Kathy Sidell on Parisian Design, Plating at Her Restaurants, and Nantucket Life

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This week we’re beyond excited to launch a profile series to dive deeper with Boston’s lifestyle leaders into what design means to them from their professional spaces to their personal ones. Drumroll please, it’s called Interieur: The Interior Series!

Interieur meaning interior or within in Dutch, we’re focusing on 10 questions with people we respect from the worlds of design, food, retail, and everything in between.

For our first conversation we sat down with restaurateur extraordinaire and founder of the Sidell Hospitality Group, Kathy Sidell. Kathy is behind some of Boston’s most iconic restaurant spaces like Saltie Girl and Met Back Bay, and an expert on building local brands. Growing up in a food-centric family she knew the culinary arts were a given, but she caught the entrepreneurial bug with her first business in Chestnut Hill in 2004. It’s a pleasure for us to bring Kathy’s words to the blog.

Kathy Sidell

When do you feel the most creative?

KS: I travel a lot. So 30,000 feet up in the air is where I do my best thinking. No phone. No meetings. No surprise office visits. Ideas also tend to come to me in the middle of the night. I write notes on my iPhone then in the morning I’ll see how valuable the idea actually is! Creativity comes in waves – generated by a color I see. An image. A picture. A word. A great conversation. Music. Great music. A lot of thinking around a particular subject. Typically, when I start to drill down on an idea or concept all sorts of thoughts are unleashed. I like to put it all out there, then dial it back.

How would you describe your design style? 

KS: Classic. Understated. Tailored. I have a very calm natural aesthetic in my homes. A lightness. I like a home to feel lived in and worn. Comfort is vital to me. I like using cool materials as a surprise element in a room. One-color replete with lots of textures and cream tones is illustrative of my style. I also like punches of color like pink and loden green in flowers, pieces of art, or as a table decoration. My home is where I play with patterns. And I love all sorts of tiles! 

‘My mother was an interior designer, so I grew up living in showrooms, and she introduced me to a wide range of styles, fabrics, and designers at a young age. English and Parisian designers appeal to me like Soane, Rosie Uniacke, or Jacques Grange.”

Is it an extension of your fashion style?

KS: Yes, my fashion and design elements are very similar. Classic. Casual. Chic. I would rather have fewer pieces of higher quality items. I am a solid color gal, navy, black, beige and grey. No real punch (not even red lipstick). I like lots of cashmere. I collect blazers. I always wear a black tight, dictated by the impossibly cold weather in Boston. And a classic bag. I wear a lot of St. Laurent. Love Chanel – old and new. I wear Oscar De La Renta for fancy occasions. He is very kind to women over a certain age. My kids keep me hip, too.

How does your career influence your style?

KS: The food I serve in my restaurants are modern takes on classics, while my style is more classic. I am symmetrically driven: so that balance impacts everything from the way our food is plated, to what it feels like when you walk into a restaurant space I have designed. Textures are big for me, too. I am particularly mindful of the color of food, the texture, and how they come together to create a whole on the plate. Not only from a visual perspective but a person’s palate perspective: how is it going to taste and feel in your mouth? I like to let beautiful high-quality ingredients sing for themselves.

Do you have a favorite design trend happening right now? 

KS: Both in personal spaces and restaurants, I am very interested in people telling their individual stories. A place is reflective of someone’s journey, history, background, and passions. The place one chooses to live, where and what it may be, a home, an apartment, a brownstone, or the exact neighborhood, speaks volumes. Are they a city person, are they rural dwellers, or do they choose the mountains or the sea?

“Your home speaks so intimately to who you are, and what you love to surround yourself with – what makes you feel good. It addresses in a tangible way where you have been and where you going.”

A place that you look to for style inspiration?

KS: I am a super visual person. Graphic design is also a true love of mine, it changed the way I see the world. And that sensibility of how design emerges and speaks to a brand is fascinating to me. It is also one of my favorite parts of my job. Birthing a concept and imagining the graphics, be it for a restaurant or a promotion. It’s the way I process so this means I look at a lot of books and magazines, usually about design and food. I mark/note little elements that move me. I’m also a big fan of Instagram.

What is your home like? 

KS: Our home is on an island, 30 miles out to sea. So, in the larger picture, we are surrounded by 360 degrees of the beach. We are water and beach people. And we live in a place known for the quality of the ephemeral light. It is a small town that was settled in the mid-1600s and still has a noticeable New England feel about it, with century-old cobblestone streets and houses awash in shades of grey. Simply put: it is rich in spectacular natural beauty.

And what does home mean to you?

KS: Home is where the people I love want to be, to hang out and share time. It’s the place where I can embrace, entertain, and spend quality time with my husband, five children, four grand-babies, and dear friends. Cooking is a huge part of our lives. So, home is where all my kitchen “stuff’ lives. Where I can indulge myself and others in our lives with great food and wine. I tend to have a cluttered kitchen, I like to have all my kitchen tools, copper pots, salt and spice collections, olive oils, and bottles of vinegar displayed and easily accessible. 

“The kitchen is where much of my personality lives, in the pantry items and dishes I have collected. I am obsessed with housewares. Every piece has its own story.”

What’s currently on your coffee table? 

KS: My coffee table in Nantucket likely has the most recent food magazines, Vanity Fair, A New York Times, and new/old cookbooks. There is a book of knots, a book about the wildflowers on Nantucket, and Portraits by Annie Leibovitz.

And if you can indulge us, on your Bedside Table?

KS: Apple Watch, iPad, iPod, iPhone. Tums. My bedside table has Robert Iger’s new book, The Ride of a Lifetime. And a beautiful little cookbook of recipes Volume 10 from the Cook Book Shop in Notting Hill. They serve lunch at a café, sandwiched between bookshelves, where they cook out of any given cookbook, develop new recipes, and house a test kitchen of sorts.

Photography: Jane Beiles

Have someone you’d love to see featured? Let us know in the comments below!

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