It’s rare to find people as obsessed with the complexities of colour as we are, but Martin Kesselman, the subject of today’s In Conversation With, is certainly one of them.
A New York City-based colour expert, consultant, and designer, Martin has garnered praise for his eponymous paint shade, the “gallery-esque” Martin Kesselman White, which was formulated by our Dorset team back in 2017. When he’s not darting all over the city advising a prestigious clientele on transforming spaces with colour, he’s at the helm of INCOLOUR, the TriBeCa destination that invites the colour curious to pop in for advice, product, and more.
We caught up with Martin to talk artistic influences, upcoming projects, and “trusting the Martin”.
Tell us a little about yourself and about your New York showroom
I’m Martin Kesselman, New York City-based interior designer and owner of a paint shop and colour meeting place in TriBeCa called INCOLOUR. I specialise, as the name of the boutique implies, in colour – as a colour consultant, colour theorist, colour creator, stylist, tastemaker and trend forecaster – and INCOLOUR complements this perfectly.
I think of myself as an “outside” interior designer – not outside as in exteriors, but more “out of the box”. I either work independently or on a team collaborator with other designers, architects and members of the trade. For me, there’s no job too large or too small, and I work on a wide range of projects from luxe residential to office décor, hospitality design, art galleries and cultural institutions.
What does your typical day look like?
A big part of my day-to-day is assisting homeowners and apartment dwellers, curating palettes for their new or soon to be renovated spaces. Ultimately, the experience is flexible to meet the needs of the client. I think it’s unique, too – meeting with a design professional and getting expert advice on street level. Clients will also make the trip into INCOLOUR to bounce an idea or two off me or just to pick up product.
While my day could feature a couple of hours’ colour consultation at a client’s home or a large-scale project that has an entire design phase, the thing they have in common is that it’s always an educational experience in what I feel is a really important design element.
As well as owning your own showroom, you are also an interior designer, colour consultant, art collector, and creator of Martin Kesselman White. What has been your most memorable project?
As a colour theorist and creator, certainly the recently relaunched Martin Kesselman White – which I originally named after my daughter Elliyah and created in collaboration with Farrow & Ball – has been my most memorable project. It was featured in The New Yorker, Artsy, New York magazine and Departures, to name a few.
My quest was to provide a solution to those looking for good neutrals. I wanted to create an architectural white that created a versatile backdrop for art and a balanced energy for the home, one that wasn’t stark, sterile, commercial or institutional, and I think the colour reflects that.
I came to the idea because of my experience in the mid-2000s in West Chelsea. At the time I was doing custom colour work for gallery installations and exhibitions but beginning to shift my headspace to interiors, and I got to know many art collectors who were trying to recreate the white box gallery experience in their apartments with the own art on display.
I’m really pleased with the product and its association with my history, and it has opened doors to do big colour work, which I am beyond pleased about.
You started your career in the art world, how has this influenced your career? Does it still influence you now?
It certainly still does. I am very involved in the art community – beyond visiting and working with local galleries, I travel to many art and design fairs internationally, not only to participate in the activations, but also as a spectator for inspiration and keeping up with trends.
Many designers are motivated by nature, as am I, but fine art is what really moves me. If I have a client with an outstanding art collection, something to pull gems from, it certainly sets fire to my imagination, which reflects in my work.
Full circle, I recently joined spaces with Anton Kern Gallery – INCOLOUR is hosting Kern’s new 24/7 exhibition, WINDOW, in its storefront windows. My showroom is a great meeting place, but a paint shop, even done well, often stays the same. That’s why I wanted to add creativity and something that changes (the art in the windows will change every 4–5 weeks), so my idea was to bring others in to collaborate, add value, and give another reason to visit.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working with renowned jazz trumpeter and composer Chris Botti on his recently purchased apartment in Hudson Yard, at the end of the Highline. The apartment is in the tallest building in the Yard, which was designed by prominent architectural firms Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and The Rockwell Group and stands 88 floors high.
The space – and it truly does feel as if you’re in space, perched above all – has floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of the Hudson River, and the goal of the project was to stay true to the view while creating moody blues moments for Chris.
Another project that I’m over the moon about is with Co Adaptive Architecture and their principal, Ruth Mandl. At the moment I can only share a bit of it, but there’s more to come, and it’s going to be impressive! The project is a double A-frame building, approximately 17,000 square feet, which was originally constructed as a metal foundry in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn around the turn of the century and is now being renovated for a new innovative studio use. All its paintable areas will be in Martin Kesselman White.
Do you have tips for people who might be nervous about using colour?
As I told Chris Botti at the end of our first phone call, and as he now repeats back to me: “trust the Martin”! There’s a lot of anxiety around making colour choices and design decisions, and there’s certainly a responsibility as an influencer, someone people trust for solid advice.
My personal approach is trying to be in tune with the space and getting a good read of the room, not just the architecture and design but the people who are going to live in it. Just like in relationships, communication, expectations and trust apply to design.
My advice is to connect to your space – it’s an extension of you – and create a simple design plan and list. Write down goals, atmospheres and moments you want to create, and think about how you’re going to use your home, room by room. Don’t get too caught up in the size of the space, lighting exposure or other general design “rules”. For me, it’s more about setting moods and tones.
Note down what excites you, and what you’re afraid of. Start slow but embrace a little push from your decorator – if you’re not working with a designer, bounce some ideas off a family member or friend, or maybe someone who has a little more experience. Take closer looks at spaces that aren’t your own. Look online and start collecting images, things you’re attracted to, and also start recognising what you don’t like.
I think the biggest fear is around not knowing what to expect when the work and painting is done. It’s fear of the unknown. Like anything else, the more you familiarise yourself with an idea or experience, the more comfortable you will be. Remind yourself at the end of the day, and at the end of the project: it’s just paint!