There’s nothing common about Kate Walker. This design dynamo works hard at driving her KWD business further into the future. Long days and short nights suit this working mum well, because her business comes from her core. It’s more than a job – it’s a passionate way of living.
Mornington Peninsula Magazine & Frankly Frankston Magazine catch a glimpse of this energetic Mount Martha native’s very aesthetic world inspired by her surrounds, love of family and motif.
What do you love most about your job?
The people and happiness I bring to them by helping to make their dreams a reality.
Take us through the design process from first consulting with a client through to completion.
In short, the KWD process is Specify, Source, Supply.
We start by taking a full brief from the client discussing hopes and dreams for the project right down to minute details of their lifestyle. Once we have worked out the timeframe and budgets, we come back to them with a presentation brief. They sign off on the products and we complete a schedule of beautiful finishes for them and quote on all the materials. We also pull together any trades they need such as builders, landscapers, designers, pool contractors, tilers. KWD offers one contact point for a very streamlined experience.
How does the Peninsula inspire your design?
The landscape inspires me. In a relatively small parcel of land there’s the wild Western Port Bay, the calm Port Phillip Bay, the beautiful green hills of Flinders and the Red Hill countryside. There’s such a variety of landscapes in such a small area. It’s a huge source of inspiration.
Do you have a favourite design aesthetic? And why?
I don’t really favour one. It’s more about figuring out what’s right for the property. KWD doesn’t have one style - we work across all forms and decide what is right for the project. If I was given a block of land and I could design my perfect property it would depend on many factors such as where the land is, what the light is like and what the surrounding properties are like. I love all design for different reasons, from the modern steel windows of contemporary to ornate wall panelling in Hamptons inspired designs.
How do you see design changing in the future as our lives change?
Design is all about keeping the aesthetic but improving the function, so as we progress as a human race, the function will get better and better. For example, I found an island bench the other day where an electrical charge runs through the bench top so all you need to do is place your phone on the bench and it will charge! I’m also a huge fan of natural materials which won’t have the same level of innovation. It’s more about how we use them. (If a modern house has a concrete floor, I’ll put timber on the ceiling.) Mod cons will get better, finishes will get better, man-made materials will get better, and materials will become eco-friendlier. Years ago, I would show people what materials they should be using, whereas now I’m telling them what they shouldn’t be using! I was also showing clients new materials, whereas now everyone sees everything online. Now it’s more about guiding people to pick the right material that fits the purpose, the project and the style.
What’s your favourite thing to do in your down time?
My work life and my family life is 24/7, so I take my down time in chunks. I work hard and play hard.
You learnt the business from your father – how have you reimagined what he taught you?
My father modelled me his incredible work ethic. In today’s day and age where everyone wants flexibility, I have had to massage my expectations with my team to give them flexibility, whilst I maintain my 12 plus hour days running the business. Whilst dad was a 6am to 6pm kind of guy, I quite often meet with my clients at night to fit in with their busy schedules. Dad taught me about marketing and buying too. Things like it’s not so much about what you sell a product for, it’s about what you buy it for. He showed me how to have exceptional relationships with my importers which results in buying the best products at the best prices for my clients. I reinvest in my people. We do things together to give the team a wonderful experience whether it be tennis (the KWD Tennis Team) or going out for dinners or having spa days. It’s about creating a family environment for the team. Dad taught me to look after your people.
Do you go to any of the local markets for inspiration? If so which ones?
I always love the Red Hill Market. I also think the Mermaid Sorority Designers Markets are terrific. They showcase a stunning collection of independent boutique brands. I am really inspired by local artisans who are putting themselves out there with their own small businesses. I’m a small business as well, so I understand the challenges and the rewards, and I am hugely passionate about supporting local business.
Any local designers or artists who inspire you?
I absolutely love jewellery designer Flick Pope who showcases her work at Pomme. Her jewellery designs are inspired by nature, and I’m so inspired by nature with hard finishes.
Are you a collector?
