Cathy Kincaid: An Eye for Timeless Style

In her book, THE WELL ADORNED HOME, Cathy Kincaid weaves favorite interiors projects with personal reflections and living-well insights. Learn more about the Dallas decorator in FLOWER magazine’s Q&A
In the photo, Cathy Kincaid wears a simple, collared bright blue dress. She sits on a cushioned wooden bench beside a mullioned window with her dogs on her lap. To the side, a wood side table holds a collection of blue-and-white porcelain, including the lamp.
Cathy Kincaid with her beloved dogs. Photo by Haynsworth Photography


Flower: What a pleasure to page through the book! What made you decide to publish a book now?

Cathy Kincaid: Well, it’s the first and last! It was hard work, just coordinating projects and photographs, getting the right balance, and saying what I wanted to say. That said, once I started working on it, it was really fun—revisiting projects and the people who made each one a success. And it was important that it give readers practical information, such as sources about where to find something and how and why I made a decorating choice. I worked really hard to include all of that.

The room features a tray ceiling, arched french doors, a table and three chairs, a wood floor painted in a light gray and white diamond pattern, and a small indoor tree with large green leaves in a blue-and-white porcelain pot.
In a home originally designed by architect Hal Thompson, Kincaid designed a lattice inspired by Bunny Mellon’s town house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. For the De Angelis chairs, she chose a Veere Grenney fabric. Photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna

In the recent past, we’ve seen so many pared-down interiors and restrained finishes, but you have always adhered to pattern and color. Now magazines and book pages are full of color and collections. How do you approach the ebb and flow of trends and classics?

I’ve always felt that you can have pretty things and that you should not be afraid to use them. But at the same time, it takes a lot of work to keep things nice, and that’s what my clients want to know. They depend on designers to give them options that they can live with and that will grow with them. They want a timeless interior. For example, I recently worked on a project with a client I’ve had forever. We did her living room 30 years ago, but this time we took all the Gracie wallpaper away. We decluttered it. She still has her collections and things that are important to her, but it’s just simpler. Every decade has a different style.

Sitting room designed by Cathy Kincaid
A De Angelis sofa, with a mix of antique-textile pillows, sits in front of a monumental coromandel screen, with a Gerhard Richter painting hanging in the center. Photo by Tria Giovan

Color and pattern are so important in your proj­ects. How do you approach selecting and combining them?

“There are so many sources now. Lots of blue-and-white checks. But the best designers know where to find the best blue-and-white check and what makes it special—the types of dyes and printing techniques.” — Cathy Kincaid

The clients know it’s the best when they see it, but they don’t always know why. Of course, I have my favorites like Robert Kime, Peter Fasano, and Bennison, but I also know what to look for when I’m creating a room.

I credit Joe Minton, my first boss when I was starting out, with helping me to understand color. He wanted me to pick fabrics and colors for a project we were working on. I showed him my selection, and he said that they were too perfect. That when it all matches, it looks cheap. He told me to combine colors and patterns that have a little tension. It makes a room more interesting.

The Cathy Kincaid-designed room features an all-neutral palette, with a green fern adding a pop of color. A small table and lamp sit beneath a circular leaded window with a floral motif. A small chair is upholstered in a khaki and white check, contrasting with the paisley wallpaper. Above the chair, three leaf prints hang in a vertical column configuration.
An Indian paisley wallpaper from Jasper envelops the entry of an East Texas guest cottage. Photo by Tria Giovan

So many of your projects involve remodeling, and you talk about making every effort to preserve the original architect’s vision. What stays your hand when it comes to updating an old house?

Well, the houses tell stories. I try to listen and be conscious of that. And the details that you see in the work of the great architects are so rare, with delicate moldings and different sorts of applications. They must be preserved. I love the quirkiness of old houses and the propor­tions of the rooms that are smaller. They’re more conducive to conversation. It’s natural to crave refreshing your home, and it needs to change over time. I want to be respectful of the past but also mindful of the evolution of life.

Other luxury bathroom decor shown hear includes a crystal chandelier, a cushioned window seat, tall arched windows and ceilings, and comfortable chairs.
A master bath in a Dallas duplex apartment, painted Farrow & Ball’s Dutch Pink (on the wainscoting) and Pale Powder (on the ceiling), has great views of the city. Photo by Bjorn Wallander

There are flowers throughout all your projects—in the fabrics and wallpapers and in arrangements. How do you like to use them? Is there such a thing as too much?

