Buckhead interior design prodigy Kevin O’Gara dishes on design
At 22 years old, Buckhead native and fifth generation Atlantan Kevin O’Gara has already done what many interior designers only dream of. He is the editor of the highly successful design blog “Thou Swell” and is the founder of product studio Kevin Francis Design. His work has been featured in shelter publications such as Apartment Therapy, Better Homes and Gardens and Domino, and he’s collaborated with major retailers such as Home Depot and West Elm.
To say he’s accomplished would be an understatement, but O’Gara is far from finished. Below, he shares more about his creative past and his visions for his design future.
You started your design business as a teenager. How old were you when you landed your first client?
My first “real” client—after decorating different rooms in my parents’ houses several times over—was a friend of my father’s who discovered my blog and Instagram. I think I was 18, and while I could make an inspiring design board, I was not yet experienced in the personal aspects of managing clients, understanding their real goals and style, and managing the details like measuring everything (twice). Needless to say, it was a bumpy ride, but I learned so much in the process.
How would you categorize your style as an interior designer?
I like to describe my style as “new Southern” because it takes the foundation of traditional Southern design and refreshes it with a young twist. I honor the timeless proportions of classic style while infusing contemporary accents, a fresh color palette and a hint of the unexpected for a more interesting mix. It seems like brown furniture is back, and you use antiques often in your designs.
How can we give our antiques new life?
I don’t think we’re ever going to see rooms filled with 100% antiques again. But thankfully they’re back in the mix, and I think it’s so helpful to have at least one real wooden piece to anchor a room. It’s all about balance, and when I’m working with antiques, I try to bring in lighter, more contemporary pieces that complement the dark wood and give it some contrast to really make it shine.
Tell us more about starting your product line, Kevin Francis Design.
I love product design, and so it was so exciting to create this line of rugs. I spent months pouring over patterns, colorways and photographs to finally land on a bird’s-eye view of the gardens of Versailles; I knew it was the perfect inspiration for my first collection. I took inspiration from traditional garden labyrinths and translated them to five patterns in raised bamboo silk on wool. The collection comes in five colorways with boxwood green being the first color I chose. I grew up with a boxwood garden, and to me, it’s a shade of green that you can never get tired of. I loved creating these fresh, graphic patterns from such a time-honored garden tradition.
What spots around town inspire you?
I love a drive down Habersham to look at houses, Blue Heron nature preserve for a walk with the dog, the view from the top of Restoration Hardware, Pieces for unique modern decor, Huff Harrington for classic style and ADAC for the rest of my favorite showrooms. [I love] the cacio e pepe at St. Cecilia, Flower Child for a healthy bite, Anis for the most charming patio and cocktails at the new Garden Room in the St. Regis. I still haven’t outgrown the Buckhead bars for a night out with high school friends.
What goals do you have for Kevin Francis Design this year?
Participating in another showhouse is definitely a goal for me! I love the challenge of creating something out of pure imagination. My other goals include starting up my YouTube channel, publishing my cousin’s Midtown apartment design, dreaming up my next rug collection, reimagining my mom’s new modern Upper Westside townhouse, starting to paint again and finishing my business plan for a new hospitality company here in Atlanta.
Wellness columnist at Simply Buckhead and dog columnist at Atlanta Pet Life. Lifestyle writer specializing in women's interests, travel, people and interiors.