A conversation with Kelli Ellis

We spoke to Kelli Ellis about her Instagram takeover, sustainability and upcoming trends in the antique trade.

Kelli Ellis is an acclaimed celebrity artist and designer whose style epitomizes livable luxury and casual international flair mixed with rockstar glam. She has designed interiors that integrate antiques into residential and hospitality venues for the past 25 years and devised the innovative ‘Design Pyschology Coach’ program. As a tastemaker, she’s led the masses on HGTV, The Design Network (TDN), TCL, Bravo, and countless television shows. One of Ronati’s earliest advisors, Kelli joined the Ronati team as the VP of Global Industry Relations in 2019, overseeing United Kingdom and European strategic partnerships and events.

You've been collecting antiques for a while yourself, is there anything in particular you look for?

I love chairs and beautiful images of women and fashion. Being a licensed artist, I am drawn to certain things over and over. You can see in my collections the image of the female form, which is always interesting, especially in vintage advertising. My walls are pretty packed!


When you go browsing for a client, do you find things like that and think: oh, I want that. I’ll keep that for myself.

All the time. Every time. I actually work it into my budget, when I’m searching for a client. I just know that I’ll find something that I want for myself.


Do you have a favourite antique shop or antique-hunting town in the UK?

Any place that has Roman ruins, and antiques, I’m a fan. Like Bath. If I get there during the fair, I’m the happiest person on the planet. Some of the Victorian chairs I have were bought from that area, I love it.


Can you tell us about a recent purchase you made that you are particularly excited about?

Right now, something that is really popular is the idea of escapism, and bar carts, or anything that can be turned into a bar cart. One piece I’ve sourced lately is a vintage television with a full cabinet that I hollowed out and used as a bar - just a little repurposing. It looks like you’re going to open it up and see a television but surprise.


Do you have any advice for mixing styles and eras when it comes to furnishings? What about textiles?

I preach this all the time: you can put anything together – anything – as long as you have a unifying colour. You can go nuts. You could have Ming Dynasty mixed with Edwardian mixed with Victorian mixed with vintage, and the unifying colour makes it work. It doesn’t matter if it’s textiles, either. Actually, with textiles it’s even more exciting, because you can decide to go with a monochromatic theme, but what makes a seemingly simple colour scheme interesting is the change in texture. If you want depth in design, put things that you don’t think should be together, together.


How have you done this in recent designs? Are there certain colours that you like to use to make this work?

Design psychology is my basis for a lot of things, and biophilic design is really important right now, which means that we’re bringing nature indoors. Some of the easiest ways to do that are with colour and paint. Sage greens, khaki greens, browns, anything you find in nature. The most beautiful colours are in nature, and the greens are what make us feel good; looking to those natural colours really change how we feel about and in a space. That’s not saying that we ignore vibrant colours, but we need to seek out the natural and add it into our homes for balance. You’re not going to see vibrant reds in a place where you want to relax – there’s a reason why sage green is a colour used in spas and places for relaxation. Right now teal and green tones are informing my designs!


You have spoken a lot about sustainability and antiques in your takeover – could you summarise your thoughts on its importance?

I love that we’re seeing sustainability being a factor in choosing antiques. The last couple of years have forced us to slow down, and now that we’ve had a chance to think about climate change and look at what we’re doing to this rock that we live on, sustainability is becoming a bigger issue. The younger generation is being more caring, and not just saying it, but making caring choices, choosing items that are sustainable. We’re responding so easily in the antiques trade as it’s already there - we get to highlight and shine a light on things that have already been here for so long. As long as we’re being mindful about packing and shipping* and keeping sustainability in mind, it’s already all in place for the antiques industry. We’re not adding anything or producing more. Antiques and vintage is bigger now than ever.


What are your hopes for the future of the sustainability movement within the antiques trade?

I think that we’re just starting. I used to design new furniture, with two licensed collections, but I had to stop. I delved into antiques and realised that it wasn’t necessary to have an ode to something: just buy the real piece. It’s more sustainable, and not necessarily more expensive. We need to look to not adding to our carbon footprints by creating more. That’s also why the shipping and packing is so important. I think that people are just starting to realise that antiques have been here and have stories to tell; and look fantastic in our homes. It’s only with education, information and with broadcasting that dealers can keep moving. Young people are really pushing for it and it’s really exciting. I have a lot of hope.


Could you do a little trend forecasting for us? Any tips for buyers?

I think that the easiest way to get into the game as a buyer is via the grandmillenial trend, which draws on the 70s and 80s when there was a lot of brown furniture and everything matched; I call it page 2 design, my grandma used to get a catalogue and buy a whole page of matching things. It’s easy to design with matching fabrics, patterns or colours. We’re seeing this idea in a new and more exciting way. For inspiration, look to social media. I'm seeing incredible ways of displaying collections, hanging from string, in boxes, behind glass and would say think outside the box when you see a collection; considering the way you display something is what makes it “designery”. Unexpected pairings and buying items that speak to you are really where to start.


*We have a lot of Recommended Service Providers for packing and shipping that we would suggest you speak to about this if you are a dealer. We also recently hosted a webinar in collaboration with Queen's and the GCC, which members are welcome to watch by contacting us for the recording.