Jay Jeffers—Part 2

Our interview with Jay Jeffers continues:

JM: You are at the helm of your own company.  How many people work here?

JJ: Five people are here permanently, and then we have two interns, an accountant and a publicist who rents office space.  We have a very active office!

JM: As the principal of the firm running your company, do you still get to do design?

JJ: I still get to do some.  I would love to do more, but I think that’s always the struggle of somebody who’s running a company.  But I am structuring the company in such a way that I can be a part of the design development phase, which is conceptual, bringing ideas to the client and then getting the clients’ approval and buy-off.  Then it gets turned over to the other people in my office, who are incredibly talented and creative and capable themselves.

I get to come in at the end when it’s installed.  The accessorizing, the artwork – that part is really fun for me.  I’m always a nervous wreck for installations, and one of my designers a few months ago said to me, “We don’t want you at the installation. Just wait until the furniture is in and then come in and do your thing.”  I said, “Okay, I love this.  I’m happy to do that.”

JM: Great.

JJ: Yes, it’s good.  Sometimes I wish I could be much more involved in the details because I love the details of pulling a concept together, but there’s just not time for that.

JM: How did you get a team around you that is capable of doing this?

JJ: Hiring good people.  My design principal has been with me for five years, and our other designer has been with us for almost three years, and our project manager has been with us for almost three years.  They’re all great people.  I think  there’s certainly something to be said for an energy that attracts people to each other, as well as a strong work ethic, and we’ve been very lucky with finding the right people for the right jobs.

JM: Do the people who work here have kind of a similar design aesthetic as you so they’ll intuitively know, “Well, Jay wouldn’t like that, so we’re not going do that”?

JJ: Yes.  Their tastes are similar, but they all have their own design aesthetic.  Part of the reason that younger designers leave and go and do their own thing or go to other companies is because their creative vision is not being heard.  But I feel like – and I think that they would agree with me – that I listen to them, and I think the design is better for it at the end because it is more than one mind melding together.

At the end of the day, it’s my decision, so there are things that I will reject, but then there are things that I don’t reject, because I want to give it a shot.  Nine times out of ten, I’m glad that I did it.

JM: How do you know when something isn’t good?  Do you have an internal compass?  You studied at Cal in their

Bedroom by Jay JDG. Photography by Matthew Millman.

Bedroom by Jay JDG. Photography by Matthew Millman.

Interior Design program for a while.

JJ: Yes.

JM: Did you do the whole program?

JJ: No, I didn’t finish it.  I studied for about two years and got the basics and really learned it on the job.

JM: So how do you know when something is going to work?

JJ: I think it’s an instinctual thing.  Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times when I’ll say, “I’m not sure if that’s going work.  Let’s just hope for the best!”  I will ask everybody else’s opinion, but there’s a point where I just have to be confident in what I’m doing.  Usually it does work.  So there’s definitely something instinctual and there are lot of people that are really good designers.  But you have to have the business part of it to be able to be successful, whether that’s you or whether it’s a business partner.  For many good designers, a lot of the process is instinctual.

JM: Do you attribute some of the success that you have at your firm to the fact that you have a business degree?  Has that helped you?

JJ: I think it has.  I’ve gotten a lot of press.  Even before I was really a designer I would send magazines pictures of my various bedroom designs.  When I was in design school and moved into a new apartment I took pictures of that and sent it out.  I had a website before any other designers that I know did, and I actually got clients from it.  Having that idea or that understanding of getting your name out there –

JM: Being comfortable doing that.

JJ: Yes.  I think that definitely has brought success maybe sooner than it would have.  I think eventually it would have come regardless, but maybe it happened faster.

JM: When did you form your own firm?

Jay’s office at JDG Studio. Photography by Drew Altizer

Jay’s office at JDG Studio. Photography by Drew Altizer

JJ: In the summer of 1999, so July will be 12 years.

JM: That’s great.  Did you open both offices in LA and here at the same time?

JJ: No.  I think we opened LA in 2004.  I’m trying to remember now.  That sounds about right, but I’ve since closed it.

JM: Was that a function of the economy?

JJ: Well, for several years it had just been a name and an address, and I just hadn’t staffed it.  It was good for bringing business in, but San Francisco got very busy and LA got less interesting to me in terms of being there all the time.  I found myself driving all the time.  But the way the internet and everything else functions today, we can do jobs anywhere from our office here.  So it just worked out better to close that space.

