Josephine Kurtz was drawn to design early in life. At age 6, she would frequently sketch floor plans and push her bedroom furnishings into various arrangements. “I was always creative,” recalls the daughter of contemporary artist and renowned rug designer J.D. Kurtz. “I also liked to take painting classes at Delaware Art Museum in the summers and design massive houses on paper.” With degrees in art history and architecture, and a certificate in interior design, Josephine now runs the décor side of the family business founded 50 years ago by her father.
Initially specializing in antique rugs, Kurtz Collection expanded nearly a decade ago to include home furnishings, lighting and décor. It also relocated from its storefront on Lincoln Street in Wilmington to a more spacious one on Union Street, and recently added a smaller showroom in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Older sister Erika helps their father design Tibetan rugs that are now under the New Moon label, while Josephine focuses on designing homes for clients. Pulling inspiration and pieces from shows like North Carolina’s High Point Market and Maison & Objet in Paris, the designer—who describes the style of her 1979 townhome in The Highlands neighborhood as “eclectic”—shares how to curate a home that is both styled and livable.
When designing a room, I suggest starting with a beautiful, good-quality rug. There are thousands of paint colors and fabrics out there, so it’s best to start with a rug that’s the right size for the room and that has a pattern you love, and build from there. A well-made Tibetan rug will last for generations and repel dirt, whereas a cheaper viscose rug may cost only $800, but it will fall apart over time. It’s better to spend more upfront than to replace it later.
A neutral rug gives you more flexibility with other design elements, while a bold one requires more thoughtful layering. If you grow bored of colors, choosing a more neutral upholstered piece also gives you more flexibility to transform the look of a room since pillows and throws can be switched out less expensively. I like to mix a lot of color and patterns in my accessories—including artwork—eclectically and unexpectedly. The most important rule, though, is there are no rules in design. It’s about personal preference. You’re going to be the one living in the space, so you want it to be a reflection of your taste and style.
A well-curated home should be put together in layers. Don’t go out and just buy a whole new set of furniture to fill your space, but instead collect pieces you love over time. Purchases should be thoughtful—it’s better to have fewer good-quality pieces than just placeholders that won’t last.
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Unfortunately, there’s this disposable, destructive mentality now where people want a rug or sofa for just a few years. But we need to think about where these items are going when we dispose of them—and what they’re doing to our environment. People are often surprised to learn the cost of a quality rug, but they’re constructed with better materials, dyes and designs by talented artisans. Additionally, chemicals emitted by cheaper home décor items are as toxic to our health as they are to the environment after they’re thrown away.
I first ask my clients what existing pieces they love and want to incorporate. Blending different designs (think midcentury furnishings in a Victorian house), styles, materials, textures and finishes make a home more interesting, as long as there is some element that is the same as the style of architecture. You don’t want everything to be one note. I like to layer gold, silver, brass, stone, wood and lacquer finishes all in one room. If there’s one good place to get matchy-matchy, it’s a pair of beautiful chairs.
You’ve heard about the “rule of threes”? Forget about that. The scale of your console or coffee table should determine the size of the items you place on them. While symmetry can be nice (two vases or statues, for instance) I am personally drawn to asymmetry.
In addition to your main focus, the rug, you want a good sofa. Seating brings comfort to your space, and since it sees a lot of wear and tear, you’ll want to invest more in a structurally sound piece with quality fabric. I also like to mix an antique into each space—an heirloom or something you find in your travels—that adds character and a bit of history to an otherwise modern space. So those are three essentials every home should have.
Opt for a good performance fabric (like Sunbrella canvas or Crypton), which are pre-treated, fade-resistant and can be spot-treated for spills. Those with texture and color variation are even more forgiving. If you prefer the look of leather, harder leathers won’t show scratch marks the same way softer leathers do. To avoid clutter, designate a room for all toys, or attractively tuck them away in an ottoman or armoire.
A bookshelf is an oft-overlooked place to get creative with décor, and it can really change the look of a room. Place books at different angles—some vertically, some horizontally—and break them up with accessories like round vases or fun bookends. You want to create open spaces where your eye can settle.
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The bedroom is where you go to relax and sleep, so the energy should be calm. You can achieve this with a muted color palette. You can still have fun with wallpaper and patterns if the palette is subdued.
Wallpaper can really dress up a room, but it’s also a commitment. I suggest trying a removable wallpaper—if you like it, it’ll last several years, and if you don’t, you can tear it down with no repair or retouches required. Just beware that with a pattern, you’ll need to line up the edges properly, which can be tricky. I learned this when I wallpapered animal heads in my 4-year-old son’s room.
A busy wallpaper in a smaller room, like a powder room, can make a space appear larger. Your eye recedes into a busy pattern. Surprisingly, dark colors like navy and black, on the walls and ceiling, can have the same effect. In my powder room, I painted the ceiling and doors a black lacquer, which adds an unexpected dimension and extends the eye.
Have a sentimental family heirloom but hate the fabric? Reupholstering or refinishing wood on an antique is a great way to incorporate these pieces into your personal style. Just make sure the piece has good bones—it’s hard to find people who do this type of work nowadays, and it’s expensive, so it should be limited to preserving quality pieces, not updating something you bought 10 years ago.
Published as “Cool and Collected” in the February 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.