Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone: Kate M. Cutshall

by Sabrina Smelko


I fell in love with Detroit, MI many moons ago while slumped on my couch, watching Nicole Curtis singlehandedly restore old Detroit homes to their former glory on her show Rehab Addict; and since then, I’ve had a soft-spot for the city. Feelings are powerful things, and just as one TV show made me fall for Detroit, so too did one 1920s Victorian home find a place in Kate Cutshall‘s heart — for some reasons that even took her by surprise.

For Kate, an interior designer, home is a feeling. From the moment she saw her top-floor apartment — in all of its then pre-restored, dusty, mid-renovation glory — she was sold. Fast-forward nearly a year later, and she’s become friends with her 70-year-old landlord, Patrick, whose passion for restoring the home has inspired in Kate both a nostalgia and celebration of the city — and a discomfort for its growth.

Today, from the comfort of her front room in the heart of Corktown, Detroit (a space flooded with natural light and interesting architecture), Kate is chatting with us about everything from her recent career leap, to why you should go out to dinner alone, and what scares her so much about Detroit’s progress. –Sabrina

Photography by David Baum

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Kate Cutshall, and I am an interior designer based out of Corktown, Detroit. I hail from Indiana, did college in Michigan and NYC, and worked for an architecture firm in the Netherlands after school. Since then, I’ve settled in Detroit working with developers and homeowners to reimagine older spaces in the city.

I’m pretty obsessed with Detroit’s historic architecture and seeing it come back to life as people find a renewed interest here. My home, an upper flat in a 1920s Victorian, is situated in an ideal neighborhood for walking, checking out new restaurants and investing in a community.


What does home and this space mean to you? Describe it.

For me, home is a feeling. I can’t truly make a space my home unless I feel it, and I really stumbled upon a gem when I found this rental. The first day I checked it out seven months ago, it was still being renovated and was covered in drywall dust. I told the landlord I would move in the following week…

Little did I know that I would have a semi-permanent visitor in the form of my landlord. An older man in his 70s, Patrick takes serious pride in his rental home and has restored almost every detail on the original features of the house. For the first month I lived in the house, Patrick visited almost every day to tell me about the process of fixing the house up — from stripping all the woodwork to painstakingly restoring the stained glass windows. All of his stories helped reinforce my feelings that I had stumbled upon a home perfect for my needs. He rebuilt a home, and now I have made it mine.


What makes it so comfortable?

The front room, with all of its natural light and strange architecture, is the most-used spot in my house. I run my business out of there, entertain, and constantly fall asleep in front of the television after working late into the evening. It’s truly the first home I’ve had in Detroit that I feel comfortable living and working in, rather than having to transplant myself to a coffee shop just to get stuff done.

My favorite thing about the front room is that nothing feels overly precious. Because I tend to favor vintage furniture, everything already has a layer of patina on it, so I’m usually fine being clumsy and spilling things. One of the benefits of living alone and not having precious things is that when I get a wild hair, the front room becomes a laboratory for built objects and trial and error for clients’ projects. Lots of memories and projects (to not tell my landlord about) happen here.

What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?

Right now, progress makes me uncomfortable, especially as it pertains to living in Detroit. This may be specific to where I live, but right now I have a huge issue with the redevelopment of the city and how exclusive it can be at times. As Detroit becomes cool again, the housing market is expanding rapidly and displacing citizens and neighbors who have lived here for years. They are losing their homes and are being forced to move because they are no longer the target market for that housing district.

This makes me extremely uncomfortable, and unfortunately, I work in an industry that isn’t helping the situation. I don’t have a solution to this discomfort, but it can’t hurt to acknowledge these growing pains and try to facilitate a conversation.


Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?

Caution to the wind? Yes!

I’m currently in my first year of working as a freelance interior designer on my own, and honestly, nothing has been a bigger leap of faith. After a few strange job opportunities and knowing all along that I wanted to work for myself, I opted to open up shop this past year without a savings account or business model. (Seriously, do not do that.)

