Charlotte, North Carolina-based Cathy Austin is best known for her curated and colorful style that blends her love of art with a playful approach to design. Each project is highly individualized based on the personality of the client. She specializes in working with collectors to design their spaces around their works of art. She helps her clients to find their own style and translates their tastes into elegant, inviting and inspiring interiors.
Capture Cathy’s technicolor design sense with her personally selected pieces from Sotheby’s Home.
How did you discover your passion for design?
While studying abroad in the South of France in college, I visited the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence and had my “art epiphany.” I shifted gears from applying to law school to pursue a career in the arts. My creative career began at Sotheby’s, where I worked in several departments including European Porcelain, American Paintings and American Furniture. This invaluable experience trained my eye in line, form and proportion through cataloguing countless works of art and antiques, learning from the experts and arranging pre-sale exhibitions. This led me to pursue a degree in interior design.
What is your favorite decorative object at home?
A large-scale multicolored abstract painting from the 1970s that greets me every morning when I wake up.
Is design an art or a science?
Definitely a combination of both. There is a science to understanding the fundamental principles of design including balance, rhythm, harmony, emphasis, proportion and scale. The creative “art” of design lies in the planning of interior spaces, and the selection of interior detailing (textiles, furnishings, art, antiques, etc.) to illustrate these principles in creating a beautiful interior.
Do you have any go-to color or pattern combinations?
I am a Fauvist at heart and never met a color I did not adore! Any shade of pink always makes me happy, from blush to coral to Schiaparelli.
In terms of pattern, I am always drawn to multicolored ethnic prints that evoke faraway lands mixed with a variety of other hand-blocked prints in various scales.
When do you consider a completed project a success?
When a project is layered and lived in by the clients and reflects the personalities of the people inhabiting the space. My goal is for the interiors I design to tell the story of the clients’ lives—not mine! When the clients express they are happier at home than anywhere else is when I feel like we are successful.
Share your biggest design secret.
I approach design the same way a curator organizes an exhibition. I find a theme that connects the different elements, and then try to build on that theme to tell a story. For me, this usually happens with color. I find a color that clients respond to that becomes the unifying thread throughout the interiors. The color can be the wall color in one room that showcases their artwork, and then visually connects to an adjacent space in the textiles or accessories.
What is the most common design mistake you see?
When people try to copy a look or merge together disparate elements they have seen on Instagram and Pinterest. I am always encouraging clients to discover their own true style and not mimic what they have seen elsewhere. Originality and authenticity are much more interesting!
How do you balance style, comfort and functionality?
Form follows function. If a room is not comfortable, then it will not function well. You need to get the bones right with the architecture, then formulate a proper furniture plan and lighting plan. Once that foundation has been established, then style can come into play with the textiles, furniture pieces, artwork and accessories that reflect the people who live in the space.
Is there a specific item you typically use as a starting point? (ex: rug, artwork, statement piece, furniture)
I always try to start with the art (or a rug, which I consider art for the floor!).
What do you think about Sotheby’s Home?
It is an incredible resource to not only find perfect finishing touches for an interior, but also to find pieces to jump-start an entire project.