How One Designer's Cancer Diagnosis Changed Her Approach to Interiors

Updated 07/17/19

Brandon Arant; DESIGN: Kim Gordon Designs

Interior designer Kim Gordon was at the top of her game in the world of Los Angeles real estate—catering to clients like Laura Dern and Sam Smith—before cancer gave her and her career an entirely new path.

While recovering at home, sick from chemotherapy, Gordon began to see her own house in a new light. She understood that it would need to be a place where she could heal, which ultimately led her to use her design prowess to make a series of renovations and upgrades in the name of wellness. "I realized there were so many things I could do that would help support my health," she tells MyDomaine.

Now, a cancer survivor, the designer's mission is to create homes that put well-being at the forefront of the design process. No longer are aesthetics and functionality the only factors Gordon considers when conceptualizing a space. Instead, she approaches every project by getting to know the emotional, psychological, and physical needs of her clients to build a healthy home for them.

Her personal experience with the impact a home can have on health is not an isolated incident. In fact, numerous studies connect poor housing conditions such as lead poisoning, bad ventilation, dirty carpets, pest infestation, extreme temperatures, residential crowding, and more with a variety of physical and mental health conditions, indicating that housing really can affect a person's health.

Ahead, learn more about Gordon's personal journey from traditional design to wellness real estate and find out what steps you can take to ensure your home is as healthy as possible.

White Home Surrounded by Trees
Brandon Arant; DESIGN: Kim Gordon Designs

Gordon began her career as an artist creating installations and laying cement floors for high-end clientele and prominent designers. "I really gained an understanding from that perspective—not only in an embellishment and decorating capacity but also in watching first hand how we live in homes," she says. "I started from the ground up, literally."

Through the simple acts of watching and learning, Gordon made a name for herself in the L.A. design scene, garnering a following for her unique work inspired by time spent living in Puerto Rico. "The walls had this glorious texture and age to them, and I figured out how to replicate that—to make things look old, antiquing," she explains.

Because more and more people starting using similar techniques, she pivoted to staining and troweling cement floors to differentiate her work from the rest. "Nobody was doing anything like that on floors, and I saw more designers wanting to use cement. I thought I could warm it up with texture and color, and that's what I did," she points out.

Boho Backyard
​Brandon Arant; DESIGN: Kim Gordon Designs

Although her career was thriving, something was stirring inside Gordon that would forever alter her path. "Cancer was a shock," she says. Diagnosed with stage three triple negative breast cancer, the designer underwent a year of chemotherapy, radiation, and invasive surgery, largely confining her to her home to rest.

"I don't know if I triggered the cancer cells in my body to freak out and grow the way they did because of the chemicals I may have inhaled over all those years of working with paints and stains and sealers and waxes, but it certainly got me thinking," Gordon admits. After realizing that she needed her house to help her heal, the designer started making changes to her home, acting purely on instincts at first.

She added more plants, had the ducts cleaned, and installed a water filtration system for the entire house. "I saw my home as a sanctuary," she says. "The only place I could go hide and heal."

Eclectic Living Room
​Brandon Arant; DESIGN: Kim Gordon Designs

After further research, she realized that there were so many more ways to create a healthier environment at home and ultimately moved from her Venice abode—where she had lived for almost 30 years—to a property in the mountains of Mandeville Canyon in Brentwood surrounded by nature. In her new home, she created a real office instead of working in the bedroom, installed lights that she can control the color and intensity of from her phone, reupholstered the sofa with organic materials, and pared down her collection of clothes and books.

Now in remission, Gordon implements these principles in every project she works on. "Of course I am changed. I am now choosing healthier materials; I'm talking more to my clients about what they actually need from their homes," she notes. In recognizing that most people rarely take the time to think about what they really need from their homes, she's on a mission to allow people actually to take advantage of their property.

"There are rooms for invigoration, stimulation, and creativity—for rest and for pampering," Gordon says. "It really changes your perspective in design when you realize that you can create your home to remind you of how you want to live." She compares this to the way you feel on vacation. "You give yourself permission to enjoy your time in the place; you breathe deeper, you walk a little slower... Our homes should be a little bit of that," she claims.

Master Bedroom
​Brandon Arant; DESIGN: Kim Gordon Designs

If you're ready to make healthy updates to your own home, Gordon suggests first deciding how you want to live. Ask yourself, "What can you add to remind yourself that you are home, that you are leaving the stress of the day behind?" For Gordon, this includes a fountain in her front entryway that signals it's time to settle down. She also has a place for her keys to live and her phone to charge, a candle ready to be lit, and slippers by the front door to help her fully transition from the work of the day into the mindset of resting at home.

In addition to creating these little moments throughout your space, Gordon notes a few healthy essentials that every home should have. These include being free of noxious fumes, having clean air ducts, clean water, and fresh air. She advises using healthy cleaning products, only buying paints that are low VOC (volatile organic compound), and cleaning your mobile devices and computers. You can also check for Radon and mold and seek out furniture that is made without formaldehyde, a surprisingly common chemical found in some plastic, plywood, and particleboard home goods.

Bathroom with Plants
​Brandon Arant; DESIGN: Kim Gordon Designs

Now, Gordon is busy creating healthy homes for her clients, designing a line of chemical-free furniture, and proposing a new concept hotel. While she admits she doesn't spend much time thinking about success, she defines it as being a good mother to her two boys, while building a million dollar business.

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