The Art And Soul Of A Home

While the clean lines of the midcentury modern furniture fall in step with the home’s geometry, the whites in the bench, chandelier and lampshade align with the afternoon sunlight on the textured rug.

INTERIOR DESIGN
WRJ Design
wrjdesign.com

Story By
Zachary Barnett

Photos By
Audrey Hall

This quote resonated with me as I stood with Rush Jenkins, CEO and principal designer for WRJ Design, in the entranceway of this award-winning Jackson Hole home he designed recently. He pointed out the half-seen, half-hidden elements of the architect’s lines and angles, and noted how the earth tones in the Elizabeth Eakins floor covering subtly called out the textures and pitch of the reclaimed timber.

For lines, there was the simple geometry of Mountain Hardware’s chandelier echoing the trim in the glass doors beyond, and the crisp contours of the midcentury furniture balanced by the streamlined, upholstered bench. And there hung one of the owner’s paintings capturing all of these elements combined.

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.
– Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

“One of the lessons I learned at Sotheby’s,” Jenkins recounted, “is that paintings always have a way of finding their place.”

We had not yet moved beyond the entranceway, and already there was enough to appreciate about the art of Rush Jenkins. He was, indeed, thoughtful, with a sound eye for the narrative of the home as the owners and architects had meant it, which is when the word “intrigue” first entered our conversation.

A Bradford Stewart painting and custom wool-and-silk rug, along with Edward Wormley sofas, accentuate the power of light, balancing the imposing steel, stone and timber.

JLF Architects/JLF Design Build had used steel, stone and timber to layer this house high up on a vista-rich butte between Jackson and Wilson. They had done so in a way that the rooms appear to have been built sequentially, as if they were the chapters of a fantastic novel about the life of a family, unfolding gradually and surprising at every turn.

It occurred to me that not only is the designing of a home very much like the telling of a story, but that in every design—every creation—is revealed the thread of the designer.

A WRJ-designed breakfast table, Holly Hunt glass pendants and Lindsey Adelman chandelier play off the glass-fronted white cabinets.

AN ARTIST FINDING HIS PLACE

Raised on an Idaho farm with views of the Tetons, Jenkins studied landscape architecture in California and then moved abroad for studies in the Fine and Decorative Works of Art graduate courses at Sotheby’s London. Eventually, he became the first-ever director of design at Sotheby’s New York, before “returning home” to Jackson Hole with his partner, Klaus Baer, to found WRJ Design.

Jenkins tells stories, good ones about how his styling of a collection for Cher led to his designing the exhibition for Nancy Reagan at the Reagan Library; of interviewing with the former first lady’s board members, including Merv Griffin and the advisor to Prince Charles. These stories become one story of an artist with many talents and interests, woven from a deeply curious, creative mind and drawn from the well of experiences and terrain.

Nature is a major source of inspiration to Jenkins. “The natural surroundings and authenticity of where I grew up had a great impact on my desire to return to the West,” he says. “Open spaces, rugged terrain, majestic mountains feed my soul.”

The master bedroom takes on a cabin-in-the-woods feel, thanks to the custom, textured Elizabeth Eakins rug, linen drapes and rising butte beyond, which becomes, in the mind’s eye, another painting.

Open spaces, rugged terrain, majestic mountains feed my soul.
– Rush jenkins

WRJ chose unadorned Ochre light pendants to complement the owner’s option of a windows-on-the-world view in place of traditional mirrors.

In fact, WRJ created its own word for this relationship with nature—a very telling, brilliant word—and used it as the title of its statement publication:

INTERROIR

1. The combination of environmental elements—soil, land, sky, climate, light, terrain, texture, fibers, altitude, palette—that imbues a specific object, material or space with distinctive character
2. The imprint of nature upon interior design
3. The signature approach of WRJ Design

Drawing the outside in

That afternoon, interroir is what I saw: line and form and color in harmony with nature. Paul Bertelli, design principal at JLF, had conspired with the owners to follow the lines of the landscape and defer to nature. It made sense that Jenkins would identify with this philosophy.

“The philosophy and work of JLF is something that resonates deeply with me,” he says. “We have a similar approach to understanding context and place and using natural materials in the design of our clients’ homes. Their homes have a deep authenticity and soul that feel like they’ve enveloped the lives of many generations.”

And here was the brilliance of Jenkins. As we walked the rooms, I saw again and again the wisdom of his choices. Instead of out-muscling the heaviness of the stone, steel and timber with big shapes and colors, he saw the need for light, cream tones and simplicity of pattern. With a plein air painter’s eye for the distant, muted colors of the far-off mountain ranges and horizon, he sought softness and clean, soothing lines. In the white linen drapes that embraced the sunlight in every room, and in the light blues and grays of the floor coverings that drew from the clouds and sky, his intentions were clear: Allow the mind’s eye to rest. Establish harmony. Create a sanctuary.

WHEN THE JOURNEY BECOMES A HOME

In the end, by Jenkins recognizing the lines and palette of the journey already established, the shared beliefs about what this home could be were interwoven with the memories and moments of what it did become.

It began with the owner’s love of midcentury furniture and a dream of building a home in the mountains of Wyoming. It continued with Bertelli wandering the butte with fellow architect Ashley Sullivan and landscape architect Jim Verdone one summer day, seeking a site for the home and happening upon a little meadow of wildflowers. Those flowers became the owner’s sanctuary and the anchor for the whole project.

And then there was Jenkins’ meeting with the owner in New York City. Though he was not originally slated to join this journey, Bertelli and Sullivan thought the owner should meet him.

Says Bertelli, “The thing about Rush is, every time we work with him, the project turns out great. He has an innate ability to see what we’re trying to accomplish. He gets it. I really think of him as a part of the team.”