Yes! Definitely shoes - and blue and white china. And I have just started by own art collection. I like to support local artists. I recently commissioned a wonderful piece by the super talented Richard Claremont. The scene depicts my favourite weekend ritual of walking down the hill to Mount Martha beach with my children and their puppy.
Favourite places to hang out on the Peninsula - for food and for clothing?
For clothing, my two favourite stores are Smoke and Vanilla on Main Street Mornington, and Emia on Ocean Beach Road in Sorrento. The service is incredible and they are so design savvy. They are to fashion what KWD is to hard finishes. And to eat, Volpino is a favourite. We head there every Tuesday night without fail for a family dinner and there is always an Aperol Spritz waiting on the table for me. Assaggini is also very special. It’s a tapas style restaurant that we go to on a girls’ night before heading out for a boogie.
How long are your days and how do they start and end?
My day starts at 5am when I get up and do my emails. I then head to the gym when I can, and take the kids to school. I’m in the office by 8am, on the phone or checking in with my team and then I’m out all day on site or in consultations on the Mornington Peninsula or in the city. I get home by 7.30ish. I have incredible support from our nanny who helps with dinner and then I sit down and spend some quality time with the children. Once they go to bed I start my nightshift. If it’s cold I light the fire and work inside or I head out to the studio where my team are sometimes still hard at it. I go to bed around 11pm and fall asleep after midnight. I am not really a big sleeper - I average around four and a half hours sleep a night.
How do you sustain your energy to get the job done?
Adrenalin and passion. I am so passionate about what I do, I absolutely adore it. In fact, when I stop I often get unwell. My body thrives on adrenalin so I just keep going. That’s why I take my breaks in chunks. I am an all or nothing person, I don’t do moderation well.
Do you follow any design blogs?
I do follow some design blogs. I really enjoy Verandahouse, Trendland and Architectural Digest, and the Australian blogs I love are The Grace Tales, Interiors Addict, Get In My Home, The Design Files and Ish and Chi.
Favourite design magazines or sites?
My absolute favourites are Architectural Digest and Veranda.
Have you always lived on the Peninsula?
We moved to the Peninsula about ten years ago. Mum and dad had a holiday home here so we visited most weekends, so one day we decided to make Mount Martha our home. It was the best decision and we all love it here.
You travel a lot. Which places inspire you the most and why?
I get inspiration everywhere I go. I live in a holiday location so that really feeds my imagination and I also spend a lot of time at Mt Buller. Mother Nature is so fierce up there. I love the extremities of the weather. The colour changes so fast from no snow to snow filled. I am always inspired by landscapes and gardens.
Describe your personal style re clothing and interior design. Could you give us a snapshot of your home’s style?
I don’t subscribe to a certain style, it’s more about creating layers. My home reflects my life. I do love traditional American, tending towards British Colonial and Chinoiserie. With my clothing, it is another outlet of design for me. I’m a huge fan of Australian designers and support Australians wherever possible. Whilst I do like what’s on trend, I like to buy quality, key pieces that will last a long time which is really a reflection of what I tell my clients with their selection of hard finishes. And shoes of course. Always shoes.
What’s the difference between Peninsula based and city based client style?
I love our Peninsula clients because they love supporting local business and they are more likely to value the time and energy you put into a project. Working with our city clients is so rewarding, challenging and exciting, but it is more competitive. We find that our local clients are more about relationships and loyalty.
How do you see your business developing over the next five years? Where does KWD want to be then?
I see KWD being the premier specifiers of products for both residential and commercial projects on the Peninsula with a reputation for outstanding prices, and above all, outstanding customer service. We work on over 100 projects a year with an incredible team and our reputation is second to none.
Do either of your children want to follow in your footsteps or carry on the business?
Neither of my children has expressed interest in the business, but they have shown traits of their innate design skills. Charlie has shown his drawing and spatial skills, laying out a room design to scale, and he is such a negotiator! He negotiates everything with me so he would be an incredible Contract Negotiator. Jemima is so design savvy in the way she dresses and she is exceptionally creative. So, while neither has specifically said what they want to do, they are showing traits. As a mum, I naturally want them to explore their own interests, but I would adore the opportunity to build the business further with them.
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