JM: How would you compare the amount of design energy or enthusiasm of LA to the Bay Area?  Is there more design happening in the Bay Area than in LA?  I heard someone complaints recently that there’s not really very much happening in the Bay Area around design, and I was just surprised to hear that.  What do you think of that?

JJ: I think the Bay Area always gets a bad rap.  We’re a smaller community than LA and New York, but there are some seriously talented people here who are very well recognized across the country – Paul Wiseman, Suzanne Tucker, Walker-Warner Architects, Walker Moody, to name a few.  A lot of local designers have been recognized by Architectural Digest and everyone else over many years as real tastemakers and stars.  I don’t think that design has slowed down in the Bay Area at all.

Because of the economy I’ve seen a lot of antiques shops close down.  Some of my favorite places that I would

Michael Taylor table available at Modern One, Benjamin Storck’s LA gallery

Michael Taylor table available at Modern One, Benjamin Storck’s LA gallery

go to for mid-century furniture are no longer here, but I think that’s happened everywhere.  Since we’re a smaller community, we’re hit harder when something like Benjamin Storck, who had a fantastic 20th century furniture gallery, closes down.  He has a shop in LA and has had it there forever, but when he closes down in SF, it’s a real loss.   When one or two shops close in LA, it’s not that big of a loss, comparatively.

JM: I noticed in the book that I was reading in your lobby that it was given to you by Boris Vervoordt.

JJ: Yes.

Boris Vervoordt (right) with German artist Gotthard Graubner at the Vervoordt Gallery in Antwerp.

Boris Vervoordt (right) with German artist Gotthard Graubner at the Vervoordt Gallery in Antwerp.

JM: He’s an international art dealer, isn’t he?

JJ: Yes.

JM: And how did you come across that book?

JJ: I was traveling in Antwerp.  Boris has a beautiful, very contemporary gallery outside of Antwerp.  There’s also a beautiful castle that his father lives in that he grew up in.  They still live there, but everything is for sale.  It’s full of antiques.  When I was there I took a tour through it and Boris was supposed to meet us, but he was in Venice and didn’t get there in time.  He actually called me the next day and we ended up having lunch, and he then he showed us all around Antwerp and spent the next three days with us.

JM: Wow!

JJ: Boris happens to be my age and a fun person to hang out with, so we clicked in that respect.  I met his father as well, but we didn’t really hang out.

JM: Right.  On a slightly different topic, in one of the interviews I read about you online, you mentioned Billy Baldwin as an influence.  I was wondering if you could talk about him and how he’s influenced you.

JJ: Well, actually Richard Witzel, my mentor, had a Billy Baldwin book that he’d bought when he was a kid, or probably when he was

Billy Baldwin in his New York apartment, circa 1973. Photography by Durston Saylor.

Billy Baldwin in his New York apartment, circa 1973. Photography by Durston Saylor.

in his 20s in the 1970s.  I read that book when I was going to school, and it was just the words – the things that he said.  He talked about mixing contemporary and classic furniture pieces.  He talked about using bold patterns.  He talked about using bright colors, and the entire book was in black and white.  Just reading about his aesthetic sensibilities, I thought, “This is brilliant.”

I had had these ideas gestating in my head, but I’d never really heard anybody outside my head say, “It’s okay to do it.” These were things that I myself was doing in my own apartment:  going to a flea market and finding a traditional piece and a modern piece and putting them together, or finding some old piece of furniture, with big flowers on it and re-upholstering it and that sort of thing.  That’s what he did.  He’s always been an influence.

JM: Do you think that interior designers are born interior designers?

JJ: Yes.  I think so.

JM: That’s what it seems like to me.

JJ: There are many different directions that I could have gone – in fact, I tell this story all the time: when I decided I was going be an interior designer, I had a really amazing boss at The Gap.  I went and talked to her and told her what I wanted to do, that I was going to go back to school, that the classes were at night, and that I wanted to figure out a way to cut back my hours and still work within my same job capacity.  In a corporate environment, that doesn’t usually happen.  But my boss was really supportive and figured out a way for me to do that.

So I would work from 7:30 in the morning till 1:30 in the afternoon, and then I would go and do my classes, and I would also go and work for Richard Witzel, and then go to classes at night.  During that time I started getting into cooking because I realized, “Okay, I’m not going out to eat anymore.”  And I really considered being a chef.

