MARCH 28, 2015


Nature has been a thread that has woven through my life, from growing up in the Catskills to working on environmental issues to the aesthetic inspiration it provides to my creative work. Years ago I did a project on sustainability and style called fiftyRX3, which was basically my entrée into the world of sustainable design, where I made many lasting friendships. Shortly after I had started doing interiors, one of those friends graciously asked me to do a Heroine for the Planet interview. Believe me, those are her words! While I do try to be conscientous, "heroine" isn't a self-descriptor I often bandy about. I also do what I can in my work, but I tend to follow my client's lead in this area and don't quite feel comfortable donning the label eco-designer. Nonetheless, I was flattered my friend thought I was worthy enough to be placed in such company. The interview is about other things too - figuring out your path and making your way. I've shared it below . . .


Lindsay: You started your career as a therapist, then studied design with a focus on ecology. What drew you to interior design?

Jill: Before I went to graduate school to become a therapist, I studied fine art in high school and college, so I’ve always had the desire to be creative. After graduate school I worked as a therapist and kept artistic hobbies, but at a certain point I felt that my creativity became too marginalized. I wasn’t happy and knew I needed to make a change. I experimented with some other careers, such as fashion design and writing/editing, but ended up crossing them off of the list for a variety of reasons. I have always been drawn to design and style. I love to hunt things down and mix them together, but I like the problem solving and functional aspects of designing a space, too. I was thinking more and more about how design impacts our lives as I began to edit the contents of my own life and change the space I live in. One day it just hit me. I thought, “I like to work with people and I like to design spaces, maybe I should try this.” I felt I had something to offer, so I started doing interior design for free with friends and friends of friends and it took off from there.

Lindsay: Can you tell me about your new interior design business? Why did you decide to start your own firm?

Jill: Wow, firm sounds so… big. It is just me and some contractors I have on speed dial. I hope I never lose the intimacy of that as I really enjoy getting to know my clients. I have been an independent contractor for most of my professional life, even as a therapist. It just suits me, as I really value my independence. Additionally, without an interior design degree and work history it is difficult to get a firm to hire you as an employee. I also know what I value in my work, so if you narrow things down to the firms that I would want to work for, the opportunities become even fewer, so the choice was kind of made for me. I decided to work for free on my own in order to gain experience and it ended up paying off. Working independently with paying clients was the logical next step.

LB: I pulled this quote from one of your blog posts. You said, “I always say that it is easy to be a critic, but to put energy into a creation and launch it into the world takes courage.” How did you become so courageous? What challenges have you faced along the way?

JD: I don’t really feel that I have been courageous. I believe that we all have the ability to create the life we want to live. Yes, I faced some challenges, but our growth often lies in life’s challenges. I did a lot of work for free or for very little money and knocked on many doors that never opened, but I don’t look at anything as a failure. It is all just experience. I definitely had some low moments where I was not sure what direction I should go in next, but that led me on a journey to really understand myself better and understand what I want from life. It was then that the path opened up before me. I think that is the gift I have received from any challenges I have faced, a better understanding of myself and the life I want to live.

LB: How important is sustainability to each of your projects?

JD: To me, surrounding yourself with things that you love, that you want to keep and use, that is the basis of sustainability. The effort to re-think our belongings or space, can begin a thoughtful process which leads to more purposeful living. I will admit that people don’t always have those feng shui moments or find their inner zen, but I bring ideas in through the course of conversation when I feel people are open to them. On a more tangible level, I recommend low VOC paints, try to source vintage/antique items and have recommended recycled and reclaimed materials. These days there are also mainstream stores with sustainable options, so it doesn’t have to be a big conversation that a client’s sofa is made from soy based foam and FSC wood – it just is.

LB: How have you been able to weave aspects of therapy into your interior designing? Do you have a favorite success story of a client you were able to help?

JD: Getting to know the clients, assessing what their needs are and creating a plan to meet those needs can be similar to creating a treatment plan in therapy. I have had clients describe how the energy shifted in their space after they arranged the furniture as I suggested. Aside from themselves, these clients quite literally saw that guests were more comfortable and relaxed in their home. Another client told me that he now stops in the hallway just to look at the living room because it makes him happy. I don’t want to overestimate the importance of creating a home that you love – I know interior design is not saving the world. Yet, there is no doubt that it can have an effect on our lives – positive or negative. If it is something you can control, why not make it positive.

LB: Describe your design aesthetic in three words.

JD: Relaxed, neutral and natural. I tend to gravitate toward a relaxed vibe, neutral color palette and natural materials as a base. Clients don’t necessarily need to have my style, though; I love to mix it up.

LB: Do you have a favorite space that holds a special place in your heart?

JD: I don’t really have a favorite man-made space, but the Catskills hold a special place in my heart. I grew up in Woodstock and that area is just in my bones.

LB: Where do you turn to for inspiration?

JD: Everywhere. When I am doing interiors I also need to know what inspires my clients. I have them tell me about their space, what they like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I also have them look through or bring me images to see what they identify with. Pieces play off of each other, so if I fall in love with one piece, it can definitely dictate and inspire the direction of a room.

LB: I understand you have a penchant for traveling. What places in the world have influenced your work the most?

JD: No one place has influenced me aesthetically as much as those experiences have just helped shape who I am I would guess. That said, I lived in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona in a great flat that I shared with an Italian architect. I loved the juxtaposition of modern life being layered on top of a Medieval back drop there – and who doesn’t love the Mediterranean lifestyle. I spent six wonderful, unforgettable and humbling weeks in Oaxaca as well. Mexico is just amazing – the artisans, the food, the native cultures – it seemed almost mystical at times. I have also spent time on sailboats on the coast of New England and in the Med. I think if you can live on a sailboat, it is very good training for living in a typical Manhattan apartment!

LB: Since many of us are urban dwellers, can you offer up any tips to make a small space seem bigger?

JD: Hah, led myself right into that question. Living in a small space requires mastery over one’s possessions. Believe me, this is still a work in progress over here. I recommend decluttering and editing on occasion. Focus on keeping the things that you use and love. Storage is key too. Simplifying and storing things out of sight helps create a sense of calm. Mirrors can visually expand a space and maximize light. Furniture that does double duty is helpful too. For example, I store off season clothes and infrequently used items in a trunk that I also use as a coffee table.

LB: What’s one eco design piece that you’re loving right now?

JD: A fiddle fig tree. They make any space look better. I always add plants. I think I need two fiddle figs, actually. They are slated for the 3.0 version of my apartment. [ED: LOL! I was pretty on trend for 2012. Today, I might choose a less commonly used large plant - although I still love the fiddle fig. ; ) ]

You can see all of the interviews at Heroines for the Planet.