Tea With: Jennifer Morris

Whether your home is in need of the full gut reno treatment or could just do with a little face lift, a good interior designer can make your style dreams a reality.  This month I’ll be sitting down with Jennifer Morris, a Park Slope resident and go to interior designer for many of Brooklyn and Manhattan’s most stylish homeowners.

The principal at JMorris Design, Jennifer has a wealth of experience with both residential and hospitality projects.  Whether the desired look is bold and glamorous or classic and understated, she has an inherent understanding of  her customers’ needs and is able to realize them in a way that is both creative and affordable.

Her own home was recently featured in Brownstoner and I can tell you, having visited her there, what a beautiful space she’s created for herself and her family.

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Dara Kass, a former client, who brought Jennifer in to design the interior of her beautiful townhouse (pictured below), had this to say about working with her:

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“Jennifer knows where to spend money and where to save it, always reminding you what’s truly valuable to you.   Having young kids, she understands that for a project to be sustainable, it’s smart to spend more money on the design elements that are out of reach to little hands.  For instance, we recycled and re-upholstered our couches for our living and family rooms, but invested in more high end fixtures, lighting and artwork.”

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She has a fantastic eye and an incredible ability to make everything look high end even when it isn’t.  She’ll also take risks where other designers don’t, yet still manages to pull it all together.  I would never be as bold as I am if not for Jennifer.”

I met with Jennifer at Gather, to talk to her about her design process, inspiration and how she helps her clients reveal their own hidden style.  Here’s what she shared with me.

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Were you always interested in design?

I moved around the United States a lot growing up, and I think seeing and living in different landscapes and settings and seeing different types of homes was huge for me.  I actually enjoy the process of moving in and moving furniture and turning a space into a home.  

From an early age, I was drawn to art and what it meant and how it could make you feel. I have a specific memory at 10 years old of visiting my father’s office, which at the time was the headquarters for Travelers Insurance in Hartford, Connecticut.  In the lobby of this somewhat harsh and sterile corporate lobby was this huge abstract painting of a landscape.  I remember the transporting affect it had me.  When I went to college, I majored in art history with a pretty clear vision that I was going to buy and sell art for corporations, but along the way I discovered interior design.  

By happy coincidence, my school, the University of Cincinnati, had one of the country’s top accredited interior design schools as part of its College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.  The program was very architectural and I found I loved the mathematical and engineering challenges of spatial design.  The subject matter made perfect sense to me and just kind of clicked, and I’ve felt really lucky ever since that I found that program in school.

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How would you describe your style?  Do you have a varied style or a signature?

I spent the start of my career working in hospitality (restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts).  I worked for several notable architectural design firms, but the one that influenced me the most was Rockwell Group.  It was an amazing job and an experience that really tested my design muscles.  One project concept would be, I kid you not, “Acid Pool Party” and the next one, “Fire and Ice,” and many more along the way that were just barely more toned down.  I left that job feeling like I could find the beauty and inspiration in just about anything.  I still feel that way.  

I have a fluid work style and I feel like part of my job is to help my clients reveal their own styles to themselves, while helping to make sense of an environment’s boundaries and possibilities.  That said, I do have a strong design vision of my own.  I am drawn to clean lines, but I love playing with patterns and colors and textures to lend richness and layers to surfaces and spaces.

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 What inspires you?

I can do an entire room scheme based on a beautiful fabric, photograph, or piece of art. In a broader sense, I am really inspired by the fact that when I am done with a project and the environment works and looks amazing, the people in it will be happier than they were before.  It’s amazing to me that I can use my talents to make a meaningful impact in people’s everyday lives.  I love being a part of positive change.

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Do you have any design rules?

I would almost say not to have them.  I sometimes think I go over all the pros and cons with my clients, to a fault.  I want them to be educated on their selections and, believe me, there is always something to consider and evaluate along the way.  But at the same time I think the ugly, inherited who-knows-what should always have a home.  Sometimes I am passionate about whether something should stay or go, but at the end of the day, it’s the client’s call.

What’s the most rewarding part of my job?

I have a collage of thank you cards I have pinned up in my office.  When I get a call from an old client who still loves the work we did, or the confessions that the once-reluctant spouse now “totally” gets what we did and appreciates why it cost what it did… that’s pretty rewarding.

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 And the most difficult part?

My job requires endless patience and growth.  Luckily, I love learning so the growth part is great from a big-picture perspective (but maybe doesn’t always feel so great at the time when it’s an unanticipated lesson I wasn’t planning on learning at the time!).

I think the hardest part of moving from hospitality design to residential, as I’ve done, is knowing the money at stake in a big project is an individual’s or a family’s and not some giant company’s.  The financial stakes can create a lot of expectation and anxiety.  When you do a lot of custom work, like I do, there are so many moments, people, and potential issues involved, that it can be stressful.  I completely understand when clients are upset when something comes in scratched or a repair needs to happen shortly after an installation, and I can totally relate to the feeling of losing sleep over issues that need to be fixed.  It is, after all, your home at stake, so it’s a big deal.  I do my best to set the expectation that these things will happen and that I am my clients’ advocate and agent for problem-solving when things go wrong.

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 Do you have a favorite design project and why?

Whatever project is on my plate.  I love coming up with solutions and options, almost too much.  I have had to put caps on myself: Just the three best options and move on!

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 What would your dream project be?

An ideal project is one that was planned out with a strong collaborative-design and construction team up front.  I do interior architecture myself but also love to collaborate with talented architects to create full renovation projects.  My favorite projects are ones where the team meets together from the beginning and we all work together throughout. Doing a turnkey project when the client steps into a fully finished home is pretty amazing for everyone.  But the biggest component to a dream job is having a client who trusts you and really respects what you contribute professionally.  

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 Can you describe yourself as a designer in three words?

 Professional, creative, present.

Jennifer’s work can be seen first hand at the upcoming Park Slope Civic Council House Tour on May 21st 2017.  

Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2912528

Photo credits: Eric Laignel and Jacob Snavely.

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