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Forget the Eat-In Kitchen—Rita Konig Swears By the Cook-In Dining Room

Words by Gabrielle Savoie
a dining room with a table and chairs

Photography by James Merrell; Design by Rita Konig

Decorating runs in Rita Konig’s blood.

She did, after all, launch her career under her mother, esteemed English decorator Nina Campbell, whose client list includes royals and rockstars. But if you ask her, it’s taking a leap of faith and venturing out on her own in 2002 that shaped Rita into the prolific designer and writer she is today. “It was a breakthrough moment,” she recalls.

From a young age, Rita straddled the editorial and design worlds. She penned her first book, Domestic Bliss, at age 29 and worked at The Times and The Telegraph before moving to New York, where she joined the original Domino magazine team. “I had this amazing shopping column where I would go to a different city each month and find all the good shops,” she shares. “I saw a lot of America in a really brilliant way.”

Her design career took off after a move back to London a few years later—coincidentally thanks to a project on the other side of the Atlantic in Mill Valley, California, on which she collaborated on with architect (and now friend) Gil Schafer. She honed her signature style: maximalist, colorful, British, but always with a modern sensibility.

Recently, a full circle moment came in the form of an Architectural Digest feature: she helped design the home of her former Domino editor (and longtime friend), Deborah Needleman. Here, she shares her best decorating tips, her biggest architectural pet peeve, and how she starts every design project.

a shelf filled with lots of flowers and plants
a bed with a red and white quilt on it

Photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna; Design by Rita Konig

Photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna; Design by Rita Konig

What architectural era is inspiring you right now?

I’ve been loving Arts & Crafts recently. And I’ve always loved Georgian houses—more on the outside, because there are never enough bathrooms inside, so it's quite hard to reorganize the interiors especially if they’ve been historically listed but the scale is always so pretty.

I also get inspired by the idea of having a modern glass box by the sea. I just spent the weekend at Gil Schafer's place in Maine which is a modern A-frame and you get great space—it's just one huge room. I think it would be quite fun to own something with a completely different feel than my London apartment.

Name an architectural pet peeve that always needs fixing in any project—big or small?

I hate really thin walls. It's just like someone put a sheetrock up and stuck a door frame in it. When I was a child I had a Sindy doll which was like a Barbie and she had a house that had plastic binder-like cardboard walls that made up the four rooms.Thin walls always remind me of that. Instead, I like a deep jamb that you can add by doing things like putting a bookcase on one side, adding cupboards, or making the walls thicker.

If your design style was a fashion icon, who would it be?

I’d like to think it would be somebody like Diana Vreeland. She was classic but she had flair and humor as well.

a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna; Design by Rita Konig

You’re designing a room—where do you start?

The first step is always to understand how the room is going to be used. What kind of life is going to be lived in it, and what does it need to provide? Is the living room where all of your family hang out? Do you love formally entertaining? Do you have three small boys living in your house and are all their toys also going to be in this room? Or do you have no kids? There's a lot of that work required to make a house practical.

I spend quite a lot of time on getting the layout right. In that time, I learn a lot about my clients and get a visual portrait of what the room might look like. It’s quite subconscious but the house gradually starts to form in my mind. After that, I tend to get into the nuts and bolts of what the room’s actually going to look like and we start pulling fabrics and colors together.

What are you dying for a client to request?

I’d love to design a classic sleeper train. Someone was talking to me about this recently and I think it would be really fun.

Where to save / where to splurge?

I always spend the money on stuff I can take with me. When I lived in a New York rental, I mostly just painted the walls and had balloon shades made out of lining fabric, which was $4 a yard and this great ecru color. But I always had good China and I bought some nice furniture which is still in my London apartment today.

Future proofing is very difficult but I would always buy a good sofa. You don't want to buy too many of them because even cheap sofas are expensive—they're also hard to get rid of because they have no resale value. So you want to try and get it as right as possible the first time.

a living room filled with furniture and a lamp
a kitchen with a sink, stove, cabinets and pictures on the wall

Photography courtesy of Rita Konig

Photography by James Merrell; Design by Rita Konig

Describe your dream sofa: what does it look like, how is it built, and how does it feel?

Deep and comfortable. I like the idea of streamlined or sleek lines rather than traditional and heavy. It should be lovely and deep which allows you to put good cushions in the back when you want to be brought forward a bit but you can also really slouch in it when you want to watch a movie or read a book.

What should you always buy vintage?

I tend to buy everything vintage, especially tables and chairs. But the thing I'm always looking for is China and glassware—that's my weakness.

Coffee table or ottoman?

I often put ottomans in projects but I also have a really beautiful coffee table I made with The Lacquer Company that’s really pretty with a wavy edge and I love to use in the right room.

a dining room with a table and chairs

Photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna; Design by Rita Konig

Formal dining room or eat-in kitchen?

Funnily, I'm renovating my own apartment and I’m about to do the opposite: I've taken a really big room that's going to be a cook-in dining room rather than an eat-in kitchen. It's mostly a big dining room, but with a kitchen within it.

What are your go-to touches that always elevate a room?

It depends. If it's a bedroom, it's bedlinen. If it's a kitchen or dining room, it's china and glassware. In sitting rooms, it’s lampshades and I also love buying old plates to put on tables instead of coasters so there's somewhere to put your glass.

What’s inspiring you right now?

We've got some really lovely projects, both here and in the States. And we're getting to a point with our clients also where we can do really interesting things because the budgets are changing: we can afford beautiful paint effects and lovely fabrics on the walls.

But what I'm really excited about is doing my own place. I bought the apartment upstairs and I’m combining them together. So downstairs is going to be living spaces and the bedrooms will be upstairs. It feels exciting, like we're getting a lot more space suddenly. When you redo something you've lived in, you really get to finesse it to perfection.

a woman standing next to a chair in a room

Photography by Ben Draper

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