JM: Interesting.

JJ: I really got into baking more than cooking and I really contemplated not being an interior designer and being a chef, or owning a bakery or something like that.  After talking to several people, I decided that it probably wasn’t the right avenue for me.  That was just another creative outlet.  I think that creative people that are born to do this kind of thing – maybe it’s interior design, maybe it’s fine art, maybe it’s even advertising.

JM: Back to the design in the Bay Area.  So I’ve been in construction for about 20 years and it always strikes me that there is a lot of talent out here.

JJ: Yes, absolutely.

JM: People put out really good work across the board.

JJ: Yeah.

JM: So when someone says, “The Bay Area has nothing going on in design,” I just don’t understand where they’re coming from.

JJ: Well, I think that it’s harder to get published, you know?

JM: For design firms from the Bay Area?

JJ: It’s very easy for a publication that’s based in New York to go scout a project in New York or around the New York area.  They usually also have scouts in the LA area.  So it’s just more difficult for projects from the Bay Area.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that national publications have done great job in recent years of including Bay Area, but usually, if you open a magazine, there will be four spreads.  Three of them will be in New York and one will be in San Francisco, or two will be in LA and one will be in New York and one will be in San Francisco or around the Bay Area or – San Francisco includes the entire bay.

JM: Of course.

JJ: We’re just not as prominent as other places are.  So then people assume there’s not much going on or there’s not as much talent, but I think that there is.

JM: Do you have any hope about changes in Architectural Digest and being able to get published in there with Margaret Russell at the helm?

JJ: The magazine looks so much better already.  It sings and it’s fresh and it comes in and it lands on my desk and I’m kind of like, “Oh!”  When the old

Margaret Russell, now editor-in-chief at Architectural Digest Magazine

Margaret Russell, now editor-in-chief at Architectural Digest Magazine

Architectural Digest would land on my desk my response was often, “Oh dear,” and I would open it up and say, “Wow, that’s what they put on the cover?”  So I am very hopeful.  Margaret Russell has been good to me over the years.

JM: You’ve been in Elle Décor before?

JJ: I haven’t had a spread in it, but I’ve been in it for other aspects, quotes and things, and then we did the Elle Décor Showhouse last year.  She was involved in choosing the designers and we did the master bedroom for it.

JM: I remember that room and it was quite beautiful.

JJ: Thank you.  Then she left before we’d finished the show house, but she’s been great to me over the years, so I look forward to the day that she says, “Yes, absolutely we want something for Architectural Digest!”

JM: Do you send her pings about things that you’re doing?

JJ: Of course!

JM: Great!

JJ: Why not?

JM: Well yes, of course you would.  I just don’t know what it’s like to try to get published in a magazine like that or any other publications like that.

JJ: I work with a publicist and we strategize everything that we’re going to send out.  I learned early on to shoot my own work, to not wait for somebody to shoot it for you for a magazine or something.  We shoot it for our records and then we use those photos to send out to magazines.  And we’re very strategic about where we think it would go.  There’s so much competition out there and now there are fewer publications.   Only one out of five interiors that we send out may be accepted to be published, and that’s just the way it is.

JM: Right.

JJ: So we have to be strategic about putting it on our  website, putting it on a blog, and putting it on Facebook, and then getting the word out there in any way that we can.  We can’t necessarily rely on national publications – or local publications.

JM: Well, you recently had a nice spread in California Home and Design.

JDG was recently featured as the cover story at California Home + Design

JDG was recently featured as the cover story at California Home + Design

JJ: Which we were thrilled with!

JM: It’s hard to get in there.

JJ: It was really fantastic and we were thrilled.  It was our second cover for California Home and Design, so we were really excited to be on the cover and we actually got some calls from that feature.   It’s very rare that somebody calls and says, “I saw you in the magazine and I want to hire you,” but we got several calls from that spread.

JM: That’s great!

JJ: Yes.

JM: You know I heard Mark English give a talk once and he was kind of bemoaning the fact that he’s been in a lot of publications and had gotten a lot of awards, but he doesn’t think he gets any work from it.  I also haven’t been hearing good things about returns from print advertising.  Do you do any print advertising?

JJ: We do the Fall Antique Show catalog and the Decorator’s Showcase catalog, but I wouldn’t hire an interior designer off of an ad.  The person that does hire an interior designer off of an ad is probably not my client.

