Like all interesting people, designer Jennifer Post is full of contradiction: she lives what she calls an “elegantly minimalist” life with a ferociously efficient intensity and yet there’s also something, dare we say, kooky about her too: witness the skinny and unexpected Christmas tree with a few lights slung upon it or the fact that she lives in and adores the notoriously inefficient, ever-charming Apthorp. For all her white paint and expensive white Italian sofas, she says she could never live in a modern building.
At times she spoke in short declarative sentences, invoking her no-bullshit mantra often, yet at other times she was vague. She rambled, giggled and we gossiped atrociously—couldn’t include it, alas. Although she’s truly self-sufficient, she’s disarmingly honest, even vulnerable, at times, worried about the recession and its effects on the ultra high-end niche that she has cultivated. She needn’t worry—she’s got something special, a strange admixture of stringent, consistent rules that result in ethereal spaces that almost seem to float. And, true to contradictory form although she is fiercely specific about what she offers a client, she doesn’t quite know how she achieves her results.
I was looking at your work online and your designs are so ethereal and light, it’s almost as if they’re not there. How do you do that?
Um … I don’t know … I think a lot of it is that I grew up with open land and I roamed freely. I grew up in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Cincinnati. I was never a spoilt child by any means: Puritan work ethic and mid-Western values. We [also] had a 5000-acre farm because my father’s side is from farming.
So it’s that sense of space you’re after.
Sense of space … I live, as you can see, with very elegant minimalism. I think volumetrically, I think in space and light and volume. I wanted to be a theater designer, so when you study theater design, you have to think volume and light, so when you open up the curtain, you get the whole picture. Architecture has to be the hero.
What if the architecture is ugly?
I tear everything down and I start from the beginning, take everything down to the bare bones.
We have to ask you about Simon Cowell’s house…
It was Charlie Sheen’s old home before he went to prison. We took down the whole house. This is a perfect example of what I do. I kept the outside, which is a Georgian home in Beverly Hills but I have to see the bare walls. Simon wanted to keep the exterior but he wanted that ‘wow factor’ when you open the door.
So what’s he like to work with—is he as direct as he is on TV?
He’s very direct. He spoiled me rotten. He’s a perfectionist, like me. That’s one of my faults.
He’s funny though.
Yes, very funny.
Did he know what he wanted?
Well, I have two concepts. One is white or beige elegant minimalism—the white Bentley, and then there is the chocolate Bentley. My walls are always white.
You’re very specific, which is so unusual. Most designers say ‘I can do this, and I can do that … I can do all kinds of styles’.
I’m not right for everyone.
Can I just ask you what color white you use?
Yes. Benjamin Moore Super White Eggshell Finish. I use it for everything. It gives a consistent look. I always tell my clients this is a Bentley car – it’s not a fucking BMW. It’s got to be a Bentley. There’s no baseboards, there’s never any trim…
I can see why you get on with Simon Cowell…
You hire me, you have me. You’re only going to meet with one person for the next two years—me. I take on six projects a year. I knock down your house. I do the architecture. I do the construction documents. I’m there the whole time. And I’m expensive. There’s no lying, there’s no cheating.
So how did you get started?
I have no formal degree. I started designing … [when I was growing up] I would knock on people’s doors, literally with my red wagon and say, “Can I come in and organize your pantry?” I would go into Woolworth’s and they knew me, all those grey-haired ladies working there and they would call my mother and say, “Jennifer has re-arranged all the toys and all the t-shirts.”
Are you serious?
Yes. I never had Barbie dolls. I was always drawing. I’m [also] very much into nature. I’m very, very spiritual—not religious God-wise but I believe you have one integrity and that’s why I stand behind my work. I make that very, very clear in the beginning. I’ll give you a blue bedroom if you want a blue bedroom, but everything has to be tailored and at a ninety-degree angle. This is Tom Ford, this Bergdorf’s, and you know the New York mentality gets it, my international clients get it—it’s the Bentley car, the universal themes so that people know how serious I am about the architecture and down to the particular cashmere fabric … the precision.
So would you ever go into a junk store?
I’d rather go to a hardware store.
How did you arrive at this Bentley car metaphor? You seem very attached to it.
Because … Bentley is respected, it’s world-renowned. It’s never altered its reputation in the engineering. Bentley is Old World but it’s still wanted by the New World. Look at a Bentley’s steering wheel or its interior: they’re seamless, it’s like Hermès leather and there’s this beautiful lacquer. That will be the way your home will be built. [The metaphor] gets redundant after a while but to a new client, they know … my boyfriend thinks it’s ridiculous. He thinks I should give you a Bentley at BMW costs because of the economy. And it’s true. I am not as busy as I used to be.
Nobody is. So how do you wrangle with your perfectionism?
It’s really easy. The less you have, the more organized you are. When you have eight wine glasses and five cashmere sweaters and four pairs of jeans, you have more free time in life. And time is the most valuable thing for all of us.
So what do you do with this extra time?
Well, I cherish my alone time. I’m my own best friend. I love having the freedom to get on an airplane and go to Hong Kong if there’s an art show I want to see. I love to travel and my favorite thing to do is learn. I’ve never been to Bloomingdale’s and I’ve lived in New York for eighteen years.
I’d rather be in an art gallery or reading a book. I’m very curious. I’m very intellectual. I’m doing Africa this year. I just got back from a bike trip in South Africa. I’m doing Senegal and Mali in February and then doing the pyramids and the Nile.
So where do you go shopping for clothes, jewelry and so on?
I’m pretty much Jil Sander, Armani or Theory. And I only wear black and silver jewelry. I’m very into simplicity of life. Someone should come into their home and it shouldn’t be complicated. We are too busy. People with kids have ballet classes, tap classes, this class and that class …the housewives that I work with love it that I take control … they don’t have to go to the D&D building … let the gay guys have it, let them run around. I’m very to the point. I’m respected and known in the industry for being no bullshit. I deliver Bentleys. I’m not for everyone.