Hello dear readers! Today I have quite a treat for you as esteemed journalist Kathryn O’Shea-Evans has indulged me in an insightful interview about her craft. Chances are you have read a piece by Kathryn in, say, The Wall Street Journal or Veranda as she covers our favorite topics—design, travel, and food. If you’ve ever thought about penning anything, from an article to an autobiography, Kathryn’s candor will certainly inspire you. She shares with us details of her gorgeous new book, A Room of One’s Own, along with poignant literary advice, and fun anecdotes from the field. Enjoy!
Muffy: Let’s start at the beginning, when did you catch the writing bug?
Kathryn: Oh gosh—probably in the womb. I love how transportive words are—how a few symbols on paper (or on The Internets) can change your world, your mind, your travel plans… I’ve lived so many lives because of reading!
Muffy: Tell us about the early days of your writing career:
Kathryn: Early on, I wasn’t so much writing as I was steeping myself in the industry. One of my most formative jobs was at Travel + Leisure magazine, where I started as an intern and eventually became an Associate Editor. The supposedly “grunt work” tasks I did there in the beginning—whether it was fact-checking work by Pulitzer Prize winning writers or boxing up returns from the fashion closet—taught me so much about what works and what doesn’t (namely: detail, detail, detail). Whenever I did finally get the chance to write for the magazine, I had some of the smartest editors in the world ripping my stuff apart, which is exactly what a young writer needs. I would not be the writer I am today had I not had that early training. My advice to young writers is to find a tough, smart editor. You think you’re amazing straight out of the gate, but you’re not! You need criticism to grow. (And yes, I still need it, very much. I’ll never stop trying to be better at this).
Muffy: Do you have a writing process you stick to?
Kathryn: I’m at my desk in my office from 9 to 5, just like the Dolly Parton song, although sometimes—depending on deadlines—much longer! I have a lot of 12 hour days. I don’t listen to music because I need silence to think, but if I am stressed about a task, I’ll force myself to do it by setting a kitchen timer for, like, 30 minutes and blocking out all distractions. You can get a TON done in that amount of time. And then I immediately reward myself. A quick daily nap is encouraged at KOE, LLC (as my editorial assistant Huckleberry, a papillon, can attest…he is snoring right now but will never be fired because he’s so darn likeable).
Muffy: You cover some of my very favorite subjects now—design, travel, and food—what inspired you to choose these niches?
Kathryn: I’m obsessed with all three, only because I know firsthand what bad food, bad travel experiences, and bad design are like. The good stuff is life changing—totally resetting your outlook on your day-to-day living and the world.
Muffy: On my trip to California last year, I felt like I was living a local’s glamorous lifestyle—complete with dinner at Suzanne Somers’ favorite restaurant— thanks to your insider’s guide to Palm Springs piece for The Wall Street Journal. Are there any destinations you’ve written about that have stolen your heart?
Kathryn: You know, all of them! I really fall in love with every place I visit, particularly the unsung heroes. I adored Nebraska—I wrote about an incredible steakhouse in Omaha and an up-and-coming district in Lincoln with a Philip Johnson-designed art museum for The New York Times. Same goes for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is one of the most charming small towns I’ve ever visited (and not just because you can, for example, have your tintype taken or buy calligraphy ink made from walnut husks in a 19th-century farmers market).
Muffy: You’ve written about some incredible dishes for assignments—what’s it like to cover a restaurant for work? Does it make the food taste better?
Kathryn: I love it, of course, but I’d actually say it makes the experience of dining a bit of a chore, only because I have to be constantly thinking about each dish and secretly taking notes (reporters for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal always travel and dine entirely undercover, no matter who they are writing for), rather than simply enjoying it. But it’s a chore I am so lucky to have. There’s nothing more exciting to me than finding an unknown chef that deserves to be known nationally, and telling readers about them.
Muffy: Inquiring palates want to know, what have your favorite eats been while on assignment?
Kathryn: I’ll never forget dragging my husband on a breakfast taco tour of Austin, Texas for The Wall Street Journal. I gained five pounds in two days! It was totally worth it. The best bar none were the fresh-made corn tortilla versions at Veracruz All Natural, which was founded in 2006 by then-24 year old Reyna Vazquez.
Muffy: You’ve interviewed some fabulous names like Ina Garten and Kristin Chenoweth for stories, are there any fun tidbits you gleaned from your subjects? How about great advice?
Kathryn: Those women were lovely and incredibly hard working, and I was so honored to interview them in their homes. I think my favorite advice came from the artist Marina Abramovic in an interview I did for House Beautiful, which was all about the importance of unplugging and getting outdoors. I’ll let you read the full interview here, but basically, it’s this: great ideas come from being in nature. Put down your phone.
Muffy: Most of us in the interiors and lifestyle realm know you from the pages of House Beautiful and Veranda. Have there been any design projects that you’ve written about that you wanted to move right into?
Kathryn: Oh soooo many. One that comes instantly to mind is Charlotte Moss’s Manhattan home decked out for Christmas, which I wrote about for House Beautiful. Aesthetically, that woman can do no wrong!