JM: But the people who have called  from that recent (California

Red Lacquer and Gilded Panel (detail), after 18th-century Chinoiserie Paneled Room. Painted by Warner Graves and Eric Ismay. Photography by Douglas Sandberg. Courtesy of F. Scott and Terry Gross.

Red Lacquer and Gilded Panel (detail), after 18th-century Chinoiserie Paneled Room. Painted by Warner Graves and Eric Ismay. Photography by Douglas Sandberg. Courtesy of F. Scott and Terry Gross.

Home + Design) article seem like they might be good clients?

JJ: Yes.  I have found that local press is much better for us in terms of actual work than national press, but you know, it’s all layering.  Usually someone will say, “Hey, I saw you in this magazine and my friend recommended you,” or, “My friend recommended you and then I went to your website and I realized that you had done that room that I loved at the Elle Décor Showhouse, but I didn’t know it was you until my friend told me to go look at your website,” you know, that sort of thing.  So it’s all a layering effect.

JM: Are you doing showcase homes quite often?

JJ: No.  We’ve done one every year for the last several years, but unless somebody calls us soon, we’re not doing one this year.  We’re not doing San Francisco, and I don’t know of any other show houses in this area.

JM: Is Elle Décor doing another one?

JJ: They’re doing one in New York.

JM: Oh, okay.

JJ: And I’m not doing that one.  We’ve been approached to do the Kips Bay Showhouse in New York, and I would love to do that.  I’ve got a project there right now, so I think we’ll wait and see if we can try to get in when this project gets closer to being finished so we have sort of some leverage there.

Location of 2011 Kips Bay Showcase House, 163 East 63rd Street, New York

Location of 2011 Kips Bay Showcase House, 163 East 63rd Street, New York

JM: Those are a lot of work.

JJ: They are a lot of work.

JM: And it’s a large financial outlay too, right?

JJ: Yes.

JM: Have you found that the showcase houses do translate into work?

JJ: We did the Met Home Showhouse, and the house was on the

2009 Metropolitan Showcase Home by JDG.

2009 Metropolitan Showcase Home by JDG.

market and the client that purchased the house hired us to do the rest of the house.  We were thrilled with that.

In 2005 we did a showcase house and that house was on the market, and the clients that purchased the house hired us, but they didn’t hire us for the room that we did there.  In fact, we tore that room apart and did something else.  They had seen something else that we had done and liked it.  Actually I’ve had calls from the Elle Décor Showhouse.  I’m just starting with a new client that bought a house in Sausalito that saw the Elle Décor Showhouse and called us from that.

JM: Very nice.

JJ: So it does work.  I have done other show houses that nothing has come from, but it’s all that layering effect.

JM: Do you have a Facebook page?

JJ: I do have a Facebook page.  I’m terrible about updating it.  We’re actually refurbishing our website right now and we are going to incorporate a blog into it.

JM: I was wondering about that.

JJ: I’m not going to be a daily blogger.  It’s will be a blog on beauty, or something like that – just beautiful things or things that we love.  We’ll put our interiors on there and if we’re designing furniture, we’ll put progress shots of furniture and things like that.  It’s not going to be an everyday occurrence.

Floating sandblasted coffee table by Jeffers Design Group

Floating sandblasted coffee table by Jeffers Design Group

JM: Are you going to do the writing yourself?

JJ: Probably not.  My intention is not to.

JM: I was wondering about your signature persimmon orange color.  How did that all come about?  Do you consider it to be a signature color – because it’s associated with you?  Are you tired of being asked about it?

JJ: No, I’m not tired of being asked.  I

Squared oval dining table in white lacquer finish by JDG.

Squared oval dining table in white lacquer finish by JDG.

mean it’s certainly a color that I use a lot and that I love.  It’s a warm color, but it’s not an obtrusive color.  I’m trying to think if I’ve done an interior where we haven’t used it.  There was no orange in the Elle Décor Showhouse.

JM: I noticed that.

JJ: There’s very little of it in a home that we just did.  So I don’t know, it’s just a color that I like.

JM: Have you always liked it?

