Photographs by Jeff Hirsch
After being something of a serial taker of college degrees (she has four), interior designer Jenny Kirschner quickly struck out on her own some twelve years ago and has managed to sustain a solid business along with being a mother of two daughters, PTA Leader and keeping up with some art making of her own. The family moved to their tall, airy apartment in Prospect Heights mostly for the school to which they wanted to send their daughters but there is, Jenny says, something about the neighborhood that reminds her of one of her most fondly remembered cities, London, where she made the initial decision to study interior design.
It’s fabulous this place.
Thank you, it’s very bright and airy and we like it a lot.
How did you end up living in Brooklyn if you mostly lived in Manhattan before this?
It was really the school—we were looking for the right one and we ended up with Luria Academy. It’s like a Jewish day school that is Montessori-based, and it’s phenomenal. It’s progressive, pluralistic and has a methodology and model that no other school has, like, anywhere. They’re pioneers.
How religious is it?
They call it open orthodox. We have the entire spectrum. We have mixed marriage couples, where like the father is Jewish, the mother is not Jewish … we have everything. We have families that are not observant at all but they want their children to have this progressive Jewish education and then we have families that are a hundred percent observant. And it’s only five minutes away, just off what I like to call the High Street—I lived in London. I love that Brooklyn has streets similar to London.
Yes, I sometimes feel that some parts of Brooklyn have a London feel. Although your designs are very contemporary when I was looking at your Pinterest feed, I looked at the landscape photos and they were all quite “ye olde worlde” country house and quite nostalgic. I was wondering which sensibility would win out in the end?
I want to mix everything. Even if the space, like this one, is contemporary, everything in here is old; about ninety percent of it is old. It’s vintage, it’s not necessarily antique. I probably would incorporate more antiques … if I had them.
What would win out? That’s the worst kind of question!
Yes, it’s a cruel question with which to begin!
It’s okay—ask away! But I do get very attached and I am very nostalgic.
Do you see yourself as a city person then?
I do not see myself as a city person.
Where do you see yourself?
On the beach. If I had my way, I would probably be living down in Miami. My parents live in Miami part-time. I’ve always gravitated towards the beach and the water. I feel very at peace and very calm there. I want to eat healthier. I want to exercise more. I mean I get plenty of exercise in New York City because I use the subway—that’s my exercise, running up and down the stairs.
But you grew up in St. Louis—what was that like?
It was lovely. We grew up in a little bit of a bubble. I didn’t know anything different. Now, I would be bored out of my mind. I left when I was eighteen to go to college—I couldn’t wait. But I’m very much not a planner … I don’t think about where I’ll be in five years or ten years from now. I let life take me wherever I needed to be, so I went to the University of Michigan, to their arts school and then I just decided to go to FIT. I had started focusing on jewelry design at Michigan and FIT had a really excellent jewelry design program. My mom said, “Why don’t you just go and do that for a year?” Of course, I then wanted to stay in New York.
I’m interested that your mother said, “go and do jewelry design!” Most parents would not be saying that. They would be saying go and study something that you means you can get a job.
My parents were very supportive. They were all for it. I [also] had an amazing art teacher who I really hold responsible for getting me where I am today. She’s very close to me and my parents.
I want to get to the part where your boyfriend broke up with you.
I love that you’ve read all this! You don’t even know the half of it! I started working on my master’s degree at NYU to teach fine arts and I met somebody and we got engaged … and I was 21.
Were your parents as supportive of that as they were of the jewelry design?
They were … look, he was from a very nice family … but [my parents] didn’t love the guy. We were engaged for four or five months and I was getting an earful—typical Jewish Mom. [Eventually] I went to London for a month in the winter and a friend of mine set me up with her brother, who was an expat from New York. That was how I ended up in London. I needed a student visa … so this was going to be my fourth degree. The day I arrived my boyfriend picked me up at the airport and he said, “I don’t think this is going to work.” I was there with my duffel bag and I was like, “What?”
So what happened then?
I stayed in London but I couldn’t stand the program and I wasn’t dating the guy anymore. I had to find something to do and a friend said, “Hey, why don’t you try interior design? You’re an artist already.” [So] I went to the American Intercontinental University for two years. Then I moved back and I worked for an architecture firm.
What did you like about living in London?
Oh my gosh. It’s the perfect balance between city life and suburban life. I lived in Maida Vale; it’s a charming intimate neighborhood but I could just walk twenty minutes into town. London is also cleaner than New York. To this day I would choose London over Manhattan.
And how did you get going with your business?
I worked at the architecture firm but they wanted me to start doing more CAD work and I was like, “Sorry not for me.” I was introduced to another interior designer who was overwhelmed with work and then I just started getting work on my own.
Wow, that was quick!
Yes, I went on my own very quickly.
You said you were not a planner, which I thought was interesting because your house is very organized and also your job involves rather a lot of planning, so have you changed?
No. I am a neat freak. They say that creative people usually work better amongst clutter—I am not that person. When my house is messy, I cannot focus. It makes me nervous. I guess I have an organized chaotic way of living. I don’t make plans really far in advance. I don’t make travel plans far in advance. I do not need to have my calendar scheduled out.
Is it something to do with a wariness of the future?
Hmmm … I think it’s just more living in the moment. I have a self-portrait I did, my Barbie piece. One of the reasons why it is a self-portrait is because it’s this very organized, precise, mapped out [work] but there’s no order to the colors. It’s like organized chaos. Even like my email, I have over a hundred thousand emails in my inbox and my husband says, “How can you live this way?” I don’t want to delete anything because I might need it.
You’re an email hoarder! But doesn’t design involve planning?
It does involve planning but for me, it’s a different type of planning and a lot of it can also be spontaneous. Sometimes I will find one thing, like a piece of marble and I’ll just say I’m using that and I’m designing the whole room around it. Maybe [though] there is so much planning and organizing in my job, that’s why I don’t like doing so much in other areas of my life. I never thought about that! Maybe that’s why I need to feel that sense of freedom, just going with the flow of life.
What sort of art do you make?
All kinds but I do love working in three dimensionality. I’ve been making things since I was five years old. I would get miniature dollhouse things and make earrings out of them and sell them to my friends. I started sewing when I was ten years old and I would make my own clothing.
Did you have a set of concerns when it came to making art, something you wanted to say?
Always, at different times. More conceptual type of work started when I was working on my master’s degree. We had to do a completely open-ended studio project on obsession and we could do anything we wanted. I chose chocolate and I took a bath in forty gallons of chocolate syrup. It was a massive production! [And] I’m not a strong feminist but I’m a feminist and I was really angry, maybe burnt out by going on dates with guys who were objectifying me … the cute skinny girl and they weren’t calling me! So for another studio project, I had t-shirts made and it just had this bald statement on it … I think it said something like, “I want to fuck you but I don’t love you.” I wish I could remember the exact words.
Oh I’m shocked! You don’t seem like someone who would make a thing like that!
I have one t-shirt in storage. I saved it!
When your daughters are teenagers, you’ll have to take it out.
You know what, they should know!