What does 'home' really mean to us? We've all become much more familiar with it over the last year, some of us spending more time there than we'd ever planned. We've become intimately aware of every cluttered drawer, every book on the shelf we still haven't read, every piece of ill-fitting clothing still hanging in our closets. A sense of home, with all its good and all its imperfections, has become an increasingly more significant part of everyone's lives. Some of us dress our home's up just how we do ourselves - taking care to represent what's inside us with every piece we put on. This might be a new ritual for a few of us, but not for interior designer Hannah Kirk. Over the years, long before life in quarantine, Hannah has nurtured her creative spirit in countless ways. She studied fashion design, Reiki, skincare, and cosmetology (to name a few), but one thing, one place, always rang truest as the most honest expression of herself: her home.
Today, she works as an interior designer with clients to create meaningful spaces, 'homes' of their very own. We spoke with Hannah about her process, her passions, and how she exercises her creativity beyond the confines of physical space.
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What does the title “Designer” mean to you, and how did you come to identify with that moniker?
I have always been a deeply visual person. But it took awhile for me to adjust to the title “designer”. Something about it always felt so formalized, so I really had to explore what it meant to me—spend some time and define the word for myself.
I am so romanticized by the idea that the right combination of things in a room, has the potential to capture someone’s attention. Inspire them to stop and look just a bit longer. Prompt a new feeling.
My job is to create a moment that people can dwell in and be a part of. I’m learning more and more that it’s both an art and a science. And a designer is the person who knows which things to root for and which things to remove. My role is to find a way to gather unlike items and create a moment of beauty.
So I think reframing it in my own mind - being able to see myself as some sort of a puppet master of tangibility, takes the pressure off of it or something. I like to think of it more as who I am rather than what I do.
What was your “aha moment” - the catalyst for you to commit to this as a creative path?
I really like this question - and I think it’s because I actually have an incredibly specific answer.
I moved back to the suburbs a few years ago and it was my first time having a place of my own, without roommates - just a blank canvas where I could change my mind as often as I wanted to. I had an extremely busy schedule at the time, I had an outrageous commute and was burnt out. On my days off, I would quietly tuck myself away at home, re-arranging and playing. It became my solace. I started sharing my process on Instagram and to my surprise - people started to organically respond. I wasn’t reaching for an audience and never in my wildest dreams did I believe it would become an avenue of income. Friends started to ask me for feedback and design advice - and it felt like a dream come true. I was happily doing it (for free) because I enjoyed it so much. One day out of the blue, two friends who I hadn’t seen in years - sent me a video. It was the two of them together saying, “we just feel like you needed to know - you are extremely talented and you should be doing this for a living. People should be paying you for this service.”
Life always seems to work out like that, like some sort of cosmic comedy. Where when you are ready for a thing - it appears.
I had to claw through a lot of self doubt and a lifetime of nerves - but a few weeks later, I had my first paying client. And I have continued this work ever since.
You call yourself an “Expert Generalist,” what does that mean to you?
I was never the kid who knew what they wanted to do. I was always the kid shifting gears. Getting entirely interested in a thing, defining myself by it - and then changing my mind. As the years went on, I started to pocket major feelings of shame and self doubt. Why was it so difficult for me to keep my head down and stay focused on one thing? Majoring in Product Development at FIDM, moving to San Francisco and spending years working in prescriptive skincare, starting my own online general store, starting my own podcast, getting certified in Reiki, completing a 1600 hour cosmetology program. All of these chapters in my life always leading to the inevitable — me losing interest. I’ve always been the autodidactic type - so I started to research and look further into my own pattern. And that’s when I came across this community of people online who were having the same conversation I had been struggling internally with for years. “Expert Generalists” they called themselves.
"...someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, topics, capabilities etc. It also means being able to draw on that diverse knowledge base to recognize patterns, connect dots, and improvise on situations. Think of it as being the Jack/Jill of more than one trade with just enough knowledge to give you an edge."
For the first time in my life, I started to recognize my colored and often course changing journey - as a skillset. Having led such a diverse path allowed me to connect with people in unconventional ways. Instead of being the expert of any one thing in a room, I was able to bridge the gaps and connect with many people. I was able to finally pull from my diverse tool kit and have conversations that experts weren’t able to have. Because I knew how to exist in more than just one world.
I learned how to integrate this broad collection of gestures in my private life. I began to design homes with an understanding of textile science and color theory because of the time I spent at FIDM, I knew how to identify what my specific needs were because of my prescriptive approach and training in the skincare realm. I knew how to make sure the energy of the space felt right because I was a certified Reiki practitioner.
