Kate D. Spain, the designer behind the KD Spain brand, and Pete Spain, her husband and business partner, warmly welcome a pair of visitors to their picture-perfect Bridgeport home on a recent morning.
Once inside, it’s near impossible to miss Kate’s design work, from the living room rug to the charming pillows dotting a couch to the curtains completing the scene. Then, there are those exuberant framed prints on the dining room wall, overlooking the table set with a serene runner.
With a knowing laugh, Kate affirms the obvious — “We kind of live in a Kate Spain world here.”
What a world it is.
Spain’s nature-inspired designs draw one in, their colors, textures and patterns creating an immediate sense of playful adventure and a buoyant happiness.
Spain, who’s been creating home goods since 2008, has more recently launched KD Spain, her long-awaited namesake collection. As with most of her work, it features products sporting designs inspired by the elaborate gardens that we’ll soon see from her second-floor studio in a view that encompasses Black Rock Harbor.
Kate, who grew up in Mamaroneck, and Pete, originally from Bethel, came to this property four years ago, moving from nearby Fairfield.
It’s been the perfect — and perfectly inspirational — setting for the expanding of Kate’s distinctive home fashions to an ever-growing audience.
A LIFE IN ART
Prior to her launching her own work, Kate was in the design and product development field for more than 20 years — part of a journey long influenced by the arts.
“I have always done art, as long as I can remember,” she says. “My parents were very lenient. They let me paint my room.”
And that painting would happen again and again, with Spain also starting to sew at age 8 and soon adding pillows and curtains to the mix.
“It was really a way to express myself, kind of infuse my identity in my room.”
Spain would eventually land at Rhode Island School of Design to study graphic design, a time when everything came together.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful school,” she says.
“It’s kind of intense,” but it proved an atmosphere that allowed her to flourish.
“After art school, I worked in children’s book publishing,” as an art director before moving into children’s manufacturing and working with iconic brands such as Hello Kitty.
“I learned so much, and that was really where I learned about licensing.”
That would serve her well, as she would soon tap that knowledge to introduce her own designs. The first step was participating in Surtex, a trade fair/marketplace for original art and design. Soon, she had her first licensing deal and “a bunch of paper plates at Target.”
From there, it just kept building.
“I designed a rug and it ended up on Houzz — and it just went berserk.”
Kate’s work was recognized as a Houzz Influencer with the Talavera rug added to more than 150,000 ideabooks.
It was a friend who connected Kate with Crate&Barrel, the start of a collaboration that continues today. (“These are some of the plates I designed for Crate&Barrel,” she says in the kitchen at one point. “We use all these things.”) Other collaborations have included Bigelow Tea, Andrews McMeel Publishing, The Gift Wrap Company, Christie’s Quilting Boutique in Norwalk and the Black Rock NRZ Design Committee.
Over the years, Kate has seen much change.
“It’s been evolving so much in the time I’ve been doing it,” she says. “Things stay in the marketplace so much shorter than they used to.”
Everyone’s always looking for new products, which keeps her ever busy at her design work.
“The idea of producing art is a huge focus for me. That’s why I’m so lucky to have Pete.”
An epidemiologist in pediatric cancer at Yale University, he made quite the about-face to take on the business side of KD Spain.
“The one constant is Kate’s design strength and ability,” he says. “The creative energy that Kate brings to it is still miraculous to me, and I’ve known her since the 1990s.”
The Spains appear an unstoppable team, sharing ideals that include a strong work ethic and commitment to quality production.
At KD Spain, rugs are the current focus — discussion touches on production methods and a potential trip to India — with plans to expand to segments including kitchen textiles and stationery.
Already, Kate has done some in-home experiments.
“That’s just for us… limited edition… like two,” she says with another laugh as she shows off some potential kitchen designs.
A steady gig, though, is design work for Texas-based Moda Fabrics, with Kate creating three lines of quilting cottons for them each year.
The work has connected, Pete says, with the quilting community.
“They say that Kate’s designs are rooted in tradition, recognizable forms but there’s a new take, a new form.”
IN THE STUDIO
In her airy studio, Kate offers a behind-the-scenes look, opening up a sketchbook and spreading out fabric swatches.
While the garden always inspires, Kate’s imagination is also sparked by travel, such as the time she and Pete first visited Italy.
“I took so many pictures. I couldn’t stop,” she says. “Having gone through art school and having seen all those works in person… It was an emotional thing for me.”
And also fun — she shows how a gondola sketch was translated into the most whimsical fabric.
Kate begins every design in her sketchbook.
“I always start with black and white,” she says. “I want the essential line to come out.”
She may employ digital means but never as the first step.
“The computer to me is just a tool. It’s part of the process. It’s never where it starts.”
IN THE GARDEN
Kate’s focus is on producing designs that resonate with customers, with outdoor pillows next on the agenda.
“It’s a natural fit for my designs. I’m a gardener,” she says.
Indeed, she and Pete walk WAG through their stunning backyard garden, a generous spread filled with flowering plants, trees and vegetables.
“It just fuels me,” Kate says. “When you do something like this, you see things like color relations and forms.”
Nestled alongside the yew, dogwood, azaleas and countless flowers from roses to hostas, zinnia to foxgloves, there’s a vegetable garden that provides such an abundance it’s shared with a local food pantry.
As she glances over the property, Kate says it was “the light and the air and the smells and the birds” that attracted the couple.
It’s obvious how integral it all is not only to their daily life but to also to KD Spain.
“It’s funny,” she says. “Gardening and design, they intersect in so many ways.”
Kate tells of how neighbors would ask when their massive garden overhaul would be done and she says she came to realize that the true answer was… never.
“In the same way, a creative life is always evolving.”
For more, visit kdspain.com.