JJ: Yes.  I mean, it’s not something that has been my favorite color for the last decade and always will be.  Ten years ago I was using a lot of green.  My whole house was painted green: bright green, army green and all different sorts of greens.  Then at some point that changed and I got tired of using green.  I don’t know if that’s when orange came about.  We’ve also been working with a lot of grays and taupes and cool colors these days.  Six years ago if womeone had told me that I would be working in gray today, I would have laughed.  I had always been about warm tones and everything being warm, and now it’s different.  Everything is cool.

Detail of custom ottoman used at 2010 Elle Décor Showcase House. Photography by Matthew Millman.

Detail of custom ottoman used at 2010 Elle Décor Showcase House. Photography by Matthew Millman.

JM: That’s interesting because when I looked at your website, it seems like a lot of the projects have a very vivid use of wild colors, which I love.  I think it’s great.  Do you think that that design style reflects the exuberance of your personality?

JJ: Well, I’m a generally happy person, and I always have liked color.  I think in the beginning of my career I used color as a design statement when budget was a factor.  Painting a room bright green and doing some inexpensive furniture will lend personality – that is an easy way of creating a dramatic effect.  I’ve always been one to love drama and that sort of thing.  But in my office we have an ability to edit color well so that it’s not too over the top.

We’ve had some really wonderful clients that we’ve worked with for several years now that love color.  It’s almost as if there’s not enough color for them in the whole world.  We have done two projects for them and we have used every color in the spectrum.  I think that what we’re doing right now is literally a reaction to that.  When I think about it I say to myself, “I cannot use pink again.  I cannot use chartreuse anymore.”

JM: Because of those two large projects you just mentioned?

JJ: Yes, the two large projects that were color crazy.  And they’re wonderful projects, but I’m ready for some neutrals myself.

JM: Neutral tones?

JJ: I’m sure it’s a reaction.  Taupes and grays are all the rage right now – it’s very on trend to be working in those tones, so that’s part of it too.  But part of it is also that we’ve just been using so much color over the last four years, I’m ready for a break.

JM: On your website I really loved the bedroom – I think it was in your house – which was a pink – a lot of pink, with a portrait of Lincoln.

JJ: Oh, yes.

JM: Who was the artist on that?

Bedroom by Jay Jeffers. Photography by Joe Fletcher.

Bedroom by Jay Jeffers. Photography by Joe Fletcher.

JJ: Natalie Amarato.

JM: I love that.

JJ: She does it in wallpaper too,  with repeating tones – it’s really fun.   That room was done in 2002, 2003, something like that.

JM: That was a while ago.

JJ: That was my signature, chocolate brown and hot pink.

JM: Okay!

JJ: So that must have been after the green, and then that turned into persimmon, and now it’s taupe.

JM: Now it’s taupe, okay.  Do you use your home as kind of a testing area?

JJ: I have in the past, definitely.  For ten years I lived in a 1915 Edwardian that had great bones to it, but the bedrooms could be changed easily.   I think I redecorated it, including painting the walls and wallpapering  three different times in those ten years.  But I just sold it last year.

JM: You sold it!

JJ: It’s not my study – it’s not my laboratory anymore.

JM: Where have you moved?

JJ: We’re in an apartment now, which is great, but very modern, very sleek, taupe.

JM: Taupe, or course!  Is that here in the city?

JJ: It is in the city, yes.  It’s fun.  It’s a high-rise, so it’s completely different, but it has great views and a very urban environment.  There is some persimmon mixed in with the taupe.  I couldn’t let it go completely…

JM: Napkins?

JJ: Yes.  But it’s good.

JM: Is it one of those apartments with lots of glass and grand views?

JJ: It’s right near Civic Center, and the living room has floor-to-ceiling windows, all glass, looking out onto City Hall.  So it’s kind of a little bit of a feeling that you’re in Paris – just a little bit.  So it’s fun.

San Francisco City Hall, circa 1940’s.

San Francisco City Hall, circa 1940’s.

JM: Do you travel a lot?

JJ: A fair amount.

JM: Do you shop abroad?

JJ: Definitely.  We do a lot of buying in New York, LA and here, but we’ve worked with vendors in London and Paris and other parts of Europe as well.  It’s so easy to do now with everything that’s online, but it’s nice to be able to go and see these vendors and galleries in person as well.

JM: Do you have favorite vendors and galleries that you return to time and time again?

JJ: We do.  In LA we work with Downtown quite a bit, Modern One, Blackman Cruz, they all do really wonderful things.  In New York Van den Akker is one of my favorites.  Who else do we work with there?  Maison Gerard.  There are several in NYC – Wyeth, Donzella, to name two.

