How My Mom's Design Career Inspired My Own

Celerie Kemble talks joining the family business.

Courtesy of Kemble Interiors.

Have you ever considered following in your mother's footsteps? When choosing a career path, it is likely that your parents will play some sort of influence on what you end up choosing. They are often our first role models when growing up, after all. Deciding to take on the same job as your parent is a huge step for yourself — and interior designer Celerie Kemble did just that. In fact, she even joined the family business!

Her mother Mimi McMakin made a name for herself when she opened up Kemble Interiors in the '80s. She solidified that iconic Palm Beach mix of traditional and tropical aesthetics in her work, and continues to style homes and commercial spaces to this day. Growing up with such a strong creative presence, it makes sense that Celerie not only went into design, but she expanded her mom's biz by opening up the New York home for Kemble Interiors.

We asked the designer to chat with us about her career journey and why working with her mother has been such an important part of her life.

How My Mom's Design Career Inspired My Own
Photographed by Brittany Ambridge for Kemble Interiors.

Lonny: What was it like growing up in the home of an interior designer?
CK: Growing up in a home filled with beauty, within rooms and spaces layered with wild flights of whimsy and sentiment, certainly established my appetite for design early on. It made me care and take note of things that struck me as distinct or lovely from a very early age. I would credit this foundational interest in what makes a home magic as the seed that has grown into a whole career for me, for both interior design with Kemble Interiors and product design with my manufacturer partners. I created every light in my new Arteriors collection with a spark struck from this understanding. You’ll notice that in the designs I have returned to many of my favorite Palm Beach ingredients — wicker, color, organic texture, and a little twinkle of mirror. 

Was design always a career goal of yours? Did your mom encourage it?
CK: My mom always encouraged me to do more than just color inside the lines. Sometimes she may have just been trying to make me feel better about my chaotic drawings, but often she would push me to think about what could be, instead of what is: “Elephants might look better if they were striped... Try it!”

When I was a child I wanted to be a professional roller skater, and later a writer, and then filmmaker. The writer skills and filmmaker attempt brought me to two core elements required of a designer — the ability to communicate and inspire others in their expertise within a craft or trade, and the skill to champion an organizational structure and provide a consistent narrative to keep everyone working toward a common goal.

That’s the long answer, but the short one is that I inadvertently came to business of being an interior designer. I am certain that the love for the end results of the process and the general confidence to give it a go came from my mom.

An example of Mimi McMakin's classic Palm Beach style.
An example of Mimi McMakin's classic Palm Beach style.
Photographed by Carmel Brantley for Kemble Interiors.

How much of your aesthetic did you pick up from your mother and how much did you discover on your own?
CK: I would have to say my taste and sense of quality came from what I have been lucky to enjoy as a traveler, guest, and resident of beautiful homes. My mom first introduced me that — it was always a priority for her. We both love colorful, feminine, and friendly designs that speak to gardens, comfort, and the idea that your home should provide relief from the world you can’t control, as well as a gracious expression of what you’d like it to be.

I think that the process of designing homes over the last 20-something years for other people has been the stretch and pull that has helped my taste evolve. For instance, working in New York and enjoying the more formal or more fashionable directive of the city has led me to infuse my work with a little more glamour and edge. I think the Calliope chandelier in my Arteriors collection — with its 150 metal disks finished in antique brass — shows a little of this sweetness and sharpness.

Celerie Kemble's design for the Playa Grande Beach Club. 
Celerie Kemble's design for the Playa Grande Beach Club. 
Courtesy of Kemble Interiors.

What has it been like working with your mom at Kemble Interiors?
CK: I love working with my mom in all abstract senses. We can brainstorm, commiserate, and stay close through the shared business. We do not work with any one client together as a team, as we’re both afraid we might devolve from a professional disagreement into a typical mother and daughter storm of passive aggressive grudge-holding and hair pulling in front of a client. That wouldn’t go well for us.

Why do you think mothers also make great career mentors?
CK: Nobody in the world wants you to succeed more than your mother. She also probably cares more than anyone else if you are happy.

What is the most important thing your mother has taught you about life and design?
CK: Design is about how you make people feel in a space. Life is about enjoying and sharing experiences with people. The work we do involves all of that and we are lucky to spend our days focused on both.

I am Lonny's Senior Associate Editor. You can find me writing about interior tips, scouting out the coolest new spots, and rallying behind amazing female entrepreneurs. You can reach me at shelby.wax@livingly.com or on Instagram @shelbywax.
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