Maybe you know Kathy Kuo in relation to her expansive online retail store, caught her on TV, or simply admire her commitment to empowering women in all industries. As part of our series, My Design Journey, we spoke with Kuo—designer, businesswoman, and mother of two—about the steps that led her to success, points of pride with regard to her business, and where she looks for inspiration, even during this time at home.
On Her Lifelong Passion for Design
Kuo has been passionate about interiors for as long as she can remember, and growing up with a diplomat father, she and her family moved frequently between Asia and the Americas.
"I loved creating new homes everywhere we went and integrating new meaningful objects from my travels," Kuo reflects. "This instilled both an appreciation for good design and a love for unique, high-quality products at a young age.”
As a young adult, Kuo enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied industrial design. Then her career began to take off: Kuo appeared on home renovation shows like Rowhouse Showdown and Knock First, began to design furniture and textiles for a luxury importer, created a signature décor line for Assouline Books, and went on to lead Bed, Bath & Beyond’s tabletop division.
“The experiences, insights, and understanding of product design, manufacturing, and global distribution later became the building blocks of Kathy Kuo Home,” she reflects.
On Her Design Style and That of Her Brand
Kuo describes her style as classically inspired, layered-luxe, and elegant. While she believes this is embodied in her brand, she notes that her design firm, “is known for not having one distinct style, but rather embracing and elevating the personal style of our clients," she explains, “Our projects are all incredibly unique to one another, reflecting the clients with a range of aesthetics, budgets, timelines, lifestyles, environments, and so on.”
On Her Sources of Inspiration
Kuo’s travel and experiences being immersed in different cultures have informed her design style; she draws inspiration from time spent living in Milan, Spain, and Germany. “I was captivated by their history, and how their architecture and interiors were a reflection of their foundation and life values at the time, whether it be their religion or their rulers,” she says of these locales.
While working in product development, Kuo also became inspired by artisan craftsmanship from countless countries across the globe. “Each filigree, brass dome, or handwoven rush seat tells a story of material integrity, creating beauty passed down through generations of artisans, tradesmen, and cottage industries," she says.
There are so many wonderful designers and artists out there, and now we have the ability to openly share our projects, milestones, and support for one another in real-time.
These experiences haven’t stopped Kuo from appreciating everyday resources, too. “Lately, while we’ve all been a bit land-locked, I’ve found inspiration from things close to me,” she explains. “Even something as simple as textiles: I love to comb through fabric websites for captivating patterns, color, or textures to see what it inspires.”
Kuo also greatly appreciates the power of Pinterest and Instagram. “It’s become such a fantastic source of inspiration for every creative industry today,” she notes. “There are so many wonderful designers and artists out there, and now we have the ability to openly share our projects, milestones, and support for one another in real-time. It’s truly proven to be such an uplifting community.”
On Developing Her Retail Store, Kathy Kuo Home
Kuo launched Kathy Kuo Home in 2012, and the shop offers everything from high-end furniture to beautiful tabletop accessories that complement a wide variety of interior styles.
“During my days working with luxury importers, which was also at the beginning of this new ‘online retail’ concept, I quickly realized there was a need for a platform that offered home furniture and décor,” she explains. “There were very few websites that featured home pieces at all, and virtually none that had an assortment of well-made, high-quality home products.”
Her goal? To provide consumers with a streamlined online platform that provided an assortment of high-quality home décor and furnishings for a range of styles. Kuo hired a developer to create her website, and the rest was history.
“The site has grown exponentially since, with an ever-growing assortment supported by a robust interior design firm and a dedicated trade program,” Kuo says. “Our commitment is to help customers alleviate pain points when it comes to shopping for designer furniture online and booking high-end interior designers and services.”
Kuo has appreciated many of the aspects of launching a retail brand and overseeing a successful business. “I genuinely enjoy building a team and its culture,” she explains. “Seeing my team grow organically on their own and taking ownership of their roles is very rewarding. We have a very close-knit environment, even while working from home, and it’s very special to have so many talented individuals collaborating and striving toward this shared mission.”
On Her Career Highlights Thus Far
Kuo has seen much success over the course of her career, but is particularly proud of developing her first-ever proprietary collection.
“At the start of my career, I focused on product design and development—it was an experience that really reinforced my love for interiors and good craftsmanship—so this project has brought me back to my roots,” she says. “It’s also brought us to places we haven’t been before, having to take on risks operationally and logistically that you just don’t experience as a drop-ship retailer.”
Kuo is also pleased with her team’s growth during these challenging times. “Looking back on the last 12 months, there have been so many little wins we’ve had as a team to help get us to where we are, but it’s actually looking at the year as a whole that still impresses me now,” she says. “Since last March, we’ve been fortunate to experience exponential growth as a company and as a team, which brings with it many natural challenges and obstacles. On top of that, we've had to do this all remotely, including recruiting new team members, onboarding and training virtually, and, most importantly, scaling our company culture.”
I’m relieved and proud to say that not only have we upheld our brand values, but we’ve only gotten more aligned to our core mission.
During this, growth, culture, and values have remained at the company’s forefront. “It’s been an interesting thing to think through how to scale something as unique and impalpable as culture, but having a strong team that you trust is the most important aspect of running a business, and absolutely crucial to keep with you as you expand,” Kuo adds. “I’m relieved and proud to say that not only have we upheld our brand values, but we’ve only gotten more aligned to our core mission—and I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such hard-working, kind, and passionate individuals on a daily basis.”
On Her Commitment to Advocating for Other Female Entrepreneurs
“One of my personal passions is mentorship for other women looking to create a difference in this world,” Kuo explains. She frequently speaks at schools, events, and uses her significant online presence to maintain an interview series—”Kuotable Women”—on her blog, profiling female entrepreneurs in a wide variety of fields.
“I think it’s important to use whatever platform you have to help lift up others, no matter how big or small, and I’ll continue to have that at the forefront of the brand as we evolve,” Kuo says. “I’m constantly networking with other female founders or women in business, trying to share any experiences and resources that I have in order to aid in their mission.”
We are female-founded, female-driven, and female-powered.
Kuo is pleased to share that the leadership and team behind Kathy Kuo home is primarily female, as are most of the brand’s trade program members and vendors. “We are female-founded, female-driven, and female-powered,” she says.
On the Future of Kathy Kuo Home and the Design Industry
Kuo hopes to continue to grow her brand’s proprietary business. “Though we are very fortunate to work with incredible vendors and have a leading assortment in the home space, there are a few additional challenges that we must face as drop-ship retailers that we could avoid by offering our own pieces as well,” she explains.
With regard to the design industry as a whole, Kuo cites adaptability and transparency as ongoing themes. “I think the past year has taught us a lot in terms of customer needs and how to pivot when global obstacles are presented,” she says. “I believe people will continue to spend more time at home and this shifted way of living will maintain momentum. It will be extremely important for the design industry to maintain transparency with customers when it comes to potential lead time issues and find solutions that best serve our customers to assist with a seamless shopping experience.”
She adds, “For both the brand and the design industry as a whole, I think we’re looking forward to some incredibly exciting times—stay tuned.”