JM: And what about internationally?  Do you source furnishings from France or Belgium or –

Fine Square Art Deco Stool by Louis Sue (1875 – 1968) and Andre Mare (1885 – 1932).French, circa 1925. Available at www.maisongerard.com

Fine Square Art Deco Stool by Louis Sue (1875 – 1968) and Andre Mare (1885 – 1932).French, circa 1925. Available at www.maisongerard.com

JJ: We’ve done some work with Vervoordt, but I don’t know if it was Belgian furniture.  It might have been accessories and things like that.

JM: But you got some furnishings from that showroom?

JJ: Yes.  There are some beautiful Royere pieces and things like that that we’ve worked with from galleries from Paris, but there’s no one specific gallery that we gravitate towards.

JM: You don’t have a market in Paris that you go to or anything like that?

JJ: No.

JM: Do you go to the Alameda Flea Market at all?

JJ: I haven’t been in a while.  Once in a blue moon.  I used to go every Sunday.  I feel like it’s changed though.  So many people who were selling at venues like that or had small antique shops are selling now on eBay and probably doing better than they would at a flea market.  I feel like the quality has changed a little bit in those areas.  I used to be able to go and find really wonderful things.  Maybe my taste has evolved as well.  I used to go and find really wonderful things, and now when I go I might find three or four things – once in a while.

JM: Do you find things on eBay?

JJ: Sometimes.  We use 1stdibs constantly.

JM: You had a nice interview on 1stdibs.

JJ: Yes.  We use them constantly though.  1stdibs has changed the way designers do business completely.

JM: Interesting.  I don’t know very much about that business and I’ve never gotten anything from them.  Is it similar to eBay, or how does it work?

JJ: Dealers basically pay 1stdibs to be on their website, and then you can go and sort however you want, either by region or by piece or whatever.  You can buy through 1stdibs if you want, but we always go directly to the dealer because we already have relationships with them.  It’s a great way of finding new dealers.  If there’s somebody I haven’t heard of I’ll go to their shop in New York when I’m out there.

JM: Did Blackman Cruz close their gallery here?

Bronze Snake Chair by Blackman Cruz

Bronze Snake Chair by Blackman Cruz

JJ: They did, but their line of furniture reproductions are going to be represented by Coup d’Etat.

JM: Now on to another topic: when you do something like creating the design for the Celebrity Retreat up at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, does that translate into more work?  Was that a surprise to be selected for that, or how did that process work?

JJ: That was when I first opened the office in LA.  I was working with a publicist then, who is still my publicist, and I don’t remember how exactly that came about.   They contacted the publicist and had seen my work, or something like that.  It was really fun.  Did it transfer to anything specifically?  No it didn’t, but it was, you know…

JM: Fun hanging out with the stars?

JJ: Really fun, taking pictures with all the celebrities that I loved! It was a lot of work, but we had a

Jay and Debra Messing at the SAG Celebrity Retreat

Jay and Debra Messing at the SAG Celebrity Retreat

great time doing it.

JM: Was that retreat only for one night during those awards?

JJ: One night.

JM: One night only!

JJ: Well, I think it was two or three nights total.  Our room was next to where all the celebrities came to choose all their gifts for their gift bags, and we had the little retreat set up where everybody hung out and had something to eat or drink, and it was mostly just furniture.  All the sunglasses and jeans, all the celebrity scwhagg, was right next to us.  Of course there was a photographer so they would try on their sunglasses and have their pictures taken and all that kind of stuff.

When they would come in to rehearse their announcements or presentations, they would come and do their thing, and then the night of the awards, everybody came through to hang out.  It was up there for a couple of days, and it was definitely a quick turnaround.

JM: Quick turnaround, yes.  Do you have clients that occasionally come to you and say, “I have a 10,000 square foot house and I need you to furnish the whole thing in two months…”?

JJ: We’ve definitely been approached to do really, really fast projects.  We try to be as realistic as possible because we would rather take our time.  We’ll do it if somebody says we need this done.  That kind of job involves a lot of antiques, which we love, but it also involves going to retail stores and buying things super fast.  We might try to ask for three months instead of two months, to be able to find quality pieces.  We want to create things that last.

JM: Right.  Well, I’ve observed different designers getting press for that approach, and I’m just wondering how that works out in reality.

