Designer Spotlight: Mary Kathryn Wells

Posted by Della Wheeler on

Happy Tuesday, Stray Dogs! If you've been hanging around our social media pages lately, you've likely seen some posts from Mary Kathryn Wells. She's an incredible interior designer who's use of color even inspires us (and we know a thing or two about color). 

Of course, when we see so many awesome rooms including our fixtures, we love reaching out and learning more about the designer behind the designs. So, we got to have an interview with the woman herself! Scroll down to see some of her amazing rooms and learn more. 

What inspires you to fall in love with and eventually become a designer? 

I’ve been neurotic about my own space since I was little, and I’ve always loved color and pattern and mixing them in unexpected ways. I have three kids and once I became a parent, it was really important to me to create a home in which each of us feels seen and celebrated just as we are.

I previously worked in K-12 public education, managing projects to improve schools across the country, so I knew I had stellar project management skills. As part of that work, I studied human-centered design, which is a problem-solving approach rooted in empathy for the people most affected by any given challenge; in my past work in schools, that was the students in the classroom, and now in my interior design work, those are the people who live in the homes in which I work. I really try to understand the people and families I work with, what matters to each individual member of a family, and how we can personalize their spaces to bring them joy and ensure each individual feels seen.

When I made the transition from public education to interior design, I worried that this career would feel superficial, but it’s been quite the opposite and I’ve loved it so much. People’s homes are wildly personal and it’s been such a joy to work alongside families to improve them.



Left Photo: Stray Dog Designs Drum Pendant


We know you live and work in Nashville. How does your hometown play a part in the work you do? 

I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas but lived in New York City for a decade and then my husband and I moved to Maui, Hawaii for 2 years before settling down in Nashville, and my time in all those settings influences my style. The Southerner in me loves a good plate on the wall (they really break up all the rectangles!) or a gorgeous piece of antique furniture; the New Yorker in me loves a mid-century piece with clean lines and also isn’t afraid to get wild and weird and break all the rules; and I live for a good rattan moment or a tropical reference that reminds me of Hawaii.

What is your favorite room in your space right now? 

We have an open living / dining / kitchen situation in my house, and my husband does the cooking. I love sitting down to family dinner each night in the center of this space.  I keep a boat load of taper candles on the dining table (I count 18 at the moment – especially in the dreary winter months, lighting all those candles at dinner and dimming all the other lights creates such a lovely mood).  We go around the table and all share our day’s high, low, and buffalo, which is anything else you want to share from your day.  Not to make these dinners sound too idyllic, because they also include shouting, arguing, and general infighting.  But I cherish these dinners since our family life is otherwise quite hectic with 2 self-employed parents, 3 school-aged kids, and a yapping mini poodle in the background.



Left: Stray Dog Designs Penguin Lamp

Do you have any favorite spaces you've created? What made them special? 

Aside from my own home, I just wrapped a townhome in New York City which was a super fun project (photos aren’t ready to be shared yet, but we used the Stray Dog Otomi Pendant in there!), and the project in which the Penguin Lamps are used in the photos here is very dear to my heart because those clients were the first people to really trust me with their home.  They’re such a fun family and the home is a true reflection of them, which delights me.

We love your fun use of color! What's your favorite color to work with right now?

I’m always looking to incorporate pink and chartreuse, and lately I’ve been itching to use some oxblood red, too. 



Lamps: Stray Dog Designs Tulip Tree Table Lamp

Where do you source a lot of the beautiful pieces that you use in the spaces you work on?

My favorite place to start sourcing for any project is the client’s existing items, objects, kids’ art, antiques, or other weird pieces.  These don’t need to be priceless treasures, just something unexpected or sentimental that makes the client happy (and usually surprised) to be able to include in their space.  One of the reasons people come to me is that I’m quite willing to work with existing pieces (my fee structure is based on the scope of work, and so I don’t charge markup on purchases).

I always go to Stray Dog for unique lighting; I’ve tried to get every single client to buy at least one piece from Stray Dog.

And I love a good antique rug, and I find a lot of those on eBay.  The patterns and colors plus the time-tested construction make them awesome for families because they hide all the spills and stains and are also super durable.

Do you have any design predictions for 2024? Give us the scoop! 

I don’t know what the trends say but I say DO YOU.  When it comes to your home (and lots of other things in life), if it makes you happy, you’re doing it right.

What are you digging right now? (Podcasts, books, music, movies, shows...)

Music: I practice jiu jitsu and I’ve been listening to a mix of Bad Bunny and Superchunk on the drive there each morning.  (Told you I like mixing unexpected things!)

TV: I totally slept on Derry Girls and my husband and I are loving catching up on it now. 

Podcast: I just listened to the 10% Happier podcast episode with Bill Hader. And I’m always a fan of My Favorite Murder.

Read: The New York Times and House & Garden (UK) home tours. I’m so bad at finding time to read that I keep checking the same book out from the library over and over again.



Both Photos: Stray Dog Designs Strawberry Lamp

Where's your favorite place you've traveled? Were you inspired by their architecture and design?

I will never get over the fact that I got to live on Maui for 2 years.  The fin from my surfboard from when we lived there is framed and hangs in my bathroom here in Nashville.  The design inspiration I took from living there was how little we truly need and the joyful beauty of simplicity.  But solely based on the number of patterned lampshades I now own, I’ve strayed pretty far from this wisdom!  The colors of Mexico also delight me to no end, which is probably one reason I love Stray Dog Designs so much. 

What is your favorite account to follow on social media right now? 

I’m mostly off Instagram these days for the sake of my mental health but when I do login, I love seeing posts from I Can’t Afford This But Maybe She Can, Bess Kalb, Ingrid Fetell Lee, and Recess Therapy.

Want to keep up with Mary Kathryn? 


You can find more at her website here and on social media here.

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