Masters of Their Craft: Cat Kennedy

This entrepreneur and artist enhances homes with elegance and style. | By Sarah Ravits

Cat Kennedy

Cheryl Gerber Photographs

Decorative artist Cat Kennedy, despite owning a home studio, says she spends most of her time at clients’ houses. She creates custom decorative finishes for both furniture and walls. Using glaze, metallic paint, gold leaf, stains, oils and lacquers, she enhances their homes with an elegant style that has been perfected over the years.

Growing up in nearby Houma, Kennedy says, “I loved painting and basically any hands-on creative activity.” Her interest in art magnified when she graduated from high school in New Orleans and pursued her higher education at the prestigious Bowdoin College in Maine. She then moved across the country to Washington State University, where she earned a master’s of fine arts degree. This helped her develop a more personalized style and trust in her own artistic instincts.

 “While we were using some of the same materials as in fine art, I was learning how to use them in a very different way,” she explains. “Rather than trying to visually represent an object or express an emotion, decorative finishing uses materials in an artful way that adds elegance and beauty to a space. This more practical application was really exciting to me.”

After obtaining her master’s from WSU, Kennedy moved to Portland, Ore., where she got a job working with one of the city’s most accomplished decorative finish companies, R. Wagner Co. “From the moment I stepped into that studio, I absolutely loved working there,” she says. “I loved that I got to paint every day.” Working for R. Wagner allowed Kennedy to hone her wide range of skills, as they had a consistent stream of high-end projects. From gold-leafing a client’s dining room ceiling to Venetian plastering the walls of an Italian restaurant to working with industrial-size paint sprayers, Kennedy says she gained valuable experience. She learned to go above and beyond: “Rather than buying pre-mixed paint from the paint store, we mixed our own pigments in the studio. This taught me a great deal about the use of color – a very beneficial skill in the trade.”

During this time, she also taught college art classes, which helped her master color theory and design concepts. Eventually she met an “adorable Irish guy” and moved to Ireland after they were married. Kennedy, who’s now also the mother of two young sons, says she finds inspiration “everywhere I look in this city. There is a rich abundance of magnificent buildings, a lush beauty to its decaying structures. I try to capture some of that worn elegance in my finishes.”

She extols New Orleanians for their “cultural sophistication that comes from mixing the old with the new.” She believes it makes them exciting to work with. “There is also a respect for art and creativity, which makes it a comfortable place for an artist to live,” she adds.
Her most popular items to work on are dark-wood furniture. She uses light tones, in classic French or Gustavian style. She notes that in terms of wall décor, current trends include all-over stencils with geometric and damask patterns. She also says that antique glazes, gold leaf and metallic paints are constant requests. As the projects vary, Kennedy says it can take anywhere from one day to two months to finish. But no matter how big or how small the project is, she devotes time and passion to her work.

“A well-designed home is an expression of one’s self. I enjoy working with a client and feeling that I can contribute to their space in a way that makes their home more enjoyable to them and brings some style or sophistication to their living space,” she says.
Her work can be seen on her website, catkennedystudio.com.

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