JJ: The reality is if somebody really wanted us to do it, we would.  But typically people come to us because they want and understand quality.   Many clients come to us that have worked with other designers before and have not been satisfied.  They understand what they want and what they’re looking for and they get it with us.  Then we also have a lot of people they haven’t worked with designers and we have to help them understand the process.  In the beginning they’ll say things like, “What?  This is going to take four months?”  We have to tell them that it takes a month to design, a month to price and four months to fabricate, which means that it will be six to nine months before they have anything.  But six to nine months in the grand scheme of the world…

JM: Is very fast.

JJ: It’s nothing.   We go through design development, we present everything, we’re very efficient at presenting it, clients usually love it, we may have some things to change around, we price it all, we get everything ordered, and then we send that out to them.  While everything is being made we go in for remodeling, wallpaper and paint, and by the time we finish that, the furniture is there and in it goes.

We can find accessories, artwork – we will make it completely turn-key.  If the client comes to us and says, “I want to bring my clothes and my toothbrush and move into my house,” we’ll take care of it.  We will outfit a kitchen down to the dishtowels, glasses, china, everything.  We will take it as far as a client will let us take it.  We will create their home for them.

JM: And do you like that whole process?

Place setting for Gump’s Chinoiserie event in support of the 2010 San Francisco Fall Antique Show.

Place setting for Gump’s Chinoiserie event in support of the 2010 San Francisco Fall Antique Show.

JJ: Oh, I love it, it’s fun.  It’s great going and picking out china and silver for somebody else, you know?

JM: That does sound like a lot of fun.  In terms of providing a complete service, do you have jobs where people just come to you directly, that then evolve to the point where an architect, structural engineer, or a builder may be required?  Or do most of your jobs originate with the rest of the team already in place?

JJ: It’s probably half and half.  They come from everywhere.  Once in a while a builder will come to me and say, “I have a project I’m working on that needs a designer.” Sometimes the architect will come to me with a project, or the client will come to us first and we’ll build the team.  I’m guessing, but it’s probably half and half.

JM: Do you have a typical size project?

JJ: Well, I tell clients that my minimum is $100,000.00 because I think that that’s the size project where we can make an impact.  We may not be able to do everything and it really depends on the scope.  Size-wise it really doesn’t matter.  If somebody comes to me and says, “I have a two-bedroom apartment, can you do it?” our answer will be “yes,” if there’s a reasonable budget.  If they tell me they have $10,000.00 to spend, then I’m just not the right person for them.

JM: Do you try to give people a sense about costs for furnishings and finishes, etc., beforehand?

JJ: I will try.  It varies so much that I don’t like to.  Everybody asks, and everybody says, “I won’t hold you to it, but can you just give me a ballpark?”

JM: Then they usually want to hold you to it, don’t they?

JJ: Yes.  So I try not to give ballpark figures, but I look at our projects and what we’ve done in the past, and there is a range of square-foot costs.  I’ll talk to people about those costs if they’re really unclear on where they’re going, bug I also would rather have them tell me, “This is what I’d like to spend. Is that realistic?”

Often it’s a game because they’re probably going to tell us less than what they want to spend, and we’re probably going to tell them they need more, but at the end of the day, we are really flexible.  I always suggest that we design it the way the client wants it and then we can back up if need be.  If we double the budget, then we’ll either eliminate things or we’ll change things or we’ll phase the work over a period of years instead of doing it all at once.

It really depends on the house, too.  If someone tells me they’re planning to stay in their house for two years, then I will not design a built-in bed that will cost them thousands of dollars that they won’t be able to take with them.  But if someone says, “This is my forever house,” then I want to design it as if it’s a forever house.

JM: Do people ever ask you about construction costs, say, for example, if they’re remodeling a kitchen?

JJ: If they’re remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom and I feel like I can speak in an educated manner on that

Custom bed by JDG.

Custom bed by JDG.

respect, but when you get into anymore than that, that’s not my expertise.  We need a contractor in here to talk about that.

JM: Do you have contractors that you can call to discuss realistic construction costs?

JJ: Yes.

JM: It’s good to have that backup.

JJ: Yes.

JM: I’ve heard different rules of thumb for interior design.  I’ve heard $150.00 a square foot, I’ve heard 20 percent of the value of the house, and I’ve heard 50 percent of the value of the house.  Do you have a conversation with people and say, “You know, the cost could be anywhere, but if you find yourself below this level, it’s probably not a good fit for us?”

