The daughter of a Mexican mother and a Louisiana Creole father, Caren Rideau is the founder of the Kitchen Design Group, an interior design company, a vintner, and an author.
Rideau received a degree in Interior Architecture after completing a five-year program. She went on to study architecture as well. Without knowing which route she would ultimately choose as her career, she gained insight and inspiration while leafing through interior design and architecture magazines and reveling in the beauty of the designs.
Interested in understanding the behavior required to enhance and create functional, aesthetically pleasing spaces, she accepted an apprenticeship as a kitchen designer. The following year, she moved to Los Angeles, California, where she has been doing kitchen designs ever since—and after designing more than 500 kitchens, it’s safe to say, Rideau is right at home.
Interestingly, Rideau doesn’t pinpoint her designs to a particular style, although her employees tend to disagree. She takes inspiration from nature—and through her education, she completely understands the evolution of appliances which have become more complex and refined over the years.
To tackle her projects, Rideau begins with a functional approach. Then, she moves on to the aesthetics after understanding which functions she needs to highlight. “The aesthetics come into play based on the ‘how,’ or the client’s direction, and then I’ll add to that, of course. I can’t help myself, ” she says.
When it comes to convincing clients to let go of items that no longer serve their lifestyle or mission for the redesign process, Rideau opines, “We can hold onto a piece or room that meant something so much at the time, and we think, ‘I don’t want to give that up’ or ‘that was so expensive.’ But then we start to think, ‘Oh, it has been 15 years. Do I really need that piece anymore?” She continues, “You have to free your mind from that connection for bigger things to happen.”
Creating Space for Greater Representation
Rideau sits on the board of the Design Leadership Foundation, which developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit program is geared towards college-aged students eager to learn more about architectural interior design and landscape.
The pilot program launched at the University of Mississippi has been successful. The board’s goal is to expand the program to more universities this year, hoping to promote diversity and inclusion in architecture and interior design. The amenities of the program include receiving computers and access to internships. Participants also receive stipends to cover travel expenses which help them get to and from their internships.
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For Rideau, she understands the circumstances and obstacles BIPOC people, in particular, can face while studying and working in the architectural design field, including the fees associated with the courses and, at times, feeling unseen. “It was daunting when I was going through it as a woman of color,” she shares. She empathizes with the disappointment of being a woman of color opening countless magazines and not seeing anyone that looks like you.
She admits that progress is being made in regard to diversity and inclusion but feels there’s a lot more work to be done to create a long-lasting and powerful foundation for future generations. She continues, “I can say that 25 years later, it’s changing—and I see the change, and that creates a lot of hope.”
Getting Into Wine
She was introduced to wine by her godmother, Iris Rideau, the first Creole-American winemaker to own and operate a winery in the United States. In 1995, when she started her vineyard, she enlisted the younger Rideau’s help. Before she had the added responsibility of managing a design business, she helped her godmother develop her vineyard for approximately a decade.
During her time at Rideau Vineyard, Caren met her long-term partner Andrés Ibarra. When Iris retired from business and sold her vineyard, this left a space open for her goddaughter, inspiring Caren to create her own wine brand with Ibarra called Tierra y Vino.
While working for Iris, Ibarra built a relationship with La Prensa Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, allowing him to bring his expertise working with the grapes into the winery. “It’s a beautiful 45-acre vineyard. It’s a pretty magical spot,” exclaims Caren as she confides that almost all their grapes come from that vineyard today. “For us, we’re small, and it’s the easiest way for us to have estate grapes without having that [massive] investment.
Rideau explains that are two types of vineyard experiences. “A lot of people are enamored with ones like we see in Napa Valley, California, filled with endless caves and pristine barrels and nothing on the ground.” She continues, “Ours is more for artistry—artistic grassroots where the owners are the winemakers and the people that you see in the tasting rooms. They’re both great, but we’re the artists and behind the scenes.”
It’s reminiscent of being a guest in someone’s kitchen and watching them cook an elaborate meal. She states proudly, “You can see the equipment—and we’re making really good wine in it.”
