Styling the Sandhills in a Second Career

04 Aug 2021

And how a mentorship moved the needle

By Crissy Neville   »  Photos by Brandon Williams

Since two heads are better than one, styling your home with Sandhills interior decorator Katy Harbin of KH Color Designs scores as a win-win situation. Harbin is a creative talent in her own right. Still, in completing an American Corporate Partners mentorship with acclaimed designer Charlotte Moss this year, she is now armed with knowledge and confidence from working with one of the greats. The opportunity, she said, was nothing short of incredible.

"I have been following Charlotte Moss ever since I was a little girl," the Florida native, military wife and mother of two explained. "It was a fluke she was assigned to me. I was looking for a mentor in the design industry, and she is on the ACP board of directors. My application got filtered up, and when she agreed to do it, I was in shock."

According to their website, ACP pairs veterans, active-duty personnel and military spouse applicants with "hand-picked" mentors in America's top companies based on career interests and professional history, creating "tailored action plans" for mentees. Since 2018, more than 800 mil-spouses have benefited from the yearlong mentorships.

The mentorship connection has helped Harbin with a launch of her own – that of her interior decorating business and second career. When the Harbins – Katy, her husband, Naval Flight Officer Seth Harbin, and their two young children moved to Moore County in December 2019, the pandemic had not yet reared its ugly head. While the family was settling into their modern suburban neighborhood in Southern Pines, Harbin was planning KH Color Designs' expansion here in her newest hometown. She began the startup in their previous duty station upon her husband's recommendation that she "do what she loved, was good at and start a business" after finding it hard to find a job with PCSs (Permanent Change of Station) fast and furious every two years.

A dietitian by degree, Harbin has 10 years of experience in the event, furniture and home-styling industry, and certification as a Certified True Colour™ expert. Her creative propensity, eye for color, style-savvy and great empathy for those, who like her, "frequently relocate and start over in a new home" – move, decorate, repeat – led her to try her hand at business ownership. That and her husband's honest observation that she was "always helping people pick out paint color" propelled her to realize not only was he right, but the time was too.

Until … it wasn't.

Three months into their relocation here with COVID-19 effectively shutting everything down, the versatile entrepreneur found the time was instead ripe for growth in her design education.

Fast forward a year, Harbin has nothing but glowing remarks to make about the time she spent with 35-year international design veteran, author and philanthropist Charlotte Moss – albeit virtually  – and the impact the mentorship has made on her budding business and personal growth.

Harbin shared of Moss: "She is an icon in the design world but also down-to-earth and encouraging of me as a newcomer to the decorating field. While the mentorship was more business-related, her work has certainly influenced and inspired my design approach."

Harbin's brand is equally stylist, colorist and decorator; her approach to working with clients – curated through connections, networking, referrals and ongoing virtual consultations  – is to put the client first and find out how they live, what they love and what makes them comfortable – and then to help their home represent just that.

"It is mostly about trying to get a vision for what the client wants," she shared, "and bringing that to bear through a timeless lens of quality that will last and reflect who they are. No matter if the client is more modern, traditional or somewhere in between, such sensibilities can be brought to the forefront."

Harbin also marches to the drum of reusing what you have and refreshing rooms through small touches, not emptying your house and starting over. Refreshment can materialize in myriad ways – painting walls, adding flowers, changing pillows or light fixtures and accenting accessories by finding a new lampshade or couch throw. Layered looks are paramount – trays that hold books and collectibles, shelves that showcase frames and special souvenirs. Ideas crop up in Harbin's creative mind like mushrooms after rain.

She leverages her skills in clients' homes in the same way she decorates her own Sandhills home, with taste, timeless appeal and a focus on making each room unique.

When Harbin moved into her new home, possibility also took up residence.  The newcomer found it not only possible but more than plausible to turn what she deemed "a regular suburban house" into the home she and her family wanted and needed. Add a wall here, she thought, and create a separate formal dining room – something the traditionalist in her longed for. Close in a porch there, she pondered, and provide her husband the man cave of his dreams. Elongate the room by extending bookshelves and hanging curtains higher and grow the rooms upward. Structure was the starting point.

With these larger-scale projects behind her, creative license was applied; Harbin painted the walls, shelving and cabinetry her favorite blues, greens and neutrals – poetically named titles like November Rain, Clary Sage and impartial Useful Gray – and installed new light fixtures and hardware. Her collections and favorite things completed the rooms: brushed-gold finishes, handcrafted art, botanical plates, mixed metals, textures, China and pottery and her favorite pieces of furniture – ranging from antique and Asian-influenced to family heirlooms and thrift store finds. This interior decorator says to buck the trends, mix and match and embrace the eclectic – if that's what you like.

Much like she outpaced the pandemic, pivoted her plans and got better results than she bargained for, her design advice also sticks. "If you have a little of it all and what you love, you can roll through the trends and keep going."

Connect with KH Color Designs at or follow the company on Instagram or Facebook @khcolordesigns.

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