I’ve been inside Jess Davis’ home a couple of times now. Each time my eye catches something new. I do believe that if I were to visit a hundred more times my eyes would continue to find interest and intrigue that I had missed the first 99 times. One of the marks of truly great design is just this – the layering of materials, patterns, styles, and composition that offers a depth of experience.
This piece is not meant to introduce you to Jess Davis the interior designer, or Nest Studio, her high-end hardware brand, which you might very well be familiar with, (and if you’re not I highly recommend you acquaint yourself). Instead, we want to take you inside her home to catch a glimpse of how this talented designer juxtaposes modern sensibilities with vintage Victorian charm.
While one might think that an artist who designs “jewelry” for cabinetry would derive inspiration from her Eastlake style Victorian, Jess’s creations are decidedly modern. Simple in their lines and curves and unique in their perspective. The warp and weft of stylized Victorian elements with the skillful overlay of modernism is seamless in the Davis house. Jess’s interweaving of these not-automatically-compatible styles showcases her deft skills resulting in a home that appears effortless, inviting, even practical, while a stratum of design relationship exists if the viewer is game to examine.
Curiosities of the Davis house manifest throughout: The Victorian era coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and while the highly detailed Eastlake-style trim might appear to be custom, surprisingly it is likely not carved by hand but instead produced by a machine – even mass-produced! …And perhaps it is the spooky Autumnal vibe, but I can all too easily imagine a coffin rolling over the floor brought in through the gigantic parlor windows, which, by the way, I have actually heard was one of the reasons parlor windows are so large. The other explanation for floor to ceiling windows was that they were built in lieu of doors, because at the time, houses were taxed by how many doors the house had.
For those of us with limited space, she suggests, “Search for ways to create with everyday objects that are aesthetically pleasing, but also practical. Incorporate the storage that you would use for yourself, and use it for your children.” She goes on to discuss how her family falls into a practice of using spaces that differ from their original intent.
For instance, a sunroom with leaded glass on three sides that once likely hosted ferns and parlor palms now accommodates a table and cubbies for the arts and crafts her children create. “I just stuck a small table and chairs in there – it just made sense as my kids got older. I added some storage for their arts and crafts stuff. It’s a great spot because they’re near the family room and the kitchen. The floor is tile so it’s easier to clean up.”
While Jess knows the value of quality professional work she also loves her DIY. She painted her nondescript kitchen floor tiles in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint®True White and created a one-of-a-kind stencil to give it interest. The outcome is stunning. It will be featured soon in Better Homes & Garden Magazine.
What other kinds of DIY projects does she take on?
“Most of the DIYs that I’ve done don’t involve fixing something. It’s more about making something look better cosmetically. For example, I didn’t have the budget to do a full-scale kitchen renovation, but I wanted it to look less kind of dark and dingy.”
When asked what her three guiding principles of successful DIY are, she gave pause and thought about it. She offered level-headed advice to all the folks who want to start a project but wonder if they can manage it: “First, understand how much time you can devote to it. I think a lot of people start a project and then they never finish it, so be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to it.
Next, educate yourself. Watch YouTube videos or look up blog posts from people who’ve done it before and outline what you plan to do based on that.” And finally, “Don’t DIY for the sake of DIY. Is it something that you could hire somebody to do and doesn’t cost that much? I always like to think about what my hourly rate is – is it worth it? I don’t think a lot of people do that and it’s important to understand that time equals money.”
Take for instance Jess’s choice of light fixtures – giant chandeliers with spider-like arms that reach outward claiming swaths of ceiling space – which are somehow simultaneously ornate, aligning with the embellishments customary to Victorian architecture, and sleek, as per Modernism. From the decadent period wood details and the story-telling stained glass windows that grace the stairwell hovering upward of the entryway greeting visitors with reverent presence, or the tiny child’s piano from one of my favorite shops, Olde Good Things, to the teal chaise and orange coffee table and the stylish vignette that gives away her family’s obsession with sunglasses, this home and its contents are magical.
“We wanted the right house to come along and I think that Scott and I are always interested in a house with a lot of character – and it doesn’t matter what kind of character. We are always looking for a house that’s a project – it doesn’t have to be a huge project, but if it is done, then we don’t want it”, she says smiling.
Born in Australia, raised in Hong Kong and having lived on both coasts of the U.S. with parents who collected Chinese antiques and mid-century modern furniture, Jess says “I’m sort of from all over the place, so my design influences are very eclectic.”
Jess lives in this 1879 (approx.) Grande Dame with her husband, Scott, their two children, and a Standard Poodle named Cheerio. She employs life balance via great home design and creativity, navigating style and function like the pro she is.
The layout of antique homes differs from today’s home layout. Approach the spaces you have with an open-mindedness. Consider different uses for them. If you inherited antique house parts (the random items left in the in basement by the previous owners) find a use for them! This thinking will not only save you money but will help you preserve your home’s character.
When designing a space for a laundry room on the second floor – a popular feature these days – Jess and her husband closed off the space with the home’s original front doors which function in much the same way sliding barn doors do. “I think renovation has to be appropriate. I like the idea of these doors. They were just sitting down there so it made sense to use them in the house.”
From her Sears Kit Catalogue house in Millburn NJ, to her 1879 Victorian in South Orange NJ, to the Mid-Century Modern they will inhabit in Atlanta Georgia, home truly is where Jess’s heart is. And yes, you read that right, the Davis family is leaving New Jersey for a new adventure in Georgia. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she does with a Mid-century Modern home, something she tells me has always been a dream of hers to own. I hope Inhabit Your Home gets an invite…we wish them the very best!
A special treat, a curated photographic display of Jess’s interior design vignettes below…
Author, Carla Labianca
Photography, Aimee Herring Ryan
Managing Editor, “Inside Stories”, Lisa Danbrot