Christopher Kennedy is exactly where he wants to be: deeply entrenched in the community in Palm Springs, organizing showcase house tours to benefit the local animal shelter, running a retail shop, and operating his design business in downtown Palm Springs. It sounds like a lot, but it’s actually more scaled back than it was three years ago. We had the chance to visit Christopher Kennedy’s new store and design studio and chat with him about his new approach to business and to life.
His post-pandemic pivot is the result of deliberate work-life rebalancing. The pandemic was a tipping point. While he watched friends in the community who own shops and restaurants have to shutter, demand for design services was higher than ever. “It was an embarrassment of riches,” Kennedy said. He was burned out and needed to do less and focus on what matters. But it’s all relative, after all: Kennedy’s version of doing less is still many people’s version of doing the most.
Christopher Kennedy on retail burn-out and knowing when to pivot
For designers entertaining the idea of opening their own store, Christopher Kennedy offers some sage advice. “Running a design firm, sometimes you are your own best customer,” he said. “Owning a retail store is really useful when you need to pick up some accessories last minute to art a photoshoot. You really need the same level of dedication to both [your firm and store] to maintain a cohesive brand. And you can get burned out trying to do it all.” Kennedy admitted that he was too hands-off with the retail side of the business, focusing heavily on design clients. He took some time to step back and reevaluate how he could best serve his clients and community. The result is a new, tailored showroom, tucked into a business center in downtown Palm Springs. It doesn’t have the same tourist foot traffic as the previous space — that is by design as well– but it’s calm, crisp, and feels like home.
Christopher Kennedy on product licensing deals and developing an art collection with Wendover
Christopher Kennedy approaches licensing in a specific way: he wants to go deep with a line. Rather than developing 12 SKUS and calling it a collection, his partnership with Wendover Art includes over 500 SKUS of art. This is possible because Wendover Art has their business affairs in order and the capabilities to market the line. However, Kennedy is less concerned with profit and more interested in the ongoing partnership. He warns against going into a project or licensing deal with solely financial incentives. “Go into it wondering how you can best serve,” he says. “How can this be great for all parties involved? That’s when the best, most rewarding work will be done.”
Why you need an interior design business coach and when to hire one
For Christopher Kennedy, change is the only constant. He is always creatively reinventing his business, while his design sensibilities and dedication to his clients and community remain the same. He advises mid-career designers to hire a coach. “Take the leap of faith to make the investment. You always have to be improving your systems.” He says that the best time to hire a coach is when you’re doing well. “Yes, things are going great, but what can we do better? And what is going to change?” He has recently started working with designer and coach Traci Connell.
Christopher Kenndy on trusting your gut and keeping creative
Christopher Kennedy was an early adopter of digital branding. He had the instinct to invest in digital branding assets early on, which helped him create a recognizable brand. He advises new designers, who are likely internet natives, to take advantage of the many resources available to present themselves digitally. “It’s so common now and expected, so skip the vacation to get a project photographed,” he says.
Kennedy says he would love to see a designer under 30 presenting something unexpected. That means less gray and less boho style and more color, antiques, and brown furniture. He leaves us with this piece of advice: “To thy own self be true, always go with your gut. Whenever I thought that paint was just a little too red, it was.”