Carey Reid Kirk
Carey Reid Kirk Interior Design

"I know you'll really like it." The very utterance of that statement in a business scenario speaks volumes about the level of trust on the part of the client, and the level of sensitivity and experience on the part of the professional. In the case of interior designer Carey Kirk, it is spoken with the utmost confidence.

Kirk has been in the interior design business for 21 years. "I got my training in the early 80s," he says. "I had the absolute great fortune to fall into a crowd of top-end designers in New York City at that time. The ladies and gentlemen that I admired used their own names as business names. You knew you were hiring a person and that person's talents rather than design innovations. It is also about a personal relationship. I am supposed to listen to you, understand your likes and dislikes, read between the lines and know what you are not telling me."

From the perspective of client Christel Hennet of Bethesda, Kirk's interpersonal skills are superb. "Working with Carey is a fabulous experience," she says. "He is very warm, engaging and enthusiastic about his work, and he knows a lot about people. He got us really interested in interior design to a wonderful level. It was like working with a friend on your project. We trusted him completely." Projects to date for the Hennets include interior design and renovation of a living room, kitchen, bathroom, family room and two bedrooms.

A native of Raleigh, N.C., Kirk admits that the accent "will always be with me." His career path and sailing led him from Raleigh to Washington, D.C., where he spent five years working in department store display. From there, he moved to New York where he worked in retail interiors for Lord & Taylor and then began freelancing. When asked by a former co-worker to design an apartment interior, Kirk reluctantly took the job. "I discovered how much more rewarding it is to satisfy people as opposed to companies," he says. "I spent a couple of years moving my business out from retail display and retail interiors and crossed the line into residential interior design."

Kirk enjoyed the affluence of the 80s in New York for nearly a decade. "It was the go-go 80s," he says. "New York was insanity. People were making so much money. It was a great time to get into business because it was easy, [but] it was such a false economy that it made it more difficult later to readjust your thinking---'You don't want to spend $10,000 on a coffee table?'"

High society decorator, "king of the design world" Mario Buatta was around at that time and was a great mentor for Kirk. "He was a very famous person who was a gentleman," Kirk says. "He had an ego, but it was in check. He was very kind to novices in the business. I certainly had the best start."

In 1987, Kirk returned to Washington, D.C., disappointed that in New York he had completely lost touch with the waterfront. "Contact with the water and boating in New York was probably a fraction of 1 percent as far as impact and interest level," he says. "The Hudson River was right there, and I never even thought twice about it. I was more interested in being young and single. Here, the waterfront is absolutely integrated into the city." Kirk chartered a boat in Annapolis one Columbus Day weekend and that was the beginning of a whole new chapter for him. "Three years later, I owned a house and a boat here," he says, "and moved my business [as well]."

To the outsider and often to young, aspiring designers, the industry appears very glamorous. Kirk estimates that 5 to 10 percent of the job is glamour and the rest is just hard work. "Since I came back from New York, I have had five interns from local colleges who thought they may be interested in going to design school," he says. Only one of them has done so. The rest were dissuaded by the reality of the business. "Somewhere in the first three days, they are horrified," he adds, "and have been grateful that they saw the reality."

Kirk sees his role as being an educator as well as an artist and encourages clients to keep an open mind and have fun along the way. "If they are looking at coffee tables, I know instinctively what they want and what I think they will like," he says. "I will try to show them something to the right and to the left of that target area. I will stretch but not direct you, and you can't hurt my feelings. You don't have to be diplomatic." Clients usually appreciate that broadening of perspective, Kirk adds.

Carey Kirk wears another hat in the community---that of president of the Eastport Business Association (EBA) since 2000. He is credited with starting a publicity campaign to improve awareness of the EBA as an advocacy organization for the businesses of Eastport and also to further the community goals. About a year ago, Kirk organized a monthly leadership luncheon for representatives from EBA, ECA (Eastport Civic Association), the City's Office of Economic Development, the Maritime Advisory Board, and Ward 8 alderman Josh Cohen. It has worked well as a form of "rumor control" and keeps the information flow from becoming distorted.

Martie Callaghan is a freelance writer and native Marylander who enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.


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