In our first ever designer spotlight, we chatted with Kathy Kuo, CEO of Kathy Kuo Home, recognized TV personality and celebrated interior designer. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, her mission to support aspiring female entrepreneurs has our hearts racing with excitement! A mother of two, Kathy brings a fresh eye to designing baby and kid spaces for her clients and her rapidly growing home and design website where you can shop a curated assortment of Nook Sleep products. With our stylish and functional designs, we couldn’t think of a better way to kick off our Designer Spotlight series! So, let’s dive right in!

Nook: First things first, Kathy. You’re a mama, too! How old are your kids?

Kathy: My daughter, Maya, is 8 and my son, William (we call him Didi, which means “little brother” in Chinese) is 5. And we also recently got a puppy for my son’s birthday!

Nook: That’s so exciting! Not sure my house is ready for that responsibility yet. Speaking of adding to our plates, we get asked all the time by our readers about balancing a demanding work schedule with being a mom. What’s your secret?

Kathy: When I founded my company, I made the conscious decision that I wanted to be home with my kids, and I had to ask what kind of career could I have that would allow me to do that. There are a lot of careers that don’t allow for that, and that’s incredibly challenging and limiting, so I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to build motherhood into my career in this way. 

Nook: That’s genius! Just like meal planning, it’s so important to set aside time for planning fun to maximize that time with them! What’s your favorite activity with your kid(s)?

Kathy: We love reading, doing art projects, and playing the piano together--really any activity that’s imaginative and creative. It’s fun to get them involved in the decor of their room as well--whenever they complete a new art project we talk about choosing a frame and placing it on their wall shelves to be displayed, and they’re always so excited to see their creations up on the wall. It’s so sweet! 

Nook: I love that! Such a clever way to reduce clutter while also providing a space to display their work! So, after the work and playing is done, how do you unwind after a long day?

Kathy: I make sure that I always schedule in some time every day to stretch and get a workout in on my Peloton--movement is so essential for keeping me sane. I also always enjoy a good sheet mask or luxe skin serum, along with a glass of red wine, an engaging book, and a cozy throw blanket after a long day!

Nook: Sounds like a great end of a day to me! Now, onto what everyone’s waiting for, what’s the first question you ask your clients?

A: I’m always interested in learning about how a client wants to feel in a space and understand what their goals are for a given room. Does the room need to work for kids? For pets? For entertaining guests? Is it a space for relaxation or productivity? The question itself varies based on the space at hand, but I generally like to start with asking a client about what inspires them and what their lifestyle priorities are. 

That said, like most working moms out there, I usually find that it’s less about true balance, and more about taking turns prioritizing parenting and work, and of course over the past year, the way that those priorities blend together has changed so much. And since I co-parent with my ex-husband, I do make a concerted effort, when my kids are with me, to be super-present with them. I like to schedule 10-15 minute blocks in my day to brainstorm things I want to do with my kids later, so it’s not left to chance when we’re spending time together. 

Nook: That’s so critical, isn’t it? I didn’t realize how much visual noise affected my overall mood until I decluttered. Now I focus on exactly that - how does each room make me feel. Removing any stressors or adding organization to improve the vibe really can change everything! We know you love Nook and sell a few of our Pebble products on your site (Pure Organic Crib Mattress, Hypoallergenic Twin Mattress, LilyPad Playmat and Changing pad). As a mom and a design pro, what intrigued you most about our products?

Kathy:  So I will first say that I actually had a Nook crib mattress on my own baby registry when I was pregnant and was fortunate enough to be gifted one--I loved it! The brand first came on my radar as a mom, so it made total sense to me to also have it in our Baby & Kids’ Shop. 

When it comes to nursery and playroom products, it’s so essential to us to only carry high-quality brands that live up to the highest industry safety standards. Any product that’s going to be touching a child day-in and day-out has to be safe, non-toxic, and well-designed. I feel strongly about that not only as a business-owner, but as a mom myself. I love that Nook manufactures its products from organic and locally-sourced materials that are safe, breathable, and non-toxic. I also adore the unique pebbled design--there’s really nothing else like it on the market.

Nook: I always love hearing that! We definitely strive to make the highest quality products inside and out and never compromise on safety. So, you have a Nook crib mattress in your baby’s nursery, when you set out to design a nursery, where’s the first place you begin? Where do most expecting parents focus?