JJ: Right.

JM: If people have a budget that’s maybe not totally great, can you say,  “Well listen, we’ll do this, but we’re not going to be able to do the whole house,” or, “That’s the kind of budget that you could expect for a master bedroom and finishes in the foyer,” or something like that?

JJ: Yes.  I’ll tell them what I think we can achieve with their budget.  I met with a really nice guy last week in Burlingame.  I had gotten the feeling over the phone that we probably weren’t the right fit.  But I went down there anyway because he was a nice guy, and you just never know.  Especially during my early years,  I’ve taken projects on where I would think, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do with this?”  Some ended up being fantastic projects.  So I met the guy in Burlingame, I gave him a number, and then I asked, “Does this scare you?” and he said, “Yes.”

So I said, “So, we may not be the right fit, but you think about it and come back to me and tell me what you can spend and I’ll tell you what I think I can do for that.”  If the budget’s not there, then everybody is going be unhappy.  The client will end up paying me a lot more money than they want before they even see results, because we get paid an hourly rate for design development.  If we go through design development, and then the client says, “Well, I just can’t afford this,” then at least they’ve got a design that they take with them, and I haven’t done all the work for free.  But that doesn’t really happen anymore.

JM: Right.  Does design development involve collecting and curating many different fabrics, finish samples, and color schemes?

JJ: Yes.

JM: So you’ll give people story boards where you’ll say, “This is the palate for the dining room.”

Pacific Heights Dining Room by Jeffers Design Group. Photography by Matthew Millman

Pacific Heights Dining Room by Jeffers Design Group. Photography by Matthew Millman

JJ: Yes.  We will pull together floor plans – and in some cases we’ll do perspective drawings and things like that – but we’ll pull together floor plans and then have a big meeting with furniture pieces, floor plans, design concepts, fabrics, colors, wall finishes, wall coverings, everything.  We have one big meeting to present everything because I feel like people need to see all of that and take it all in.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming for a client, but I think that’s also good too because it shows them how much is involved, that it really is a very involved process.  I’ve never had a client that didn’t like any of it.  Usually they’ll say, “Okay, I love this.  I love this color.  I love this furniture and I love these fabrics.” If I don’t feel like they go together, I’ll suggest pulling together a new scheme using the fabric scheme for the master bedroom instead of the living room, or that sort of thing.  So it kind of evolves from there.

JM: Do you take notes and document all the decisions?

JJ: Yes.

JM: And then you somehow magically remember it?  That’s a lot to keep in your mind.

JJ: It used to be all here (points to his head), but it’s not anymore.  Other people write things down now.

JM: Good idea.  Well, do you have anything on your horizons about maybe publishing a book, or TV shows or anything like that?

JJ: No plans for TV shows.  I would love to publish a book, but I don’t plan to do that in the immediate future.  Maybe I’ll look into that next year, I don’t know.


JJ: We’re thinking about furniture lines and fabric lines and that sort of thing.  That’s always in the front of my mind and it’s getting closer to the front.

JM: In the eternal hopper.

JJ: Yes.

JM: Well, that would be fun.  Is that custom wallpaper in the bathroom there?

JJ: It is custom wallpaper, but it’s not from here; it’s Jed Johnson.

JM: I was wondering about that because I saw the two Js.

JJ: Since it has two Js, it was too perfect not to put it in!

JM: And is Jed Johnson the wallpaper designer then?

JJ: He is an architect slash interior designer.

JM: Okay.  Well, I think on that note, let’s just close.  I want to thank you once more for your time.  It’s been a pleasure talking to you!

JJ: My pleasure.  It was fun.

Pacific Heights home by Jeffers Design Group. Architecture by Mark English. Photography by Matthew Millman

Pacific Heights home by Jeffers Design Group. Architecture by Mark English. Photography by Matthew Millman

Interviewer: Jill Moran

Interviewer: Jill Moran

Jill Moran is a construction professional with 20 years of varied experience in high-end residential remodeling. Her recent entry into motherhood, timed precisely with the downturn in the local construction industry, has resulted in a slight re-engineering of her career. She currently works closely with the management team at Mueller Nicholls, with an emphasis on communicating to the world at large about residential remodeling.