Jean Stoffer believes every client has a different story and needs, and every house has different possibilities. We sat down to hear her story and how Jean’s hospitality doesn’t stop in her home, it truly extends into her practice.
Q&A With Jean Stoffer
Casaza: How did you get your start?
Jean Stoffer: I have a business degree and went to work as the admin person for an interior designer when I was newly out of college. I was absolutely fascinated by what she did, so in my spare time she would let me follow her around and allow me to be her apprentice. She suggested that I learn how to draft so I went to the junior college and a few years later I started my own design business. One of my mother’s friends called because her five kids were finally out of the house and it was time to fix up the house again. That became my niche – working for women who became empty nesters and wanted to refurbish the house.
I met some amazing people but I realized I gravitated towards more linear projects that required math. I started specializing in kitchens in the early ‘90’s, researching deeply into British cabinetry and working with the owner of an Amish cabinet shop. He’s done all my work for 25 years.
I’ve won several awards and had kitchens published in magazines, but it wasn’t until about two years ago when my daughter, Grace, said, “Your clients need help beyond the kitchen.” They had these fabulous kitchens but were doing the rest of the homes themselves, and it looked out of place. I didn’t have the bandwidth but she was really interested, so she left her teaching job to help me. Within days, we got two calls for whole-house, full service design projects. With Grace by my side we took both projects – each took about a year. When they were done and we put them online, people went crazy. People have been calling us from all over the country ever since.
C: How would you describe your style?
JS: A mixture of classic and modern that’s not afraid of color. I lived in the Chicago area up until recently, and it’s known for its amazing architecture. I got to work in so many homes where the detail, proportion, scale, and materials in the original house were gorgeous and well-done. I learned to respect that, identify it and play off it so the house felt cohesive to that piece of architecture but also so “today.”
C: Where do you get new ideas and inspiration?
JS: We troll international Pinterest all the time. We draw heavily from Europe, particularly British designs. Our aesthetic is about amazing architecture with a spin, whether it’s color or light fixtures or furnishings, that are fun and interesting.
C: Favorite room in the house?
JS: The kitchen for sure. It’s where everyone congregates because our way of life wraps itself around food and food means, “Come in, I’m taking care of you. I’m taking care of your needs and your comfort.” It’s homey. A kitchen means hospitality and family, but it also has to function. Things have to make sense where they are – how many inches from place to place, how doors swing, incorporating passing zones and surfaces used in specific places. It has to function at such a high level, so people who work in our kitchens really enhance the experience of cooking and living.
C: Recent project that inspired you?
JS: One of the first projects Grace and I worked on together was the Lakeside home. We had such an amazing couple as clients. She had one of the most beautiful Pinterest boards and a great eye, but she didn’t know how to put it together, what elements were happening, or even what made it beautiful. She needed our help to bring it to life. The first thing we honed in on was the bright kitchen cabinet color and everything was spun around that. Up until the Lakeside project, it was unusual for us to do something big and bold because usually we like people and art to carry the design, but that color was my favorite thing in the house.
C: Favorite texture/color/pattern?
JS: I do have an affinity for blue – it doesn’t matter which shade, I love it. If someone is like-minded and loves color, they want us to go there, like the Lakeside project. We’re also working on a design right now where we’re focusing on this deep green cabinetry because that’s her thing, and her finishes will cascade off that color.
Other people won’t commit to color with permanent fixtures but allow color to come in with art, pillows and plants.
C: What is “good design” to you?
JS: I always think it’s better to pull everything back a little bit. Don’t keep adding more. Instead, see what can be taken out, because that’s when something becomes timeless. Don’t add something that’s going to be specific to a timeframe – keep it very restrained with correct proportions.
C: Pack your bag! You’re moving into a famous home. Whose is it?
JS: I don’t have an answer for you… Because I picture myself loving a London flat with 10-foot ceilings and tall windows and gorgeous moldings, but I don’t know who that person is!
C: What’s your rule when entertaining?
JS: I think there’s a difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining is about, “Look at me; look at my beautiful table; look at my beautiful food; think well of me.” Hospitality is about the guest — “Let me hear from you; tell me about yourself. Let’s do life together.” I like to invite guests to become part of my life, and I’ll become part of theirs too. I always involve guests because when people feel like they can help and they’re part of what’s going on, they feel at home versus being served.
C: Best advice for DIYers?
JS: I’m blown away by people who are willing to try projects that are substantial. My best advice to DIYers who are doing it is to be cost effective: Search for secondhand things on Facebook Marketplace and be creative. You might not get 100-square-feet of tile, but if you can get 50 of this and 50 of that, you can create a really cool pattern. My best advice to DIYers who do it for the thrill of building something yourself: Go for it.
C: Best advice for those hiring a pro?
JS: Research the person before you hire them, and make sure you have a personal connection. They have to get you and care about you. They have to recognize that it’s your home. Then, when you’ve done that, trust them. Collaboration is awesome but trusting them will result in a fabulous project, otherwise the designer just becomes an order taker.
C: What is one design trend are you most excited about this season?
JS: The use of metal, particularly in cabinetry, is very interesting to me. We’ve been putting metal caps on our cabinetry feet or doing a decorative wire grill panel in the cabinet door, but I’m starting to see metal integrated into the cabinetry and it is so interesting.
C: How do you take your coffee?
JS: There used to be drip coffee and I hated it, so I never had coffee. With the advent of Starbucks, we started getting drinks and I was like, “This is good!” Since then we’ve upgraded and my husband bought a nice coffee machine, my kids roast their own beans – it’s serious business. I’ve been married for almost 36 years, and for years now, every morning, my husband brings me a latte in bed. He’s gotten so good at it, he even does latte art. Every day, that’s how I wake up.