Kathy: The first thing you want to do with your nursery is space planning--you’ll need to map out where the crib, rocker, and changer will go--ask where the crib should be in relation to the doors and windows and any features of the space that might affect sleep and safety (for example: the cords on window blinds can be a hazard, as can cords from lamps and monitors, so you’ll need to plan for that). Along with space planning, consider whether you want wallpaper or paint, and take care of the wall treatments way ahead of bringing in your furnishings. Also, for parents designing a nursery, a huge point I like to emphasize is that the room is just as much for them as it is for the baby. As a new parent, you’ll be in the nursery all the time, so you want to make sure that it feels serene, comfortable, and reflective of your decor style. Once you realize that you don’t need to limit the colors and decor accents to “baby” things, you’ll be able to have a lot of fun designing the space!

Nook: All great points! As a mom of three, I definitely spent more time in my baby’s nursery the first year of their lives than I did in any other room! Wallpapering my daughter’s nursery was a game changer for me. It totally became my new sanctuary! What was the most important purchase you made in your baby(ies) nursery(ies)?

Kathy: The crib was definitely the most important purchase I made--I used the Oeuf Sparrow crib for both of my kids, and it was a game-changer. We sell that model and recommend it highly to all of our nursery clients, as well as Oeuf’s changing tables and storage pieces. Of course, by extension, every single item that goes in your crib is equally important, including the mattress (of course, I love the Pebble) and sheets. Your baby will spend so much time in the crib, so you want 100% peace-of-mind about your entire crib set-up. 

Nook: What are your must-haves when designing a playroom?

Kathy:  For a playroom that feels fun and engaging for the kiddos--but easy-to-organize for mom and dad--I recommend comfortable and kid-friendly seating and table or desk space (especially these days, with remote learning being a reality for so many families), as well as plenty of storage space to help keep messes at bay. It’s also great to have a craft table where kids can just roll out some paper and draw to their heart’s content, and, if you have space for it, I love a good reading nook or dress-up corner.

Nook: We often tell our customers to splurge where it matters most. For example, splurge on the crib mattress instead of the crib because the crib won’t be the thing keeping your baby up all night - an uncomfortable, non-breathable and plastic-covered crib mattress will. Any other tips on where to splurge and not splurge when designing a nursery?

Kathy: First, I would certainly agree that investing on a high-quality crib mattress is super-important and will prove to be well worth the money. And in regards to cribs, I would take things one step further and look into whether a convertible crib makes sense for you. Any time you can buy nursery furniture that grows with your baby--like a crib that converts to a toddler bed, or a baby chair that adjusts in height--you’re going to spend a little more up front, but save in the long run because you only have to make one purchase. This practice is also much more eco-friendly! I’d also recommend investing in a rocker or glider you really love, because you’ll be spending a lot of time in it and because a good chair can just become a part of your home and doesn’t need to be limited to just nursery use. 

Nook: Both really helpful tips! We finally got the convertible crib for my third baby and it has been so much easier for us! And mega kudos on the glider tip! We got one second hand to save money but it really can’t be used in any other room so we ended up donating it. Any other tips and tricks for our readers who might be designing a nursery, play room or big kid room?

A: My No. 1 tip is to trust your instincts and enjoy the process! This is a chance to be a little more whimsical with your decor if you want to and there should be a lot of joy in that. As your baby grows into a toddler and then into a child, you’ll find that they’ll have opinions about the space too--I’d advise parents to embrace that. Offer strategic options that let your kids feel like they have a voice but that still keeps the functionality of the room intact--meaning, “yes” to wacky wall art and patterned bedding, but “no” to a waterbed with goldfish swimming in it!

Ask yourself who you see your child becoming in a few years? When we were designing my daughter’s room, we built a desk area into the room that has proved to be a great investment for her school work and creative projects. Storage is also so, so, so key! Kids’ stuff accumulates so fast. We had a nook for the crib that has now become a storage area. My kids’ playroom’s walls have open shelving and they can see all their toys and they know their stuff is there and where it goes. Kids’ identities come so much from their toys and favorite things so it’s nice for them to be able to see everything rather than have an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. Finally, my kids are obsessed with beanbag chairs! The beanbags in my kids’ play area have so much utility that goes so far beyond just the sitting function! Comfy seating is a must for children’s spaces.