Article by Tristan Dyer
Newport, Rhode Island is a summer home to many elite figures in society and has long held an upper echelon stance in the country. Kristen Coates is a prominent figure in the community of a town that is known for world class sailing and seaside reclining. Coates graciously opens her doors to share a world that she has created where everyday living is a well executed and fulfilled lifestyle. Wearing an abundance of hats, Coates is unapologetically ambitious from being a gallery and lifestyle store owner, to interior designer and painter. She and I sat down on a nostalgic summer day to touch on her career and the momentum of what it is like to be in her shoes.
To execute such a way of life, inspiration is key. Coates shared how she summons her ability to gain stimulation and her incentive on how she projects authenticity in her career. ‘I am mostly inspired by travels. When I travel I am constantly absorbing color and space. I’m a collector of things and if I find glassware in Italy I’ll have to surround myself with it.’ Coates reminisced and continued, ‘I love to source. Whether it’s something for a unique space in my own home, for a client or locating something I saw in passing while traveling for my gallery. Finding my next obsession or settling the aching feeling of needing to find the perfect piece of art or furniture for a room, a sconce for a hallway or vase for a mantel is one of my greatest pleasures.’
‘I’ve been collecting art since my 20s, but I’ve been an avid book collector since childhood when I first laid eyes on a couple of old Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew, blue linen covered books at a flea market with my dad. We used to spend hours on Sundays driving around New England finding them. I have a pretty serious set I keep on built in shelves in my bedroom, it’s like looking at a childhood photograph. My library is not big, but all my books are like photographs or memories of people I’ve met or admired and places I’ve been or dreamed about going, a restaurant we visited or food we love to cook,’ Coates enthusiastically expressed.
As an avid traveler spending most of her time abroad in Capri, Coates finds a gentle nuance in the country’s atmosphere. ‘I love the way of life in Italy; I think it’s conducive for an artist to eat, drink and appreciate life instead to go go go.’
In her early days professionally, formally working as an assistant to chair of the Whitney museum, Coates found her true habitat when surrounded by rooms filled with extraordinary art during her time living in New York City. ‘I had such an incredible opportunity working for her. A big thing I learned from her is that if you can give, give.’
Possessing a curious and creative soul, Coates first picked up a paint brush when she was five and gained influence from a long line of painters in her family linage that she was immersed in. Known for her vibrant abstract work, Coates has developed her own voice on canvas that she proudly shares with others.
‘I like finding new art materials and learning what happens in my studio when I experiment without instruction. My paintings on plexiglass were made this way, the new sculptures I have started making evolved from ordering a bag of plaster and some wire mesh. I love the idea of the unknown and the creative meditation around learning what is possible. It’s like letting my eight year old self run wild with whatever ideas come from it.’
Threading from a repurposed and raw essence, Coates explained what it is like to venture into her boutique that is located on the admirable and historic Bellevue Avenue. ‘My store isn’t all glass and mirrors; I’m not trying to be a white box gallery. I want people to walk in and pick up a painting and feel like they can take it home; I don’t want them to feel like it’s not approachable.’ Coates continued, ‘I’m a little bit of an escape artist. I create a place that you can escape to and take a part of that home; it's all dreamy and happy.’
Entertaining is a talent she unavoidably inherited, dating back to her grandmother who enjoyed the lust of hosting extravagant soirées. ‘She would make all of the napkins and placemats; I grew up going to fancy sit down dinners and it was about the formality of having everybody sit down at a table together.’ Coates further reflected, ‘Entertaining is in my blood and it is my family’s love language. It means everything to me to be able to create and share the beauty of a meal, a tablescape and our home with family and friends. From shopping for produce and floral decor all the way until the last candle is blown out and wick trimmed, the entire experience is enchanting for me.’
One wonders where you can find Coates when she’s ‘out-of-office’ and to no surprise after investing such love into her refurbished colonial house she takes dignity in spending much of her time there or by the ocean. ‘My house is in close proximity to the water. I live on an island for a reason; I’m obsessed with the water. It inspires me to take care of myself and to think about the ebbs and flows of life and not get too landlocked.’
With an enchanting allure and charismatic nature, Coates proves that anything is achievable if you set your sights high. The limit is undeniably endless as she is taking risks and whisking her career to new levels with many exciting projects on the horizon. Coates closed our radiant conversation and joyfully voiced, ‘I value my family the most; everything has to look beautiful but without family it doesn’t shine the same way.’