Marle Women is created to celebrate our philosophy of designing pieces for women of all ages and stages of their lives. Each feature profiles a woman we admire and we hope each interview inspires you the same way in which these women inspire us.
Interior Stylist and Design Consultant Karie Higgins has an eye for creating spaces that feel light and serene without ostentation. She is intentional and thoughtful, inspired by her antipodean roots.
A former jewellery designer turned Brand Director, the now Stylist has led a creative life across many industries and postcodes. Originally from Aotearoa, Karie, her husband Lee and two girls Lo and Rue now reside in Portland, spending as much time as possible at their lovingly renovated weekender, River Cabaan.
We spoke to Karie about her design process and vision, family life, personal style and the labour of love instilled into their place of solace.
Please share a little bit more about yourself, your upbringing and any defining moments that lead you to where you are today…
I am a New Zealander who's been living in Portland, Oregon for the past nine years (prior to that we lived in NYC for a few glorious ‘pre-kid’ years). My husband Lee Gibson is also a Kiwi and a Footwear Designer for Nike. We have two little girls Lo (nearly 5) + Rue (nearly 2).
I grew up in Tauranga and studied Interior Architecture in Wellington. My childhood was a little transient, we were always moving and renovating houses - it’s likely the reason for my love of travel, design and a general sense of restlessness.
My Kiwi upbringing definitely instilled an appreciation for nature which wasn’t evident to my city-loving self until I reached my 30s. Growing up in a country that is so sparsely populated and as breathtakingly beautiful as New Zealand - you realise as you get a bit older and live outside of New Zealand how fortunate we were - I feel a bit homesick just writing that!
We now own a lovely little cabin on a river, surrounded by the Tillamook Forest about an hour out of Portland. It is very much our happy place and feels like a little connection back to New Zealand in a way that’s hard to articulate.
We once read an article where you said you were living your dream life in New York. You’ve been in Portland for several years, stepping out of jewellery design and into interior design. Talk us through the shift in focus…
I had a really great run in New York and in jewellery. It was super fun to land in NYC and experience the fashion industry on a scale I hadn’t encountered/fathomed in New Zealand. Working as a Creative Brand Director, I had the opportunity to collaborate on projects spanning from independent NYC designers to major department stores and renowned brands. I’ve always loved the storytelling aspect of brand building, navigating trends and cultural moments and the fast-paced nature of the fashion world in NYC.
My love for interiors always hummed alongside my career as a Brand Director. I knew that I wanted to eventually move back into interiors when it became feasible with our lives and kids. The pandemic for me, like I’m sure many others, brought my priorities into sharp focus and I had a classic existential crisis! It felt like ‘if not now then when’?
Our cabin (which I designed and we rent on airbnb) was bringing a pretty constant stream of design enquiries so I took it as a sign to make the leap.
River Cabaan is so beautiful! What was the vision for the cabin and what has been the most rewarding part of the renovation process?
It’s been one of the most fulfilling projects of our lives to slowly renovate this really special place. Lee is formally trained as an Architect and myself as an Interior Designer and at the time we bought the cabin we were both working outside of that industry. Having complete creative freedom to explore our design ideas, build, dream, experiment, and bring our vision to life has been so rewarding.
Our style still very much reflects our antipodean roots, we love spaces that feel light and serene with minimal extraneous detail and honest materials. Throughout the years, we have tackled the renovation process gradually, taking on smaller stages, until we recently undertook a significant full remodel of our kitchen and built an oak plywood studio space (in our former garage).
The focus of our latest reno was to make the space more functional whilst adding warmth, depth and visual interest through the use of beautiful organic materials.
We leaned into the earth tones of our surroundings with a deep burgundy island and rosso levanto marble in the kitchen and studio, paired with Calacatta Viola on oak perimeter cabinets. For the kitchen we based the design around a central oversized island where we could gather with friends and prepare meals.
Given the cabin is a weekend retreat vs full time home, we embraced the opportunity to incorporate some bolder design moves. For instance, we decided to eliminate the traditional fridge which opened up precious vertical visual space and opted for fridge drawers integrated into the island.
This created a much more spacious and uncluttered feeling and allowed the view of the river and forest to take centre stage - we even went so far as to remove a window to further enhance this effect. So some big swings resulted in quite a bold kitchen that doesn’t feel super 'kitchen-y’. It’s minimal yet warm and pays homage to the home's mid century roots but with our added personal touch.
As the mother to two girls, how do you balance (juggle?) work with family?
Balance feels elusive… BUT I’ve learnt to be somewhat selective of what I can (or rather can’t) take on. Especially in this season while they are little and if I’m feeling stretched too thin. We don’t have family here to help out so we have to rely on childcare (which is famously expensive in the US) and I try to just get as much done whenever I can and remember that being a Mum is also a full time job. The people who make it look easy have some kind of superpower that I’m still trying to uncover!
If I’m being honest I don’t think anything has challenged me more. Time, hours and days feel incredibly precious, and fleeting - managing my personal bandwidth is an ever-evolving puzzle.
How would you describe your personal style and how has this evolved over the years?
My style is casual and relaxed built around good quality staples with oversized silhouettes and vintage tees being some of my faves. In more recent years I’ve moved further from trends and learned to stay true to the core pieces I feel good in, can throw on and never feel too over or under dressed.
And as I've gotten older, I've become more mindful of the materials I choose, prioritising quality and longevity.
Marle is designed to add effortless ease to a woman’s wardrobe, how does wearing Marle make you feel?
Marle clothes feel sophisticated and chic in a quiet, understated way. I like looking put together without being fussy or overdone.
What is your most treasured object and why?
Our art collection (some inexpensive, some valuable). We've started a family tradition where we buy a new piece of art for each of our girls on their birthdays. It's a cool way to celebrate them even if they don’t quite appreciate it yet!
Favourite home cooked meal?
My husband Lee makes a killer meal in the summer at our cabin (over an open fire): NY Strip Steak with fire roasted lemon squeezed over it, charred broccolini, carrots, beets and sometimes shisito peppers. It’s a vibe.
My Navy Comme Des Garcons cardi that I’ve had for a million years and has never pilled and goes with everything. I've since bought it in various cuts but the OG slightly cropped one never fails.
Your non-negotiable daily rituals?
Morning Oatly Flat white and a podcast
Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter?
Spring / Summer because I live for SUN! Fashion wise I love to layer so autumn is my fave
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Current Podcast Recommendations
The Modern House (inspiring design), Wiser Than Me (new pod - Julia Louis Dreyfus talks to rad older women, so far I’m finding it fascinating! And about time).