At home with…Designer Katherine Donovan

Photo: Brianna LaRocco Photo: Brianna LaRocco

When Katherine Donovan returned home to Charleston, South Carolina, in her early 20s after a stint living on a ranch in Wyoming, she was searching for her next move. A friend suggested she contact Charleston-based designer Amelia Handegan to see about an assistant position, which led to working on the original River Course Clubhouse at Kiawah and the renovation of the Vanderhorst Plantation House.

“I remember as a teen riding bikes with friends who lived on the island to see the old dilapidated house,” she says. “It was certainly full circle to have childhood memories playing around a falling-over old plantation home…then getting an opportunity to work alongside a professional restoring it back to the period-updated design it is today.”

It was Handegan who told Donovan to go to design school if she wanted to get ahead in the industry. So Donovan attended VCU, then got a job at Charlottesville-based Stedman House. In 2003, she started her own small design studio and has since worked on projects for clients in Charlottesville, Richmond, Charlotte, Baltimore and Atlanta (to name a few). We asked her to tell us what she’s been into lately.

What are you currently reading?

A gift from a very good friend for my birthday, Mark Bittman’s cookbook, How to Cook Everything Fast—all 1,056 pages of it! I am always searching for that delicious new recipe.

What are you listening to?

“Jazz Manouche with Stéphane Grappelli.” It puts me in the best mood. I learned about it from my neighborhood grocer at Main Street Market, who plays it in the store on Friday afternoons. One afternoon, I finally asked him what was this music, he told me and I have loved it ever since. I’ve been learning more about the jazz manouche period in Paris. (I had only known about Stéphane Grappelli playing with David Grisman, but this pre-dates that and gives me more insight to the start of Grappelli’s career in Paris.)

What are you watching on TV?

TV…who has time for it? College football is what we watch on the weekends with good snacks and our kids! Go Hoos and go Gamecocks!

What are you eating/drinking lately?

Eating: Getting ready to make lots of soups this winter season. My favorite is anything with carrots, squash, parsnips or ginger…yummy! Drinking: Homemade chai lattes with soy milk. My husband gave me a pound of the Rock Creek Red Chai Tea from Capital Teas—all the spices and taste of a good quality chai tea without any sugar content. It is delicious! I make one every morning.

What are you working on?

Right now, I have a new client who has just moved into a small, thoughtfully renovated 1920s bungalow in downtown Charlottesville. She has asked me to help her to make it her own, using many of the existing finishes that were chosen by the previous owner, who also renovated the house. It is an amazing small space overall, that lives like a much larger space—coffered ceilings, custom paint colors, galley kitchen with original farm sink, butler’s pantry, orginal windows, shady front porch, two small baths with ball and claw foot tubs, the list goes on… I am excited to work on this project. There is a budget (reality!) but the bones are good to start with, and we both love what the previous owner did to renovate the space.