Monday, May 19, 2008

House Voyeur: Fanciful in Florida

Several months ago, I fell in love with Jen Renninger's dreamy artwork. I had a feeling that her home might be equally lovely, so I asked if she'd be willing to give us a virtual tour.

Happily, Jen agreed. But she also warned me that architecturally speaking, the Tampa, Florida house she shares with her husband, Bill, dog Barley, and cats Zoe and The Dude was nothing to write home about.

That didn't deter me at all, because honestly, not all of us are lucky enough to live in a home with great bones -- something that would be beautiful almost in spite of what we put in it. But creating a charming home from something a little less spectacular takes talent, creativity, and vision, not to mention a healthy dose of resourcefulness. And I had no doubt that Jen possessed all of those gifts in spades.

I was right: Jen has taken a somewhat cookie-cutter suburban house and filled it with bursts of cheerful color, absolutely arresting vignettes, and wonderful surprises around almost every turn. And she's done it all on a very tight budget, using thrift-shop scores, found objects, bits of nature, and her own gorgeous artwork. At the end of the day, that impresses me a lot more than a pedigreed home that's had a huge decorating budget and a top designer thrown at it.

Here, Jen offers a glimpse of her fanciful abode in sunny Florida:

"Our house is a fairly plain, standard suburban two-story built in the late 1980s. From the outside it’s all garage, which isn't terribly attractive. But the inside is simple and just right for highlighting our things. Our style is eclectic, and I guess you could say our home is 'artsy.' We like to create little vignettes of things around the house. Our interests run the gamut: Part midcentury modern, part 'Cabinet of Curiosities.'

Our biggest inspiration is probably photography. Bill and I both studied photography in school, which is where we met. I’ve always been into details, but looking at photos (especially still-lifes) really gave me a foundation for placing objects together in what I hope is an interesting and pleasing way.

I think Bill is better at overall room design than I am -- he can take a room and readily see elegant placement and flow. I get muddled and want to clump things together. We make a good pair that way -- we create a good balance.

I love the light in my office during the day; it’s bright and inspiring. That's my work scattered about.

The wall just over our fireplace, which is covered in starfish, is another favorite feature. The starfish wall was inspired by the artist Kiki Smith. She created a star wall for an exhibition and I've had a postcard image of it sitting on my desk for years. I also have a soft spot for scientific collections (taxonomy of any kind, really).

A few years ago, Bill gave me a collection of shells and sea creatures for Christmas. He'd found it at a yard sale and knew I'd be thrilled. I unwrapped box after box of labeled shells and sponges and starfish, among other things. I used specimen pins -- like what you'd see holding butterflies in place on a specimen tray -- to attach them to the wall. I kept them off the wall by about an inch so they have a slight shadow behind them. Sometimes they just seem to be floating there, like stars. The Bell Witch poster came from a shop in New Orleans.

Our couch (below) is from Scandinavian Designs, but for the most part we find things at thrift stores and flea markets and then refurbish them on our own. The apothecary chest in our dining room was a $50 purchase that Bill spent six months refinishing. The Sealtest Ice Cream sign is one of my pieces.

My advice: Look for classic designs to complement smaller, more unusual decorative objects. We have a few Heywood-Wakefield tables (that lazy susan coffee table is the best!) and an Eames RAR Rocker, which is my husband’s favorite thing ever. But other than that everything is based on how charming we thought it was when we found it. The painting of the woman with the branch of oranges is one of mine, and Bill took the two framed photos on the wall.

I think it's important to stay true to the things that inspire you the most. For us, that includes lots of art -- our own and others'. The artwork hanging on the wall in our stairwell is by Kathie Olivas, and the rainbow-colored piece is by our nephew, Gavin. We also collect work by Jill Faustnaught, Raydel Shanks (my sister), Jill Dryer, and Brian Reedy.

The work over the bed is Bill's. The porcelain bowls on the side table are from Alyssa Ettinger. (I LOVE LOVE LOVE them!) The kudu drawing, below, is mine from high school.

I have a soft spot for found objects -- leaves, shells , bugs, butterflies, rocks -- and tend to use those a lot in decorating. Remind yourself to always look for the beautiful details in everyday objects."

Thanks so much for sharing your truly inspiring home with us, Jen! And readers, don't miss Jen's incredible artwork here and here and here.

(P.S. Want to see more? Click here for a peek inside other readers' homes.)

5 comments:

Leslie (Miss Havisham) said...

WHOAAAA awesome! I like the naturalist curiosity cabinet thing. I'm ordering that Bell Witch poster RIGHT NOW. Growing up in Nashville, We wwere all very familiar with the story of the Bell Witch and the Bell family of Adams, TN. At slumber parties there was a game where you go into the bathroom and close the door with all of the lights out and you have to look into the mirror and say "I don't believe in the bell witch" over and over until your friends starting banging on the walls and doors until it scared the poop out of you. To this day I've never EVER spoken that phrase above outloud

Kelli said...

I'm from Tennessee, too, and was immediately drawn to the Bell Witch poster. I did the "I don't believe in Bell Witch" thing as a child. My friend had a hole in her pajamas and lied, telling me that the Bell Witch had attacked her during the night. Scared the bejeezus out of me! Anyway, that's such a cool poster, and I really love seeing what other people have done with their homes.

Jen said...

Would you believe I'd never heard the bell witch bathroom story before. I don't think my husband did either, when we first saw the poster, but we were both really drawn to it. I love the idea of looking scary childhood things in the face though! It was neat to get to share pictures of our home and I'm so glad you both had such an interesting reaction to that spot. It's definitely one of my favorites in our place.

ps- thanks again leah!

J

a home far away said...

Hi! It´s my first time visiting your blog, it´s nice. I am a swedish woman living in Singapore, feel free to visit:-)

Have a great day
//Gunilla

Krissy said...

Gorgeous in every way!

 

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