Designers to Watch

This Former Nurse with an Indie Edge Has a Knack for Southwestern Interiors

Portrait of Kirsten Blazek of A1000xBetter
Though born in Scotland, Pasadena-based designer Kristen Blazek has an affinity for the American Southwest (photo by Justin Wilczynski). Top: Clean white walls and minimalist light fixtures balance the retro feel of the leather sofa, the vintage sideboard and the dining table surrounded by Pacific Green chairs in a house near Pasadena’s Rose Bowl (photo by Alex Zarour).

Although it’s not unusual for interior designers to come to the field from other professions, Kirsten Blazek can uniquely claim to have been an ICU nurse in a former life. The founder of Pasadena design firm A1000XBetter, Blazek left her nursing career in 2005 when she married and started a family. Going through a divorce a few years later, she was ready to go back to work — but not in the ICU. “It just didn’t feel like that was what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life,” she says. 

It was a fortuitous visit from one of her mom friends that set her on the path to a design career. Impressed by how well Blazek had decorated her own home, the woman connected her with someone she knew in Malibu who was in need of a designer. 

Blazek got the commission, and before you could say “window treatment,” she not only was a working designer but also had a highly successful staging business, getting homes picture-perfect before they were listed on the competitive California real estate market. Although her staging business flourished, Blazek decided to shutter it during the pandemic to concentrate on all the design requests she was receiving. 

Today, the firm — which Blazek named for the way one feels after finishing a task — crafts “spaces that feel livable and warm,” full of layers and “soulfulness,” she says. Although she hails from Scotland, it’s a storied region of the U.S. that most influences her design choices. “The textiles and color palette of the Southwest are very attractive to me,” she explains. “I work with a lot of earth tones.” 

That said, Blazek likes to mix up the serenity of that aesthetic from time to time. “I’m a little edgy,” she notes. “I’d describe my style as eclectic bohemian, with a little bit of a rocker edge.” 

Blazek spoke with Introspective about the appeal of 1970s design, a Scottish royal getaway and why Iris Apfel is her role model. 

Living room designed by A1000xBetter
In the formal living room of the same home, Blazek deftly mixed sleek touches, like the glossy black fireplace tile, Serge Mouille pendant and velvet pouf, with more rustic pieces, such as the vintage leather campaign chairs, Mehraban rug and cowboy paintings. Photo by Alex Zarour

Where do you find inspiration?

Obviously, I grew up in a very different climate — Scotland couldn’t be more different — so just being here in California is super inspirational for me. I live in Los Angeles, and in an hour and a half, you can be up in the mountains. In an hour and a half, you can be up in the High Desert. In an hour and a half, you can be up the coast. The nature you find here is a huge, huge source of inspiration. 

Who is your favorite artist?

My favorite artist is a Frenchman named Mark Maggiori who does incredible cowboy-inspired art. 

I’m also a big fan of the abstract nature of Cy Twombly’s work and how free and romantic it feels. He uses writing to create the abstract elements of his art, which is very alluring to me. 

What are your favorite design periods?

I always enjoy a little bit of nineteen-seventies funk, like some crazy macramé and the colors they used in the seventies. The art, textiles and ceramics of the time have an earthy quality, and the handmade feeling and lack of perfection make it feel a little dirty or even gritty to me. It’s quite the juxtaposition with the cleaner and more brightly colored decor of the fifties and sixties

Bedroom designed by A1000xBetter
Down the hall of the ranch-style house, cactus-flower wallpaper adorns a secondary bedroom. The armchair, pouf and portrait — all vintage — give the space a homey feel. The ceiling light is by Kelly Wearstler. Photo by Alex Zarour

What are your favorite design styles?

I love mid-century design, but I gravitate more toward a mid-century ranch style versus mid-century modern. I use a lot of wood and natural elements in my work, so I’m drawn to the wood-clad walls and ceilings used in that period.  

Who is your personal style icon?

I think Iris Apfel is insanely inspirational because she’s just so beautifully herself. As I get older and I think of being an older person, I see myself with gigantic sunglasses like hers when I’m one hundred! She just layers jewelry on and on, and it looks amazing. But it’s authentic — she’s not trying to be something, she just is that thing. 

Living room designed by A1000xBetter
Fittingly, Blazek chose an Arts and Crafts–style wallpaper for the living room of a Craftsman home in Sierra Madre. The leather Restoration Hardware chairs and hand-knotted wool rug bring the paper’s greens and golds into the room. Photo by Alex Zarour

What is your favorite historic house?

I grew up across the street from Falkland Palace, in Scotland, which was pretty inspirational. Mary, Queen of Scots, used to use it as her summer vacation home. The view from the front of my house was the palace, and it was where I had my first job, when I was eighteen, as a tour guide. It’s not an aesthetic I naturally gravitate toward from a style perspective, but it’s a beautiful building. 

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

I’ve spent a lot of family vacations in the south of France, and I just love the history and the architecture there. Everything has a gravitas that’s hard to re-create in a newer country like the United States. You can’t help but have the sense that so many lives have been lived there. Someday, I would love to have an old château in that region and do it up!

What would your dream project be?

A client with no budget limit — like every designer, right? Seriously, though, I really enjoy taking an old house that has been uncared for and looking at the beautiful elements that are still there and figuring out how to make those elements work in a modern, 2022 world. 

I really respect how people built houses a long time ago. So, those from the nineteen twenties, thirties, forties and fifties that have beautiful detail — that’s my favorite kind of project. 

Dining area designed by A1000xBetter
In an Altadena residence, a Kelly Wearstler chandelier hangs over a custom table designed by A1000xBetter. The pottery on the table was made by the client. Photo by Virtually Here Studios

What sets you apart? What do you do differently or better than anyone else?

I think my eye for color is really good. I also think there’s a cohesion to the color story in my spaces. That’s not to say that it has to be boring and one color. But I take color transitions seriously. As I walk through a house I always think, “How am I pulling colors through this house so that wherever you go, you’re walking into a space that makes sense with another space?” 

Color is very nuanced. You can be off by one shade, and it can just be wrong. So, getting the right shade is incredibly important.

What design accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I was starting to think about doing design seriously, I bought a nineteen-forties ranch house above the Rose Bowl in Pasadena that hadn’t been renovated since it was built. At the time, my family and I were living in temporary accommodations and wanted to get out quickly, so I renovated the whole house by myself with no plans — not one! 

We renovated it from top to bottom, and I made all of the decisions in four and a half months. It was fast and furious, but I learned so much. If a client came to me and said, “I’m going to do this with no plans,” I would say, “Hell no!” But we had no time, so I just did it!

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