Corey Damen Jenkins’s unique style sees him “remixing” classic interior design approaches and elements to create rooms that make a statement.
T here is a project cooking in Corey Damen Jenkins’s fertile imagination, which the New York-based, Detroit-born interior designer thinks could eclipse anything he has done before. He calls the palette “crazy”: “It’s teal, raspberry, lemon yellow – like, lemon yellow – blush pink and olive green. It’s like a salad,” he laughs. It might even, he says, “put my Kips Bay room to shame.”
The Kips Bay project represents the kind of high-octane eclecticism for which Jenkins is now widely celebrated, and that pulses on every page of his recently published first book, Design Remix: A New Spin on Traditional Rooms.
It saw him transform a gentleman’s study into a “command centre for today’s chic mistress of the universe”, as part of the 2019 Kips Bay Decorator Show House exhibition (arguably the most prestigious gig bestowed on any aspiring US interior designer). Its palette was a confection of emerald green, pale pink and persimmon, inspired by a recent Valentino catwalk show, and it included French Empire mahogany furniture and a hand-painted de Gournay wallcovering, with a ceiling of Venetian plaster that had been lacquered and torched to a fine, reflective shimmer.
Over Design Remix’s 240 sumptuous pages, you will find evidence of Jenkins’s core inspirations for such projects: high fashion, flea markets, flowers and film. The profusion of jewel-toned colors, the layerings of pattern and lush materials pronounce him firmly in the more-is-more camp. But out of this potential textural pile-up he creates crisp, elegant, characterful and personable spaces. There is clearly rigor in his methodology. “I look at designing a room like casting a movie,” he says. “I always cast a lead actor and lead actress first. In other words, commit to one or two key choices.”
This is just one of many memorable quotes; a knack that has helped establish him as a media favorite (he’s already made it into the AD100 and Elle Décor’s A-list). But it is his warmth, wit and obvious passion for what he does that comes across the most when you meet him – even virtually, by Zoom.
That warmth also permeates the book, whose tone is consistently encouraging; little gems of design advice pepper every page and illuminate every caption. That was a conscious choice, he says. “I didn’t want the book to come across as ostentatious or condescending. That was very important to me. The type of work that I do can be intimidating because we obviously serve high-net-worth individuals. And yet so many people are not silver-spoon children, they are self-made successes. Affluent, yes, but down to earth and humble. I wanted to make sure the book reflected them because they were opening their homes to us.”
“I look at designing a room like casting a movie – I always cast a lead actor and actress first. In other words, commit to one or two key choices”
Inclusivity and even sustainability are woven into his approach. With its foundations in traditional forms and what he calls “good bones”, there is a place for heirlooms and antiques: when refreshed with contemporary colors and materials, they become a key part of a room’s narrative. After all, he says: “This is a baby we’re creating, and it needs to look like you because you’re the parents – it doesn’t need to look like me.”
An openness to drawing out and expressing his clients’ personality and tastes in a scheme may stem from his mother’s recognition of his own childhood flair for design. “She was – and is – so chic,” he says. “She was often renovating the house, redecorating, moving furniture around. I vividly remember her with swatches of wall-coverings and fabrics. She would ask my opinion. Of all her three sons, I had the most interest in visual things. She would frame my artwork from grade school, and that elevates a child’s mindset.” He laughs. “It made me the monster I am today.”
His top tips for elegant eclecticism? “It’s all about taking what is classic as far as the design and structure is concerned and making a statement, a splash with the execution.” As with design, so it is with music, he says: the musical legacy of Detroit, the birthplace of Motown, is referenced in his book’s title. He adds: “The remix is sometimes better than the original – but if you don’t have the original, you won’t have the remix.”