When it comes to running a business and making money, Kyla Coburn admits that her artistic side often gets the better of her. Coburn, who operates Kyla Coburn Designs LLC on Eagle Street in Providence, and her team have designed and constructed the interiors of numerous nightclubs, restaurants and lounges throughout Providence in the last few years.
The company has been busy, typically handling three or four projects at once. And there are more jobs she turns down.
But the problem, Coburn says, is that on many projects she can’t resist the urge to use what could have been profit to splurge on special touches in the interior design that her clients may not be able afford.
“It’s hard not to put it all into a project,” says Coburn, a New York native and Rhode Island School of Design graduate who has been running her own company for more than a decade. “I want to make sure that I’m happy. Making maximum profits is a few rungs down the ladder [of importance] than it should be.”
Don’t be fooled by the bottom-line-be-damned attitude, though. Coburn has had enough business sense to build a very successful design company that reaches into several realms, including interior design, Web design and graphic design. The company has even been involved in set and costume design for local theater groups.
Her company’s Providence resume includes Club Therapy, Bella Vista Restaurant, Broadway Bistro, Don Jose Tequilas, Loie Fuller’s and more recently, Nara Lounge and The Avery. She says she would like to tackle larger projects, such as a boutique hotel.
The dichotomy of being an artist and being a successful entrepreneur is nothing new to Coburn. She says her family is filled with artists who know business. Her grandparents met while attending RISD; so did her parents. Her father – a furniture designer – also owned a successful antiques business. Coburn was still attending school – she also took classes at Brown University – when she opened an antiques and art store in Manhattan. She commuted frequently between Providence and New York.
That initial foray into business made her realize she had a knack for interior design. “People loved the stuff in my store,” she says.
At some point around her RISD graduation – she’s not good with exact dates – Coburn decided to launch her own design company in Providence.
Her psychology studies at Brown University came in handy. “Interior design is psychology more than anything else – getting people to stay longer, forget about the time,” Coburn says. “You want there to be subtlety and longevity, you want for people to be at a restaurant for their fourth or fifth meal and still be noticing things.”
During a visit to Loie Fuller’s restaurant on Westminster Street on Providence’s West Side – an interior that Coburn’s company designed more than a year ago – she points to hand-painted murals of women on the walls in the main dining area. Initially, the women were modeled after waitresses working in Providence. Behind the bar and elsewhere in the restaurant are intricate wood accents carved by Coburn’s partner, Andrew Trench. Coburn even designed the layout of the tile floor in the bar area.
Coburn’s staff is often involved in much more than just design work, particularly if the client is new to owning a restaurant. “Although it’s not really our job, we end up doing as much of the business end of helping someone start a new place as they do themselves,” Coburn says.