It has been the greatest surprise and blessing of my life. I always knew that at one point I would work on projects for/by myself, but I never understood how much I would come to rely on my community through it. I’ve had friends rally to review business plans, family drive across states to help me set up, and clients show up with work needing [to be] done. I was scared out of my mind, afraid that I would have to take another “stepping stone” type job to get to my end career goal, but this past year has been an incredible point of growth. I can’t wait to see what year two has in store!


What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?

If I had a day to myself, I would start with french toast in bed and a giant pot of coffee, neither of which I would have to get up to retrieve. Then, I would read the last chapter of a few of my favorite books. For some reason, those words are the ones I always want to revisit and have as reminders in my life.

If I had a week to myself, I would head back to the Netherlands to visit my old life there. I lived in this strange little cottage with friends, rode a creaky bicycle to the market and worked in a building near the Queen’s home. It was a strange, storybook-esque time, and I’d like to check and see if I made that all up in my memory.

In a month all to myself, with an unlimited amount of money, I would head to both Los Angeles and New York City on buying trips for vintage finds. When I lived in New York I constantly found amazing furniture that people put out as trash, and I hear that Los Angeles’s flea markets are out of this world. I could do some serious damage in a month in both cities.

What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?

It’s silly, but I’ve learned to just START. Growing up (and all through school) I had a horrible fear of beginning things; I was great at setting up and preparing for tasks, but I would never get around to doing them. I’ve found that just blindly beginning something takes away a lot of the build-up or expectation of results.


How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?

Quite literally, “unplugging” is essential for me. As someone who is dependent on technology to get things done, I have to leave all forms of technology at home and just walk outside in order to see again. I get stuck behind the lens of my iPhone and need to be separated from it in order to get my perspective back.

Even though I live alone and work from home, I tend to keep a busy social calendar, so going off the grid is a big way for me to recharge. This sometimes takes the form of meals out to eat alone, deep-cleaning the house or grocery shopping, all without company or much virtual contact. During these times, I just focus on resetting my personal life and restoring my emotional self.


Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?

I swear I get burnout with almost every project. When you put 100% of yourself, mentally and physically, into creating spaces, by the end of it you are spent. During deadlines I don’t really take weekends/evenings/breaks, so when a project is complete I give myself a few days’ grace to just rest; I don’t clean up the project’s mess or do dishes, I just sleep and take vitamins.

After the 2-3 day grace period is up, I wake up to put the house back together and start the next project. It’s a proven method.

What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?

The world could use more irreverent comedians. They make your heart happier.

What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?

Why isn’t there a delivery coffee service in Detroit yet?

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  • I’m happy that Kate mentioned the dark side of what’s deemed progress. As a fellow Detroit-based maker, it can be very frustrating to see and hear so much touting Detroit’s “comeback” without discussion of the real repercussions that so many long-time residents face. Thanks, Kate, for touching on an uncomfortable, but super important issue!

  • wow- what an inspiration ! Love your aesthetic and wise words on business and “unplugging”. P.S. those windows reaching almost all the way down to the floor in your living room are amazing. (is that a Detroit thing?) I grew up in Philly, and don’t really recall windows that long….

  • Kudos to Kate for her creativity, ambition, and compassionate drive. I am a transplant as well from Indianapolis, Indiana to Detroit Michigan for several years and have witnessed the comeback but due to the exclusion and expense of whole communities who don’t fit the racial equivalent that industry wants to promote . Commerce still has color lines and it’s truly sad. I am grateful to Kate as an African American woman using her niche to shed light on this issue in the Renaissance of Detroit.

  • I really appreciate her comments about progress. I live in Vancouver, a city that is growing very quickly and becoming more unaffordable by the day. If you want a healthy vibrant and diverse city you can’t just leave housing to market forces. Governments need to step up and make sure cities are for everyone.

  • Just lovely! Cozy and liveable, plus right here in the D. Such an interesting time to be in Detroit. We just moved here from Chicago, which has grappled with such issues for a long time.

  • I am looking for some help in decorating my family room. Woul like to know if you do this and about the cost per hour