is in Public Policy and Urban Design. Interior Design was always a hobby. My first houses were filled with junky finds from the side of road that I repaired or transformed and Ikea furniture that I customized to look less like Ikea furniture. I really cared about creating beautiful spaces that were comfortable and interesting and because decorating was a creative outlet for me.
Friends started to think of me when they were trying to source a specific piece of furniture or for help arranging a room and I loved helping them! These requests started to come so frequently that I decided to formalize my education in Interior Design so that I could offer this help in a more professional way. I studied at the New York Institute of Art & Design and I founded my interior design studio, ROOM IS BLUE, in 2017. Since opening, I’ve worked with both commercial and residential clients and I’m just starting to design a collection of furniture and home goods.
How do you draw inspiration for your work?
I collect design books and magazines, and really this is where my informal education in interior design began. I know there are easier ways to find inspiration since we have access to so many photographs of inspiring spaces on Instagram or wherever else online. But when I start to see the same space over and over again it feels like someone else is curating that experience for me. Pouring over dusty old books is a way for me to maintain agency in that experience and because it’s fun.
When I travel, I make it a point to visit iconic spaces like Casa Barragan in Mexico City, or Arcosanti, or the Neutra VDL house and Eames house in Los Angeles, among others. Nothing is more motivating to me than standing in those spaces and experiencing the genius in their design; I get giddy! I am of course inspired by other designers, artists and architects and I find inspiration in natural elements. My phone is full of photographs of flowers and plants, the tropical fruit aisle at the grocery store or any other interesting texture or color I may notice that nature has just given to us like a gift. As a designer it’s hard not notice all the details around me because it’s kind of my job to bring a unique perspective to my work.
What design piece should every house have?
Every house is so different, but I think a space for people to gather that isn’t centered around a television is important. I love a living room with a comfortable area rug, so friends can sit on the floor and really hang out — and eat and drink and talk. Even a small space can be comfortable for socializing if it’s designed properly. I tend to design spaces where the windows are the focal point. Having access to the outdoors and natural light (and color!) lightens the mood of a space. And creating spaces where people want to gather because it’s comfortable and warm is one of my favorite parts about designing interiors.
What are some of the words you live by?
I am always reminded not to take myself too seriously. It’s so important for my work and my sense of self to maintain a sense of humor. Especially working in a creative field, my ego can become intertwined with my work. I strive to stay kind and positive to myself and others, to move with a lightness that allows me to be my best self.
What’s one of your favorite interior design trends?
Terazzo! It’s not just for airports anymore. Terrazzo is a composite material made of chips of marble, quartz, granite or glass poured or pre-cast with cement or a polymer first used a flooring material (as early as 9,000 BCE!) I especially love terrazzo for counter tops because of its durability and now because of its trendiness I’ve seen some beautiful options with oversized chips in fun colorways that make for a dramatic design choice.
Why did you decide to do business in Austin? What do you like about the city?
I grew up in San Antonio, always fully aware of how special Austin was. I moved to Boulder, Colorado for college and spent some time in Dakar, Senegal and then lived in Dallas before moving to Austin for graduate school in 2012. It felt like moving home. The people make this place for me and I feel like I’m a part of community (or several, really) here. Of course, it’s also just a gorgeous place to be, situated so near the Hill Country and our natural, watering holes.
There is so much talent here too, it’s inspiring to be around. As a creative and a business owner, I’ve only ever felt supported and encouraged by the community. Even as this town experiences growth and change, Austin doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s that sense of humor that has made this place a haven for artists and weirdos. Because of Austin’s reputation as a rad place to live, it could easily become dog-eat-dog but it hasn’t (in my experience) and I’m grateful.
What are some of your favorite things for the summer?
As soon as it starts to warm up in Austin, I just want to be outdoors. I love to entertain and for me a fun part of interior design is that extends beyond the interiors. It’s hard to love design and not be interested in architecture and landscape architecture and in my case decorating for parties. I spend a lot of energy working in the yard and loving on my plant babies so having a comfortable outdoor dining and lounging spaces is the best way to enjoy it. I just love to make party cocktails and hang string lights and serve platters of yummy food to my friends, so we can all pretend summer is break even if it’s just for a Sunday. After sitting out in the sun all day at the pool or the springs, nothing’s better than cooking a meal in the backyard. I love it when the sun goes down and it’s still warm and dewey and the cicadas come out. That’s the best kind of summer day in Texas.
Any tips for people trying to have a career in interior design?
I saw this poster that Carissa Potter Carlson of People I’ve Loved designed that says “You are not an impostor, you are for real. It’s not luck, timing or a lie. You deserve it.” Especially as a newbie in a competitive, creative industry I’ve needed this reminder from time to time. It can be challenging to have the courage to put yourself and your work out there. Just remember that there is enough room for everyone; embrace your competition. Rejection is a valuable part of the growing process so chose to go easy on yourself!
Follow Kathleen on her Instagram.