Designer Spotlight

How Kishani Perera Began Designing for Sophisticated Celebs

Kishani on her bamboo bike, Los Angeles. Photo by Becky Sapp (Headspace Photography)

Kishani Perera, pictured on her vintage Vietnamese bamboo bicycle, has established herself as a rising star on the Los Angeles interior design scene. Photo by Becky Sapp (Headspace Photography) Top: The living and dining areas of a Spanish-style residence awash in blue-gray. Photo: Jean Randazzo

To describe Kishani Perera’s style, it’s best to check out her preferred mode of recreational transportation: a vintage Vietnamese bamboo bicycle she spotted and had to have. “It was everything I loved: Asian, eco-friendly and totally chic.” Despite being warned by the dealer that it wouldn’t take her very far, Perera preferred to see the matter in a completely different light: “I loved biking around on it as long as I could and when it inevitably fell apart, it became a great piece of art in my office!”

To grow up in Minnesota and Los Angeles with the name Kishani Perera presented its challenges. “No one could remember or pronounce it,” says this designer of Sri Lankan descent. “Now, I love it but, believe me, there were many times I wanted it changed!” Equally arduous was the fact that a young Perera did not articulate the expected “I’d like to be a doctor when I grow up” to her family and cultural community. “I was never interested in that,” she says with a sigh. “I was too busy creating large-scale ‘art installations’ for my bedroom in our garage. I was definitely the rebel in the family.” Her teenage room reflected her unique fingerprint in her chosen cow-print chair, rainbow-colored walls and a ceiling bedecked with a pink and green backdrop, nabbed post-concert from the British alt-rock group Wonder Stuff.

Her parents may have thought her crazy (“They really didn’t know what to do with me”), but the Long Beach Telegram appreciated her sensibility: The newspaper plunked a picture of Perera’s teen-dom on the cover of its “Life and Style” section. For Perera, creating unique beauty out of the ordinary came as naturally as hanging out at the mall comes to most 16 year olds. “My friends and I were very much into retro fashion in high school, so thrift shops and vintage boutiques were some of our favorite haunts,” she recalls. “One day when I saw this beautiful vintage steamer trunk, I handed over my entire clothing allowance so I could take it home. That piece was somehow the catalyst to a lifelong passion for antiques and the hunt for unique and interesting finds.”

Molly Sims' NYC loft, Soho NY. photo by Troy House

Perera swathed actress Molly Sims’s elegant-meets-funky loft in New York’s Soho neighborhood in lush shades of gray. Photo by Troy House



A little girl’s bedroom in the Hollywood Hills. Photo by Jean Randazzo

It was in college when she honed her skill for transformation even further by morphing the hideous dorm furniture at UCLA into a room reflective of her passion for bohemian style, thanks to some Indian tapestries and a lot of intuition. “Suddenly, all my friends were asking me to do their rooms,” says Perera. Eventually, their personal requests channeled into a singular career calling. “I was torn between being a photographer, a writer or even a metal sculptress but my friends were like, ‘Kishani! It’s so obvious what you should be doing. Go be an interior designer!’ ”

She stepped it up by not only joining the university’s interior design and architecture program but also by working with L.A.-based decorator Joan Behnke, and later, with Kim Alexandriuk. “One day, I was introduced to actress Molly Sims via a mutual friend who was working on a complete redo of her home,” Perera says. “He was feeling overwhelmed, and I knew this was the chance to see if I could really make it on my own.”

The yearlong project was an invaluable education, which prompted Perera to dash finishing school in favor of opening her own firm. Sims was very pleased with the home makeover, and the relationship sparked additional commissions for Perera. She was soon asked to help fashion a dream house for the director of marketing at Barbie who, Perera tells us, was “around the color pink all day and longed to infuse some modern pieces in the same shades into her own home.” Next up was transforming a friend’s 1930s Spanish duplex into a truly sustainable home. “We were totally eco down to the bones,” she says, “from installing solar panels to even buying used appliances. It was a great learning experience, which I enjoy passing on to others whenever I can.”

Currently, Perera is putting the finishing touches on the L.A. digs of actor Gary Oldman and his wife Alexandra. “They are equally artistic when it comes to their home,” Perera gushes. “Their style is part edgy, part European. It’s such a cool project.” When not scouring the internet and flea markets (doing what she’s always loved), Perera cherishes her time with her pugs, Bodie and Bob, grabbing a vegan meal with friends and then perhaps catching a local band at a small venue. When asked how her parents feel now about their rebel daughter’s successful design career, Perera answers with a smile, “They’ve come to embrace my quirky style. And they’re very relieved that other people love it, too!”

Revival apartment of the Director of Marketing at Barbie, Los Angeles. Photo by Jean Randazzo

The classic apartment Perera designed for the marketing director of Barbie incorporates elevated shades of the company’s signature pink. Photo by Jean Randazzo


What would be your dream eco-friendly project and why?

I would love to green a classic, historic hotel in Europe. Considering the level of traffic a building like that would see in any given year, implementing simple, eco-friendly elements like dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads and tankless water heaters would have a significant and immediate impact. Additionally, eco-friendly cleaning products could be used in lieu of the traditional, chemical-filled cleaners, which would cut the indoor toxicity levels dramatically.

If you could design a room for anyone in history, who would it be for and what would it look like?

I’ve always loved the impassioned music of Edith Piaf. She rose from the streets of Paris to become an iconic singer, which is quite an accomplishment. I would have loved to have designed a chic, Parisian flat for her that would have been dark, bohemian, eclectic, sophisticated and moody, taking inspiration from both her younger, gypsy lifestyle as well as her later successful years.

4519-Miracle Mile Revival apartment, Los Angeles. Photo by Jean Randazzo

An unabashedly feminine dining space combines mid-century modern pieces with Moroccan influences and classical architecture. Photo by Jean Randazzo

 If you could design a room for any person today, who would that be and what would you do?

I’m a huge fan of Stella McCartney. Not only is she a compassionate designer and British — I am a bit of an Anglophile, I must admit — she also has amazing style and is the daughter of one of the Beatles! Taking a cue from her fashion sense, I would love to design a girly, edgy, glam, but earthy space for her.

What designers from the past inspire you?

Tony Duquette is my design hero! He was a fearless genius with a seemingly boundless imagination.

You design a lot of homes for actors. Is there decor from a movie you particularly admire?

Good design can not only set the mood, but set the stage, literally. Brilliant set design can transport the viewer into a different world and bring to life a reality that only existed at one point on the page. One of my favorite movies, Amelie, immersed me in the magical, imagination-driven world of its lead character. From its rich, saturated colors,to the quirky, vintage and whimsical touches, it was impossible for me to not fall madly in love with this film.


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