I have finally made peace with the fact that we can be more than just one thing. In fact, it was my broad and diverse path that led me to exactly where I was meant to be. It’s a conversation that I hope continues to happen on a broad scale.
What does creating a space feel like to you? What is your physical and emotional experience like during a project?
Everything always feels incredibly emotional to me. I’m always trying to find the poetry in things. Having someone trust me to make decisions on what they will live amongst - feels honorary and sacred. I think that my design journey has served as a metaphor for my personal journey. Learning how to navigate things like self confidence, trusting my own instincts, advocating for myself - all of the things that make for a strong and conscious individual - seemingly always present themselves in my professional relations too. I keep being invited to learn these things on a deeper level. I have learned that my best work comes when the client trusts me the whole way. People often say that business shouldn’t be made personal - but quite frankly I can’t imagine it any other way. I have been so fortunate to have found a team that feel like family rather than co-workers. Chemistry with the client, getting personal - it’s what allows me to better understand their needs. Their preferences. I am able to identify who they are, so I can better create a space that feels true to them.
How does your interior design process seep into other aspects of your life? Do you ever take the designer hat off, or put on a different hat entirely?
One thing that has remained true, since I was a child - is observation. I’ve always been wildly observant. Whether it’s noticing a new grey hair in my dads beard or the height of stems crawling out of the vase in a hotel lobby. I’m always paying close attention to things. And I think this is what allows me to recognize what works and what doesn’t work. I have a library of observation to refer to.
I remember in high school, I had this poetic and artful teacher who sat on his desk one morning before the lesson and promised us that when we discover the thing we are meant to do in life - we will look back and see that it was always there hiding in plain site. It would have been a common thread throughout our lives that we never quite considered because it was such a natural piece of us.
I grew up in a home where I could expect the coffee table and couches to be re-arranged by the time I got home from school. Things were always moving and I remember always feeling so excited by it. I had friends who’s parent’s living rooms remained the same throughout their entire adolescent lives. But I loved the freedom of moving a thing around. I loved the feeling of the same room having a multitude of possibilities. But I think most importantly, I loved the way that the feeling of a room changed. And the feelings were entirely dependent on what was in the room and where they were placed.
It felt like emotional magic. The way changing a few physical things resulted in a feeling of change on an emotional level? It had been a fundamental cornerstone of my personal development. So naturally, I always re-arranged my room. My apartment hunt was always dependent on the natural lighting and the layout. I was hardwired to think in terms of visual language. I never thought it could be my line of work because I would do it for free. That’s how much I love what I do.
I don’t think the hat ever comes off. Because I don’t think it’s a hat. I think it’s who I am.
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How do you know a space is complete? When does a house become a home?
I don’t know if a space is ever complete. I think rooms have seasons. And I can usually feel when a season has ended. If you pay close attention, you can feel when a thing is ready to be moved. When a frame wants to be re-located. When a setup has grown dormant and is asking for newness. Whenever I am working with clients, I’m exceptionally vocal throughout the process. Because when our work together ends, I want them to be cognizant about what works. What doesn’t. And why. I always like to leave moments around the house somewhat unattended to, so when my work is finished - they have moments to fill in. They can feel a thing out and leave their fingerprint too. But I think a house becomes a home when you look forward to being there. When you’re walking by a decorative moment and stop to appreciate the way it makes you feel. I think my goal will continue to find ways to make the unconscious, conscious. Especially at home.
How do your design principals inform your personal wardrobe, and vice versa?
I strongly believe that the things you feel good wearing, the colors and materials you feel most confident in - are the same things you should surround yourself with at home. I personally have always been drawn to a neutral and rather androgynous wardrobe. And I feel like my home reflects the same sentiments. I like to be around things that are relaxed yet intentional. I like classic things that allow room for a statement piece. Whether that’s a bizarre sculptural vase on a classic wooden console table, or a bold shoe with a classic pair of jeans and white button up shirt.
Above all else, I’m always advocating that people pay close attention to the way they feel about a thing. Whether it’s hanging in your closet, on your coffee table or the person you’re sitting across from. I think if we had the courage to tell the whole truth about what feels right to us, we would lead far more authentic lives.
What’s your most universal piece of advice for people who want to create a harmonious space in their own homes?
Diane Keaton once said that we shouldn’t live as if things around our homes are nailed to the ground. Move things around! We must never stop playing!
Really enjoyed the interview. I can attest to Hannah’s talent in everything she does, but her visual talent in decorating is so beautiful snd inviting. I’m not just saying that because I’m her grandmother. She is such an awesome person to be around.