Sian Ballen, Lesley Hauge and Jeff Hirsch
For a column about interiors, we don’t actually talk all that much about them. That’s often because the people we’re interviewing have aspects of themselves or their lives that interest us a lot more—to wit Kyle Timothy Blood who also happens to have the coolest name of any designer we’ve interviewed. We had to ask him about it. It turns out that all four of his grandparents were ‘Mayflower’ descendants, that his mother is a genealogist and, as we carried on not talking about interior design, that he was once Martha Stewart’s assistant. Also he recently lost 35 pounds. See? A lot more interesting than interior design.
What I want to start with is your cool name … it’s like a Native American name.
Well it’s all English … English, English, English. And I’m not saying this to pose but it’s just a fact. It goes back to The Mayflower – all four grandparents – which just means I’m terribly inbred [laughs] but I do have four Mayflower memberships.
It sounds like a club.
There is a Mayflower Society. My mother is a genealogist. For Christmas one year I said, “You know what I’d really like for you to do for me is to do all four grandparents.” It is a considerable amount of work. But back to your question, we have really great names. The Bloods are English; my middle name—I was named after my great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War—twice—his name was Timothy Ford. My grandmother’s name was Nellie Maud Savage. I’m a mixture of Savage and Blood!
It seems as we get older we become more interested in our backgrounds—do you find all this more interesting now than when you were younger?
I do. I was in Fire Island last weekend and this gentleman was tending to his raised beds in his garden and I said, “My grandfathers would both be proud of you.” They both had huge gardens—they had to for subsistence and to feed their kids. My parents were the first to go to college and I was the first to go to an Ivy League school and I was the first to leave Maine, really. But I have to say all of what makes me, me, came from them, certainly that Yankee work ethic, that honesty, that directness.
Where did you study?
I studied French and Art History at Dartmouth. I went off to Paris for a Fulbright teaching assistantship for a year after that.
Well, tell us about that.
I was paired with French students who were studying English, my peers, who were studying to be English professors and the reciprocal part was that I thought I was going to be a French professor. But I was teaching from Fifth Grade to college prep. I loved Paris. If we’re seguing into interior design, I probably always had the coolest dorm room …
But we’re not seguing into interior design … anyway, do you mean your dorm room in Paris or Dartmouth?
No, Dartmouth. I was the one who showed up with the trailer and the wall-to-wall rug and the armchair and the plant. I imposed this on my roommate. He didn’t know what to think about it. I brought matching duvets and he was like, “Whatever.” He was in the Outdoor Club and they chopped wood for fun. I was getting the hell out of Maine to stop cutting wood.
Could you live the rustic life now?
I could live a simpler life.
So you started off teaching and then what did you do?
I worked at Forbes for five years as a fact checker and researcher. Then I went to Martha Stewart for five years … I was her assistant.
Ooh, tell us about that!
Well I was between jobs and I went to a temp agency. I was in a suit and they had me do a typing test. Then they asked me if I could work that day. They said, “Martha Stewart needs somebody.” So I walked from 57th Street to 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and her assistant showed me her call list and who the important people were. I started straightway taking her calls. She was on her Startac phone [one of thefirst cell phones] and she was saying, “Get me so-and so and get me so-and-so.” Then [eventually] she came through the door—she had her own private entrance—and she said, “Well, it’s good to see what you look like!” and I said, “Well, you too! Now, what do we have to do today?” She loved it. And that was the tenor of our relationship for the next five years. I [eventually] worked on the magazine—I was the managing editor of the book division.
What was she like to work for?
I knew her … like she hated bundt pans—do not ask me why. I remember the art department did this whole photo shoot and they shot this little girl blowing out the candles on a birthday cake that was a bundt cake and I said, “Don’t!” and they were like, “What do you know?” And the next day [imitates Martha Stewart screaming] it was, “Who authorized spending money on a bundt pan?!!”
What would you say she had that made her such a powerhouse?
An unflinching vision.
And what did that vision represent?
I would say that Martha Stewart is the most successful branding story in the United States. If a person can look at a paint color and let’s just say it’s robin’s egg blue, and they can say, “That’s a Martha Stewart color.” If she can do that for something as subjective as a color … well, that to me that is the crux of branding.
What happened to the job?
I got fired. That was in 2003. Basically my entire salary was allotted to [the] Martha Stewart Signature [line] … they were waiting to see if it would sell and it didn’t sell. And as we know everything changed after 2003 [due to the insider trading scandal]. I had a little package and I went and sat on the beach and thought, “What am I going to do with myself?”
Were you despairing?
I was shocked. My identity was really wrapped up in being part of something. It was my whole life. Then I said, “I’m going to pick myself up and get this company going.”
How did you do that?
Well, like I said I was always the guy with the best room and people were always asking me to do their guest room or whatever. I formed a company, I got a resale number and I started taking classes at The New York School of Interior Design. I learned what I didn’t know. I interviewed with Charles Klein. Somewhere along the way, while I was still at Martha Stewart, I had gotten a little job in Amagansett for $25 an hour. I did it myself, all the painting and everything. That was like my first project so I had something of a portfolio to show him. Nine months later, he called and hired me.
Your designs are very light and airy.
I love complex neutrals. Shall I show you some of the designs? [shows us photos]
Oh, there’s that kitchen again—we call it the Nancy Meyers kitchen after that movie she directed, the one with Diane Keaton. [Something’s Gotta Give].
Right! [The client] took that movie to the architect and said, “This is what I want.”
Along with a hundred thousand other women.
I don’t think it will ever go out of style.
So what do you do when you’re not turning houses into homes?
Well, I’ve just gotten into this whole new fitness lifestyle. I’ve just lost 35 pounds… I went to an amazing nutritionist. I’m eating a lot of kale. I am lifting weights for the first time … really heavy weights! I’m like in shock! I can lift that much? I was like, typical gay … don’t throw a ball at me … um … aren’t we going to be talking about interior design at all?