After working with music industry legends in Nashville, designer Kurt McKeithan is bringing his imaginative ideas to Charleston-area clients


When it comes to interior design, some homeowners like to be on trend. They look to the latest furniture styles and color schemes for inspiration and gravitate toward the aesthetic currently in vogue.

Kurt McKeithan thinks that’s boring.

“When you’re designing something, it should be for those people living in the house,” says the visionary artist, who enjoys pushing the boundaries for residential and commercial clients to create experiential spaces. “I see too many homes that look the same. You go from one room to another, and what’s the experience?” Instead of following fashion or pushing his own design preferences, the Georgia native strives to capture the unique vision and personal style of each of his clients.

“If the client is quirky, become quirky,” he says with a laugh. “Whatever it is, I want to get inside their head. That makes it so much more exciting.”

McKeithan’s artistic talents and playful attitude toward interior design put the sociable Southerner on the fast track to success when he opened a studio in Nashville in 2002. He spent the next 20 years working on projects for country music legends like Martina McBride and Kenny Chesney, as well as business owners and restauranteurs. Now, the outgoing designer is broadening his reach to collaborate with residential and commercial clients in the greater Charleston area.

“Every time I had been to Charleston for work, it was to go there and get out,” says McKeithan, who has completed several projects for homeowners along the Carolina coast. During a relaxing trip with his wife a few years ago, however, McKeithan found himself captivated by the city’s architecture and spent hours taking photographs of homes and buildings from which to draw inspiration.

“Charleston to me is such a magical place. This is where I want to work,” says McKeithan, adding, “I love the vibe and that there’s so much culture and history.”

The designer’s affinity for architectural styles of bygone eras originated in middle school, when McKeithan’s father moved the family to Paris for several years. “I would go to the Versailles palace and sketch charcoal drawings of the fountains,” he says, recalling the time in Europe with great fondness.

His mother encouraged his artistic abilities, and McKeithan later earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. But the budding artist quickly realized his creative talents leaned toward architecture and design, and he started his career as a builder and finisher with a high-end design firm in Beverly Hills.

“On a whim, I came out to Nashville to visit and ended up loving it and moved out here,” recalls McKeithan. The move happened in late 2001. New to the area, he showed his portfolio to the owners of an upmarket antiques store, who were impressed with the young designer’s knowledge of European art and architecture. They likewise marveled at McKeithan’s ability to hand-draw design sketches, which he soon realized was a valuable skill.

These days, McKeithan uses the latest software to generate detailed 3-D renderings for projects, although at times he still will sketch an idea to help clients visualize the finished space before work begins. “If we’re on the jobsite, or even if we’re first meeting, they can get a feel for where we’re going,” he says.

McKeithan also enjoys collaborating with architects on layout concepts and focuses on tailoring interior spaces to the specific needs of the client. Functional considerations are as important as aesthetics when it comes to design, he notes, and projects often include smart home technologies, like a lighting control plan or smart speakers.

While working with a couple in Nashville, for example, McKeithan designed a drop-off station where the children could plug in their electronics as soon as they came into the house. “No phones or laptops would go upstairs. They had a place to drop those off to charge, and they had an office area for the kids to work in right off the foyer,” says McKeithan, who accented the home’s all-white interior with rich wood and soft earth tones. “You can make anything look pretty, but how is it really going to function for a family? How are they going to grow?”

At the same time, the designer likes to incorporate whimsy into a space and create one-of-a-kind features. McKeithan turned a bunk room wall into a boat for the same client, who was enamored with Nantucket despite living in Tennessee. The children can climb a short ladder to access the loft of the make-believe vessel, and a porthole opens to a spiral slide that connects to an adjacent playroom.

Overall, a home’s interior should inspire joy for its owners, even if the features are out of the norm, McKeithan notes. The process of discovery and the opportunity to create spaces as distinctive as the people living in them is what inspires him every day. “It’s about getting to know people. Not thinking about what the house should be calling for but about that person and what they’re going to love,” he says, adding, “You’ve got to be flexible and embrace variety.” *

Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and international travel. Read more of her work at

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