Text by Katie Ellis
It’s no secret that velvet is in style. From clothing to jewelry to home décor, it has been popping up everywhere. The plush progression isn’t going anywhere any time soon and that’s alright with us.
Pennsylvania-based textile designer Kevin O’Brien started his career as an architect but soon found other avenues in which to explore his creativity. After getting a job as a design critic for a college graduate program, he found himself falling for textile design. “I knew I was a good design critic and teacher, but I didn’t know anything about textiles,” Kevin admits. “I learned a lot while I was teaching—and they had all this equipment to practice printing.” Teaching proved to be an invaluable learning experience as he became fascinated with textiles and the technology and techniques involved.
It wasn’t long before he decided to start his own business printing scarves. “Since I didn’t know anything about textiles, printing, or fashion, I thought, ‘A scarf can’t be that hard; I could probably do that,’” Kevin recalls with a laugh. “Honestly, I just thought that would be fun.” More than 20 years later, Kevin is still designing and hand-painting velvet textiles and, of course, having fun.
After spending 10 years in the luxury fashion world selling hand-painted scarves and fabric by the yard for different high-end designers, including Donna Karan, Zac Posen, and Isaac Mizrahi, and securing an account with Barneys New York, Kevin transitioned into the world of home décor. “The whole pashmina craze hit,” he says, “and all of a sudden, no one wanted velvet.” He notes that, at that point, fashion wasn’t his truest passion and he “quickly realized what we were doing was very applicable to home décor.”
Using the same design techniques, he started creating pillows and throws. He then moved his production studio from the tiny barn where they’d been producing all their products to a loft in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennslyvania, and in 2012, they moved to their permanent home in South Philadelphia. The team converted an old movie theater into a modern gem that suits all their needs to keep production under one roof. They now design, print, paint, and dye all their fabrics in a single location, where it’s later cut and sewn on-site as well.
Kevin and his team boast more than 35 unique color ways and 20 different patterns of velvet textiles. In addition to pillows and throws, the studio has recently added bedding to their repertoire. Today’s market demand for bedding designs poses certain challenges, Kevin admits, especially for a studio whose primary product is wildly bold and strikingly beautiful. “When we were doing pillows, the main goal was that there’d be a lot of pizzazz and create something that would really be the focal point or accent that you could put on a plain sofa or bed,” Kevin shares. “Everybody says, ‘You can do whatever you want in bedding as long as it’s gray, taupe, white, or pale blue.’ That’s a definite challenge for us, so we’re bringing in a lot of interesting texture.”
Crediting his architectural background, Kevin cites a combination of man-made structure and nature as his primary inspiration, both in the color and texture found in his textiles. “I live in upstate New York and work in Philadelphia, so I’m surrounded by trees and ponds where we live and then drive into the city of Philadelphia every day,” he says. “Those have been perfect inspirations for me—finding pattern and structure in the natural world and then in the built environment.”
In a world of home décor with seemingly endless options of throws and pillows, Kevin O’Brien Studio stands out with unique, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind pieces that not only add a functional element to any home but are truly works of art.