Muffy: How has writing about design inspired your own aesthetic?
Kathryn: It’s made me hate our house. Not really (I love our house!), but it does give me something to strive for in this work-in-progress life of mine! It’s also taught me how important it is to invest in quality pieces. My husband James and I both love estate sale-ing, but we check out images in advance on Estatesales.net and only go to the homes that clearly have “the good stuff.”
Muffy: Your book, A Room of One’s Own, comes out on April 2nd. Tell us a bit about this gorgeous ode to intimate havens:
Kathryn: Thank you! Speaking of things that made me hate my house… It’s a collection of some of Veranda’s most personal rooms from the magazine over the years, whether a kitchen floor Nick Olsen painted in a graphic pattern inspired by Bunny Mellon, or Andrew Brown’s Alabama living room, where the walls are a high gloss black. If I were to sum it up in a word, as I do on the book reviews I post weekly on my Instagram stories under #abookaweek, I’d say: exquisite. (I’m talking about the design of the spaces, the styling and photography—not tooting my own horn on the writing! Although I don’t think the verbiage is half bad).
Muffy: What is your ideal retreat?
Kathryn: The South in spring. I have very fond memories from staying with James and Huck at 1896 Foley House Inn in Savannah, renting a convertible and whirling under the two miles of Spanish moss dripping live oaks at Wormsloe State Historic Site. I just finally read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt’s 1994 nonfiction book about the city, and it nearly made my heart stop I loved it so much. Time to go back! I also just returned from Charleston, another heart-stopping city, and am absolutely obsessed with the hotel I stayed in there, John Rutledge House Inn. George Washington himself dined there, and it’s just perfect. When you go down South, you have to sleep with ghosts. It makes me so sad when friends head somewhere historic and stay at, like, a W Hotel! Yeesh.
Muffy: What’s it like to be a published author (not counting all the books you’ve already ghost written!) and how are you celebrating?
Kathryn: It’s such fun! I have ghostwritten five books since going freelance last year, and it’s a thrill to have my name on one. I’ll probably celebrate by going out to dinner and having some pink champagne, a la Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in the 1957 film An Affair to Remember.
Muffy: Any helpful takeaways for aspiring writers who want to cover design, lifestyle, and the like?
Kathryn: Fail. Fail as often as you can. I have a writer friend who challenges herself to get a certain number of rejections on her pitches a month, which is brilliant. If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing yourself very hard. (BTW: I need to take this advice myself. I am often too busy with work to pitch, which is a very bad thing, in the long run!)
Muffy: Let’s say I’m visiting Colorado, the state you call home. Where do I stay, eat, and play like Kathryn O’Shea-Evans?
Kathryn: So far, my favorite hotel in the state is the Hotel Jerome in Aspen for both the decor and the service (more on Aspen in my story for The Wall Street Journal here). That hotel has thought of everything, down to a heated marble reception desk for when you come in out of the cold! Denver’s food scene is still getting its taste buds, but I love Comal Heritage Food Incubator, where Syrian refugees make the best hummus I’ve tasted based on their own recipes. And to play, after the thaw there is nothing prettier than the hike up to Lake Isabelle ! It looks like Switzerland, minus the cows, with grasses and wildflowers flourishing all the way to waters edge. Leave at dawn and you might (might) escape summer traffic.
Muffy: Besides A Room of One’s Own, which we are all preordering immediately, where else can we see your writing right now?
Kathryn: I’m so honored to be a Contributing Editor at House Beautiful, and love what Jo Saltz and her amazing team are doing with the brand. I have a feature in the April issue on Aldous Bertram’s Palm Beach apartment, which he totally transformed by hand-painting the walls with a tented ceiling, wall niches, Chinoiserie elements…you have to see it to believe it. Two other recent pieces I loved working on: a story I wrote for The Wall Street Journal about a 19th century painting I bought in Nebraska (here) and a hotel review for The New York Times about The Ramble, in Denver, in which I reference “my inner Dolly Parton” (here). I adore my editor for letting me get away with that.
Muffy: You are having a dinner party, what is your go-to menu?
Kathryn: I gave up packaged foods for Lent, so my dinner party would currently be sort of bland! But one of my girlfriend’s just started a cookbook club, where we pick a cookbook and everyone shows up with one dish from it. We started with Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey. Because I like to wave my freak flag high, I will probably force everyone to do something hysterically historic—like The Jane Austen Cookbook—at some point. Don’t “Broil’d Eggs” and “Wine-Roasted Gammon” sound delicious? I’m not even kidding.
Muffy: It’s five o’clock, what is in your cocktail glass?
Kathryn: Anything frothy. As a certified Weeki Wachee mermaid, I scan every drink menu for a cocktail with egg whites, and it never disappoints !
A sincere thank you to Kathryn O’Shea-Evans for her clever Q & A contributions. A Room of One’s Own is available for preorder and trust moi, it is worthy of a coveted spot on your coffee table. To stay abreast of her latest writing and for glimpses of her darling pup Huckleberry, follow her on Instagram here.
All images courtesy of Kathryn O’Shea-Evans.