By Emma Castleberry
For Krista Washam LaBlue, it all started with a needle and thread. Her early love for textiles and construction led LaBlue to earn a degree in design and retail merchandising from Michigan State University. After college, she launched a high-end fashion career in New York City, where she was able to “ to harness knowledge from the amazing talent pool of that time,” she says. Her résumé includes prestigious positions as general manager of merchandising for Saks Fifth Avenue in Houston, Bloomingdale’s in Boston and the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City. “I simply adored delving into the deep possibilities of connecting textiles, style, line and form to create a vision of my own,” says LaBlue.
After relocating to Asheville in 2007, LaBlue discovered a new passion. “Interiors just came naturally,” she says. “The home industry is amazing and options are limitless.” Over the following 12 years, LaBlue found herself designing spaces in three categories: private residences, commercial spaces and restaurants and breweries.
LaBlue has worked on residences as far away as North Carolina’s Outer Banks and as close as her own Kenilworth neighborhood. “Private residential is special to me because you develop the most amazing personal relationships with the clients,” she says. During residential design projects, LaBlue says she seeks input from every household member, even the quietest ones. “The initial tour provided by the homeowners is worth its weight in gold,” she says. “People tell you what they are proud of and also apologize for things they hate. That initial list rises like cream to the top of the cup, yours for the taking.”
Kathryn McLane remembers this initial list and her first meeting with LaBlue. “We spent five or six hours together that first day, talking, rearranging art and walking every inch of my home,” McLane says. She was most impressed by LaBlue’s use of soft goods, fabric and trim. As a designer, LaBlue has returned to her seamstress roots in her design workrooms at the historic Kenilworth Inn, where she creates window coverings, decorative pillows and light upholstery for her clients. “She uses the Old World methods of hand-applied trim, which makes the final product lay and hang perfectly,” says McLane. “Her work is meticulous and everything is beautifully, professionally finished.” Mignon Durham, former chairman of the board at Penland School of Crafts, hired LaBlue to design her master bedroom. “After that initial installation, there was such elegance and vibrancy in that room, I knew the rest of the house was hers,” Durham says. LaBlue not only found new pieces for Durham’s home, but also curated Durham’s existing pieces in a unique way that was personal to the client. “I have been collecting contemporary art and craft for 30 years,” says Durham, “and she selected the most incredible furniture and fabrics that have highlighted my collection better than anywhere else I have lived.”
LaBlue’s commercial projects include high-end retirement communities like Ardenwoods Senior Independent Living Community and Arbor Terrace of Asheville. LaBlue worked closely with Susan Fairbairn, director of Arbor Terrace, to “transform the stereotypical environment one might expect into an extension of any personal family home on a larger scale.” LaBlue has made a variety of life-improving changes to the interior design of these communities, such as including art that will be stimulating for residents with limited vision, using durable-yet-luxury fabrics for upholstery and personalizing individual entry ways with color.
The restaurant and brewery portion of LaBlue’s business is hallmarked by her work as interior designer for the three-story Green Man Brewery in downtown Asheville. Wendy and Dennis Thies, co-owners of Green Man, were inspired to hire LaBlue for the large project after she completed residential work for them. “This venue clearly redefined the word ‘custom’ for me,” says LaBlue. “It pushed the launch button for me to collaborate with local artists.” These collaborations are evident throughout the brewery: the 26-foot stone Green Man mural was commissioned by Marc Archambaut of Hammerhead Stoneworks. Jeremy Russell and Scott Allred of Brushcan joined forces to paint the interior murals for the brewery and custom lighting was provided by Robert Nicholas of Splurge. “It starts with a creative design vision and then you find the right local artists in each trade to build it and bring it to life,” LaBlue says.
Regardless of category, LaBlue considers four factors in all of design projects: the client’s desires and style, the client’s budget, the existing architecture and “the library of possibilities,” encompassing how color, print and fabric come together for a cohesive interior space. “Humans will always update and add to our homes, but we should design to protect the key bones,” she says. “I work for a timeless design. My job is to make the client’s house come alive with the lifetime of objects they consider home.”
For more information, visit kristawashamlablue.com.