Interior Designer Spotlight with Corey Damen Jenkins
Corey Damen Jenkins & Associates, LLC., Birmingham, MI
Since starting his interior design firm in 2009, Corey Damen Jenkins has been a rising star in the industry. Corey has already been featured in Architectural Digest, The Wall Street Journal, Traditional Home, House Beautiful, Dwell, our own designer rug blog, and more. Corey was voted the winner of HGTV’s popular hit series Showhouse Showdown, and in 2012 he won “Designer Of The Year” in the Interiors category by FGI-Detroit. Corey has a rich interior design perspective with a unique ability to make deep connections with his clients and exceed their expectations.
Join me as Corey shares with us current trends he avoids, how he incorporates rugs into his designs, his secrets to exceeding his client’s expectations, and much more…
What Current Trends Are You Trying to Avoid?
“I’m trying to avoid the trend of everything having to match. Some say if we have light fixtures that have chrome frames on them, then all the hardware in the room has to be chrome too. I really believe in mixing and matching everything—like jewelry. If this is gold here and silver over there, I’m good with that as long as it works well. I’m also trying to avoid the beige-greige-gray syndrome. I’m so over it. I’m not against gray, but I’m just not trying to do that Restoration Hardware look—the whole driftwood, washed-out aesthetic. It has completely saturated the market to a point where I think it has really overstayed its welcome. It was great in 2007, but it’s 2016 now—it’s done.”
When Do You Incorporate Designer Rugs Into Your Interiors?
“I incorporate my rugs last. I don’t typically build from the rug. I know a lot of great designers who build their rooms off of the rug, but I do not. I think it is because I use a lot of crazy patterns elsewhere. If I have a chair that has an amazing fabric on it, I may not want a rug that will compete with it. I’d rather let the rug fill in the blanks. I build off the fabrics and furniture. The first thing people see is what’s at eye level. The floor is really the last thing they look at unless it’s a loud pattern. The fabrics, furniture, wall treatments, and lighting are my Oscar-winning lead actors and actresses, and the rug becomes my supporting actor. They both win.”
What’s the Secret to Exceeding Your Client’s Expectations?
“As they always say—under promise and over deliver. That’s true to an extent but I also think it’s really important to manage your client’s expectations. Sometimes interior designers put their clients up on a platform that is not realistic. I tell my clients at the beginning that it’s all great right now because we are starting this wonderful project but there will be times when you’re going to get frustrated with me. They might wonder how these things are going to come together, or is it going to turn out right? They might have doubts about what I’m requesting them to think about and that’s perfectly fine. It’s a natural part of the process. I tell my clients that this experience is like going on a trip and I’m driving. We can’t both drive at the same time. They can be the GPS and can tell me when to turn right, left, backup, or stop, but if they grab the wheel we’re going to get into a car accident. You have to have that understanding of who’s doing what and what everyone’s role is.”
Do You Believe in Transparency with Your Clients?
“Absolutely! I try to tell my clients exactly how much the project will cost. I’ve had some clients initially resist telling me what their budgets are and I tell that I’m not out to get their money. It’s my job to help them spend their money wisely. And by doing that, they will save money. If they don’t like something I’m pitching, they need to tell me. I want them to say, ‘Corey, this is ugly!’ My feelings will not be hurt—I have ice water in my veins. I’m all about being honest and transparent across the board—even when it’s hard.”
Why Do You Try to Get Your Clients Out of Their Comfort Zones?
“I try to find out what things they like and dislike, so I know what their limits are. For example, if a client really loves gray—maybe we don’t paint the walls yellow. But maybe we do yellow pillows on the sofa. You have to graduate people to certain levels of design over time. It can’t be a culture shock. It’s always a matter of questions. ‘What if I did this, or that?’ It’s never, ‘We’re going to do this—or else.’ I’m not one of those diva designers. I give them options. One option might be 10% out of their comfort zone, another might be 50%, and another could be 100%. They can decide how far they want to go, so it’s not just me pushing them.”
Did You Actually Go Door-to-Door Looking for Work?
“Yes! I literally went door-to-door. You have to remember, this was back in 2009 when the economy was really bad. Being in Michigan we are driven by the automotive industry—we got hit first and hardest. I live in Oakland County, which is one of the wealthiest counties in America. But at that time, people weren’t trying to show off their wealth. It was considered bad taste. As a result, a lot of interior designers were out of work, and here I am trying to launch my design firm. Going door-to-door was the best way to go since they didn’t know who I was. So I had to go to them. It was a matter of canvasing the area and seeing what projects were out there. You’d be surprised how many people don’t consider hiring an interior designer. So I knew there was opportunity for me. It was an eye-opening experience and I learned a lot.”
Who Named You The Design Doctor?
“My clients named me The Design Doctor. Every project is different and I prescribe different treatments. Sometimes it’s just a checkup and sometimes it’s major surgery. No two houses are the same. No two clients are the same. Clients come to me with their ailing homes and they need help. They begin to consider me their friend, confidant, financial adviser, and sometimes even their babysitter! I become part of their lives, and I am proud to have that open door policy with my clients.”
Is Your Upcoming TV Show Going to Be Called The Design Doctor?
“You’ll have to wait and see! (Laughs) You never know.”
What Is It Like to Do Interior Design in Oakland County?
“I worked for a construction design company in New York in the 90’s. One of the big differences is the amount of square footage you have to work with. In New York, everything goes up vertically. You might have a studio apartment, condo, or loft. In Oakland County we are building 15,000 square foot houses. I would take on eight to twelve projects a year in New York but in Oakland County two to three projects yearly keeps my staff pretty busy. People here are a little more conservative. They like their beiges, grays, and whites but they also appreciate color. Some of my clients move here from other parts of the world and they bring with them that fashion-forward sense, which fits with me well.”
Did You Design This Living Room Twice?
“That was my very first project when I launched my firm. You can say it was my first music single and then we did a remix. We freshened it up. The husband and wife were big fans of the Cape Cod/Hamptons lifestyle. We’ve been blessed with very appreciative clientele. We’ll do a project and then we’ll be invited back years later to freshen it up.”
Were You Able to Release Your First Line of Furniture in April?
“Yes, the furniture collection is out and I’m really excited about it. We had a launch party with Traditional Home and had over 450 people in attendance. It’s selling, which is always a good thing! We are going to be rolling it out in a big way this month. We have a national ad coming out in the Traditional Homes July/August issue. Our website just had a major revamp, and we are doing a marketing collaboration with LeatherCraft, who’s selling the collection. The furniture is very sexy, modern, and provocative.”
If You Could Collaborate with Any Interior Designer—Who Would It Be?
“I would collaborate with Miles Redd. He’s an amazing designer based out of New York. I really respect him and his unapologetic approach to color and pattern. He breaks the rules in a judicious way. Jamie Drake is my design idol. Alexa Hampton—she’s classic and can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.”
Where Do You Do Your Sourcing?
“I use the Michigan Design Center as one of my primary sources. The show rooms there are great. I also visit other design centers. I love mom and pop shops—you never know what you’ll find. I really have a huge appreciation for antique stores. I don’t want everything to be shiny and brand new. There’s something to be said for cultured pieces that might have a patina or edge to them. I’ll go online to websites like 1stdibs and purchase a lot of antiques and art. The beauty of what I do is searching all over the world to obtain that special look for my projects.”
For more on Corey Damen Jenkins, visit http://www.coreydamenjenkins.com.