For Christina Kim, it was life experience, not traditional schooling, that shaped her entry into the design world. After all, time spent in Los Angeles, New York City, and Paris shaped Kim’s eye and helped her discover her professional passion. As part of our series, My Design Journey, we spoke with Kim, owner and creative director of her eponymous firm, about her unconventional career path, her work designing modern beach homes, and how exactly to score secondhand gems.
On Her Pivot Into Design
During her college years, Kim was a journalism student at the University of Southern California, but she quickly changed tracks after experiencing a family tragedy.
“I left midway through my sophomore year after my dad passed away,” Kim shares. “I thought that life was too short—and I didn’t really want to be a journalist.”
And Kim didn’t just part ways with journalism school. She said goodbye to LA to start a new life in New York City. In Manhattan, she found an agent and began going out on auditions with the hope of launching an acting career.
“I worked in nightlife to pay my rent, and that’s maybe where my real design education began,” Kim reflects.
While employed by various bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in the city, she began to take notice of the designers and florists, “running in and out with beautiful deliveries, setting the atmosphere with the most exquisite scents, floral arrangements, and lighting every night.” Kim adds, “That was the world I really wanted to explore, but I had no idea how to get there. It took me a decade to figure out how to even start!”
Following New York was a move to Paris, where Kim took a position as “the world’s worst admin assistant to the most understanding movie producer,” in her words. While abroad, Kim witnessed many of the delightful design moments that the City of Lights had to offer.
“All of these seemingly unrelated experiences would later inform my design perspectives,” she shares.
While Kim did briefly attend community college to study design, she didn’t end up completing that program. Rather, the hands-on experience ended up being the key to getting her feet wet in the interiors industry.
“My husband and I renovated a hundred-year-old house, and I was hooked,” Kim explains. “Soon after, I was hired to design a house, and I was not looking back.”
On Drawing Inspiration from LA, NYC, and Paris
Kim finds all three of the major cities in which she’s lived to be majorly inspiring from a design perspective. First, Los Angeles: “The light in LA is so different from anywhere else,” she says. “The effect it has on me is visceral.”
And in New York City, she learned how to design a pleasing space on a smaller scale. “NYC taught me about space planning and maximizing every inch in a fashionable, not ‘desperate for square footage’ way,” Kim notes. “And I’m endlessly inspired by restaurants and bars there, and of course by street style.”
Paris was where Kim gave birth to her first daughter. “My French was so lousy at first, so I became a real observer,” she reflects. “I would push my daughter around in the stroller for hours and spend afternoons at the Marche Saint Pierre looking through miles of fabric or strolling les Puces.”
Even while socializing, Kim continued to expand her knowledge. “I’d go for dinner at friends’ apartments and find myself wandering around their homes, mesmerized by the way they would mix modern furniture with antiques from their families’ country homes,” she shares. “I admire the nonchalant and chic way they go about everything. They are very unfussy about things that we are so fussy about: real marble, window treatments, calories….”
They are very unfussy about things that we are so fussy about: real marble, window treatments, calories…
On Designing Modern Beach Homes
Now based in Manasquan, New Jersey, Kim’s work has a beachside focus. “I started a specialty in modern beach homes because I moved to the beach, and that’s what there is,” she explains. “Like so many designers just starting out, I took any job I could get at first. As more and more beach house projects came my way, I learned a lot and realized how much I loved it.”
And her favorite part about designing a space by the water? “The great thing about a beach house is that you only have the things there that you need, and everything else is just for fun and to make you smile,” Kim says. “The challenge is figuring out how to make each room feel elevated yet relaxed and able to withstand the elements at the shore. Saltwater is tough!”
On Her Favorite Vintage Finds
Kim is a major proponent of vintage shopping. “A little vintage piece can inspire a whole room if you’re open to it,” she says. “Last year I picked up a beautiful green Gerald Thurston for Lightolier lamp and designed a whole room around it. We wrapped the walls and moldings in that beautiful green.”
While scouring the flea market, kindness is key, Kim notes. “My best advice for vintage shopping is to be nice to the dealers. Let them educate you. Don’t buy anything too damaged no matter how beautiful. And always pay cash!”
On Her Career Highlights and What’s Next
Kim opened her new design studio last year, located right near where her kids attend school. “As much as work/life balance can seem impossible, my kids know that I’m steps away even though I work long hours at times,” she explains.
Kim hopes to work toward expanding her team even further in the near future. “They are smart, creative, and go-getting,” she says of her staff. “And they make me laugh all day!”