I love flowers, of course, and I always have them in my house. I prefer a simple arrangement—the simpler the better—in a beautiful container. I wish we could get gorgeous flowers right outside the door, but the Dallas heat means that some seasons are better than others, so we are limited here. Thank goodness for all our amazing floral designers.

“As for floral fabrics, I try to keep it to one per room to tie the colors together and carry the thread through the room. Or I go for drama and just do it everywhere.” — Cathy Kincaid

Behind the blue painted bedframe, a gathered, floor-to-ceiling fabric panel with valance displays the same botanical, sage green print as the wallpaper that envelops the space. The bed skirt also features the ‘Dolly’ Sister Parish print, while a skirted upholstered chair at the small antique desk by the window features a complementary floral pattern. Fresh white bedding is trimmed in a robin’s egg blue.
This attic guest room is Kincaid’s homage to Sister Parish. “I had the honor of being a guest in her house in Islesboro, Maine. The room I stayed in was decorated in this fabric [‘Dolly’ by Sister Parish], and the painted blue floor was covered with an L.L. Bean hooked rug.” Photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna
Your clients’ houses are so lovely. Is there a must-have luxury that you like to add every time?

No question: lacquered ceilings. They create sparkle. If my client can’t afford to do it everywhere, I suggest doing it in the dining room. It adds something so special with candlelight and the table. It’s one of those things that people don’t notice right away, but it will transform the room.

A fireplace surround with classic woodwork embellishments is painted the same neutral color as the wainscoting walls and curtain panels. Touches of blue-and-white, gold, and bronze, along with a colorful vase of pink and purple blooms, punctuate the serene space with color. A mullioned window offers a view of the city.
In a Fifth Avenue pied-à-terre, a chinoiserie secretary displays a collection of miniature blue-and-white Chinese export garniture and a bronze doré clock. Photo by James Merrell

You have a clear affinity for antiques, and especial­ly antique ceramics. How do you like to use them? What are your favorites?

I have always collected ceramics. I hung cheap blue-and-white transferware in my bedroom in my first house. But I do feel you can get too many plates on a wall, and I work that out with my clients. As far as favorites go, I have a few pieces of Hatcher [Jingdezhen blue-and-white porcelain recovered from a 1640s Chinese junk by Michael Hatcher in 1983] that are really special to me, and I love tulipieres.

Cathy Kincaid dining room
Antique Portuguese hand-painted tile graces the walls of this dining room. The antique display shelf and marble-topped console highlight the owner’s collection of blue-and-white porcelain. Pleated lamp shades by Charles Birdsong in a Robert Kime fabric top the hand-painted wooden lamps. Photo by Durston Saylor

I can’t help but think of the house fire you had almost 20 years ago. Your work is so about beauty and collections; the trauma must have been profound. And then I see this book and your contagious affection for memories, objects, and family and friends. How did you weather that storm?

It was devastating. I did not rebuild. It just seemed right to start fresh. So I rented a house at first and lived with the bare minimum—and my three dogs, three cats, and two chickens. It was at that time that I learned that you don’t need as much as you think you do. And that idea was kind of freeing—especially when I bought a house that needed to be remodeled, and I lived in the back house, which is now my office. I loved it because it was so simple. Of course, I’ve gone right back to having more things than I really need, but I’ll never forget that as long as you have those closest to you and your pets, you’ll be all right.

Guest room with three twin beds designed by Cathy Kincaid
“We call this guest room the Three Bears Room. The Chelsea Textiles headboards, upholstered in sunflower embroidered fabric, makes for a fun room for little or big girls sharing stories before bed. The Les Indiennes quilts are also printed with sunflowers,” says Kincaid. Photo by Tria Giovan

Book cover for The Well Adorned Home by Cathy Kincaid (Rizzoli New York, 2019), $50, featuring a bright orange delicate antique chair, a soothing green botanical wallpaper, entry table and mirror, and blue-and-white porcelain.By Frances MacDougall | Photography from The Well Adorned Home by Cathy Kincaid (Rizzoli New York, 2019)

More from Cathy Kincaid

In a client’s 1920s Dallas home, Kincaid’s rooms serve as a sumptuous backdrop for Flower‘s feature on Bows & Arrows’ floral designs. See the story.