A Marriage of Flavors
Rideau’s zest for kitchen design naturally stemmed from her love for food, family and entertaining, which she threads throughout her book, “Caren Rideau: Kitchen Designer, Vintner, Entertaining at Home.”
“To me,” she affirms, “New Orleans (where her father’s family is from) represents culture and family.” She goes on to say, “The Mexican culture is a little deeper rooted because it comes with art and things I can incorporate into design more than the Creole—but the Creole part is so enriched with food.”
The Mexican influence of her ravishing recipes comes naturally, but incorporating rich flavors and spices from around the world, such as the North African spices of her tagine chicken, take the cookbook portion of her book to new levels.
Rideau’s affinity for cooking developed by watching her mother cook as a young girl. Years later, as Rideau studied at college, she developed a greater interest in Mexican cuisine and began to work and learn from her mother more intentionally.
In turn, her mother became decidedly “more thoughtful in teaching” her coveted, traditional recipes. Her father stuck to Creole cooking, and to Rideau, those recipes added to the complexity—they weren’t flash-in-the-pan style meals, often taking hours on end to develop flavors. As a way to push past her apprehension about preparing flavor-rich and labor-intensive dishes, Rideau prefers red beans, a dish that develops flavors quickly and with a variety of intensities.
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If you’re grilling outdoors, for example, on a lovely summer day, the food and decorating transition to entertainment for the group—when the food comes off the grill, place it on a beautiful platter and set it on the table.
Personalization and attention to detail are key to transforming your table. Rideau advises, “Pull some of your favorite plates. They don’t all have to match. Bring out one of your favorite tablecloths; the napkins don’t have to match. She continues, “It’s really about combining all the things you love. People don’t see that things don’t match when it’s done in a thoughtful and cohesive way. If you prefer matching plates, then the glasses don’t always have to match. If you bring your joy in it, everyone loves it.”
Rideau doesn’t only style magazine-worthy projects, she ensures each design reflects the people that will live in it, whether it’s art, a favorite tile or color, or a functional piece. “I love color, whether it’s bright colors, jewel-toned colors, or softer colors—and with the softer colors, I love layering textures, like wood.”
Rideau focuses on balance to create a timeless look you can love even 15 years later. “At the end of the day, people want to see you.” She elaborates, “They want to see something that doesn’t look like the house they just walked out of.”
How to Pair—Mix Natural With the Atypical
Whether Rideau is entertaining for a few people or a large party, she likes to keep things very simple, although it may not look simple to the untrained eye. She starts with the food by selecting as many dishes as possible that can be done before her guests arrive.
Next, Rideau suggests wine pairings should always be preplanned. She shares a few of her favorite pairings with Cuisine Noir by prefacing, “You have the more natural pairings like red pairing—like the bigger cabernet or Bordeaux wines with steak.”
For a twist, she recommends pairing a grenache, or ganarcha as it’s known in Spain, wine with grilled salmon to create an outstanding flavor profile. “It’s really about balancing fruit and acid together.” She also recommends bringing a piece of blue cheese out after dinner and enjoying that with red wine, like a petite syrah. “It’s life-changing when you have that perfect pairing,” she exclaims.
Years ago, after gushing over her love of the varietal albariño, Ibarra surprised Rideau with an acre of land in 2012. Their first harvest did very well, and they’ve been producing her beloved albariño ever since. Rideau recommends invoking freshness by preparing ceviche to play up the natural acidity of lemons and limes or sashimi to unleash the magic of pairing.
“With every wine you drink, whether you love it or not, there is a food pairing for it—and when you have those two together, it really transforms [the experience]. I think it’s the same feeling for design when you pick a fabric and you think, ‘Oh, my gosh, what could go with it?’”
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She continues, “Maybe it’s kind of dull on its own, but when you put it with [something] white opposing, that’s when magic happens—and I think wine and food are the same way.”
To connect with Caren Rideau and learn more about her ventures, follow her on social media The Kitchen Design Group and Tierra Y Vino. You can also visit her website and support the Design Leadership Foundation in its mission to change the lives of aspiring leaders in design.