Kentucky Designer Isabel Ladd Has a Unique Thanksgiving Tradition

Whether it’s the party she’s hosting or the outfit she’s wearing, Isabel Ladd doesn’t do boring— and that includes the holiday meal.

Interior Designer, Isabel Ladd
Isabel Ladd at 21c Museum Hotel Lexington. Photo: Leslee Mitchell; Hair, Makeup, and Wardrobe Styling: Cynthia Laws/Zenobia

For Isabel Ladd, it's impossible to have too much of a good thing. "I have always loved creating spaces that are larger-than-life, and that's really what my interiors are about—celebrating pattern and color and surprises along the way," says the Kentucky designer, who is based in her hometown of Lexington. Her bolder-is-better approach has yielded a colorful portfolio of spaces, including a graphic, retro room at 21c Museum Hotel Lexington that was inspired by the Netflix miniseries The Queen's Gambit. Here, Isabel shares her affinity for over-the-top accessories, the entertaining rule she lives by, and her family's wild card approach to their Thanksgiving meal.

Where I Find Inspiration

"I was born in Brazil and moved to Kentucky when I was 3 years old. I've been Americanized in so many ways and was embarrassed by my heritage when I was younger. In middle school, you just want to fit in with the people around you. But I went to Brazil often, and as I got older, something clicked: I wanted to express more of my culture. From what people wear to the interiors and the music, everything there is so vibrant and loud. I'm inspired by the Brazilian way of life, which says, 'More is more.' "

My Approach to Style

"I love clothes so much. Coco Chanel famously said, 'Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.' I look in the mirror and put one thing on. It's all about layers and keeping the eye traveling."

Interior Designer, Isabel Ladd
Leslee Mitchell; Hair, Makeup, and Wardrobe Styling: Cynthia Laws/Zenobia

The Secret to a No-Fuss Gathering

"I entertain a lot. When the party starts, the kitchen is clean, everything is cooked, and the food is plated. I want guests to come in and get a cocktail with a pretty napkin. That way, we're already in party mode as opposed to saying, 'Okay, this needs to be put in the dishwasher,' or 'Can you plate the food?' I like the idea that once it starts, there's nothing left to be done. I also need for everything to look nice: I swear there's not even a bottle opener or a corkscrew in my house that's not beautiful."

Why I Appreciate Lexington

"I can't imagine having a business anywhere else. I feel like I know everybody here. I can walk down the street or go out to dinner and run into so many people I know—not in a popularity contest kind of way ('Hi, I know your name') but in an engaging way ('Oh, I saw your sister last week. How's she doing?'). There's this tightness to Lexington while it still feels big."

Our Unique Thanksgiving

"I don't like turkey or casseroles, so why would we eat them? For our version of the meal, we all pick our favorite dishes. Mine is lamb with mint jelly; one kid's is sushi; the other's is green tea ice cream; and my mom's is lox, so that's what we have."

An Intentional Celebration

"This holiday is our time to think about gratitude. We try to be really mindful of where our food comes from and all the people who helped get it on the table—the farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, everybody."

Break from Tradition

There are no rules as to what Thanksgiving should be. Tradition says there's a turkey feast with more casseroles than will fit on your grandmother's sideboard. Why not take a nod from Ladd and create a Thanksgiving dinner that's unique to your family's tastes and style? It's being together that matters.

Here are some fun ways to approach the Thanksgiving meal.

Family Favorites

Try a twist on Ladd's dinner and prepare everyone's favorite fall dish or have them bring their own. With the dish they most crave on the Thanksgiving table, everyone will have a reason to be grateful.

Healthy Competition

Break from tradition and try a cooking competition. Who really is the turkey cooking champion in the family? Just be careful and don't get hurt feelings if the new version of stuffing is finished before the family favorite.

Personal Mantra

At Thanksgiving, Ladd's mantra may be good to keep in mind. "You cannot control everything, but whatever you can control, make it bring joy," she says.

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