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Kelly Wearstler’s 5 Tips for Creating a Vibe Tray

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 3, 2020 • 4 min read

Inspiration for a design project may come from many sources, and putting those all together to form a coherent look can be a big task. World-renowned interior designer Kelly Wearstler uses vibe trays—physical trays with samples of textures, fabrics, and materials—to organize her projects.

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Who Is Kelly Wearstler?

Kelly Wearstler is one of the world’s top interior designers, and her design work has been featured in publications the world over, from Architectural Digest and Elle Decor to Vogue and The New Yorker. Born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, she moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties and rose to fame by redefining the look of West Coast design. She has designed everything from Hollywood homes to boutique hotels (like the Viceroy in Malibu and the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills); has created collections of everything from home accessories to fine china to wall coverings; and also runs her own firm, Kelly Wearstler Interior Design (KWID), and eponymous luxury lifestyle brand.

What Is a Vibe Tray?

A vibe tray is a design tool used by interior designers and other creative professionals to help them visualize the overall color palette, textures, fabrics, and materials that go into a project. It’s important for an interior designer to see the big picture, and after you’ve created your own mood board or inspiration board, a vibe tray can help take your idea another step further. Think of vibe trays as the physical manifestation of a mood board.

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Kelly Wearstler’s 5 Tips for Creating a Vibe Tray

Kelly Wearstler’s 5 Tips for Creating a Vibe Tray

Kelly Wearstler coined the term “vibe tray” and has a few pro tips that can help you create a great one:

  1. Keep it flexible. Every room gets a vibe tray, no matter how many rooms a project might have—and no vibe tray is set in stone. Projects are always evolving, so expect your vibe trays to undergo some tweaks as ideas change and other elements inspire you. You may really want a certain metal or stone or wood to work, but it just isn’t coming together for this project. Keep in mind that materials will be swapped in and out, and keeping yourself open to new design elements and possibilities is all part of the design process.
  2. Use a variety of materials. Most interior design projects use a variety of materials, so make sure your vibe trays reflect that. Make use of stone, metal, tile, wood, paint, and plaster when creating your vibe trays. Each piece should bring an image with it and you should be able to envision where it would fit within your project.
  3. See materials in person. When you can, it’s important to be able to see materials in person when planning a creative project. Stone yards, fabric stores, tile shops, and cabinetry showrooms are all good places to find inspiration and samples for your vibe tray. Touch everything, know how your materials feel, and take notes about particular traits. See how the look of items changes when they’re individual or grouped. If you can take samples home, bring home more samples than you think you need—whatever doesn’t get added to your tray this time can become the start of a materials library that you can use for your next project.
  4. Create synergy. Remember that all materials are dynamic and play with and against one another in a space. The materials don’t have to be the same, but they should be in conversation with one another. For instance, does high-gloss paint complement a high-gloss stone and give you the dramatic look you’re trying to achieve? Or does a lower-sheen paint paired with a honed or leathered stone achieve a more calm space? When adding materials like paint swatches to your vibe tray, make sure to look at the way the colors and finishes interact with the other materials you’ve selected. A tray full of great samples does not necessarily mean it will make a great design palette—they should have complementary traits or an aesthetically pleasing relationship with one another to create a synergistic atmosphere and mood.
  5. Consider texture. Using a material like plaster is a subtle method of bringing texture to a space, as it has a tactile quality. Plaster can delicately provide movement and color by allowing light to play off of its irregularities. It can also be applied in several different patterns (stippled, swirled, fanned, knifed). Wood can also enhance your vibe tray. Look at a variety of stains and textures when deciding which types of woods to use. Do you want the grain to be visible? Do you want wood that is more ribbed? When selecting wood for a space, think about how it would look as a cabinet or a floor, and even how metals might interact with it. Be aware of how all the characteristics of your materials work in different lighting and settings to get a full picture of how it would function in real life.

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