Designer Celerie Kemble Celebrates Her Mother's Wisdom, Grace, and Southern Charm
"It's the idea that people remember how you make them feel."
It’s no surprise, really, that the Harvard-educated, impossibly glamorous Celerie Kemble turned out to be a celebrated decorator like her mother, Mimi McMakin, and is equally dedicated to chic rooms where whimsy plays a starring role. The fifth generation of her family to be raised in Palm Beach, Florida, Celerie now lives in New York City, has three children of her own, and is her mother’s business partner.
Mimi lives like an elegant bohemian in Palm Beach, in a deconsecrated Episcopal church built in the 1880s. She converted it into a home decades ago—a bright, breezy, colorful one that’s rampant with singular charm. “It’s one of the most spirit-filled and transporting places—a very sentimental world,” says Celerie, who grew up there and embraces not only its pink-shingled living room with painted Portuguese tile floors and faded, 20-year-old chintz on all the furniture but also its extreme temperature shifts, “like the climate on Mars,” she says.
These days, Mimi and Celerie talk and text incessantly about everything from light fixtures to the grandkids. Celerie still learns from her mother daily. But she says the best advice Mimi ever gave her is more a philosophy about communicating that has guided her in every facet of her life—from connecting with her clients to cheerfully chatting up cab drivers.
“It’s the idea that people remember how you make them feel,” Celerie says. “My mother is a true extrovert and very inclusive. You’re never going to get less than 100% from her. She’s like that not only for clients and friends but also for strangers in the supermarket or children at a birthday party. She’s taught me that the quality of our lives is in our interactions. It’s about the kindness and energy you bring to a situation.”
Celerie is determined to pass on this decidedly Southern point of view to her own daughter, Zinnia Kemble-Curry, who is all of 12 and spends many enchanted weekends in her grandmother’s house and garden in Palm Beach along with her mother and brothers. “I hope I show her—and I know I tell her—there should never be a fear of trying too hard,” Celerie says. “You should always allow other people the time to present themselves.”
Mimi may not have come up with her bewitchingly attentive social style by herself. Her own mother surely played a part. “It was a different time,” recalls Mimi. “Mother would come in and hear our prayers at night, whereas my daughters and I, we are in and out of one another’s beds, hair, clothing, and shoes. But what she always conveyed was that I should keep my good humor and try my best to make anyone around me feel special. If I had to boil it down to a sentence, she used to say, ‘Always smile when you dance.’ To me, it’s a marvelous bit of advice—it can mean so many things because everything in life is a dance.”