photographs by Melanie Acevedo produced by kim ficaro text by LAUREN SANDLER
After 18 years honing her vision of what it means to be an American classic, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons was ready to work her magic at home. Behold the power of unexpected contrasts: luxe meets humble, formal meets playful—adding up to a whole new (and incredibly livable) definition of elegance.
An old-school George Sherlock sofa gets updated with vivid yellow (key to J.Crew’s fall collection), kicking up a turn-of-the-century parlor.
The black candles in the chandelier are real, and yes, they’ve been known to drip on dinner guests.
Lyons likes how the thick poured-concrete countertops absorb wine stains, giving the kitchen a lived-in quality.
A threadbare Oriental rug next to the bed captures the play of humble and haute.
Lyons obsessively sprayed the fixtures with ocean water, so the brass would appear as seasoned as the herringbone floor.
Old signs and letter blocks spell out Beckett’s name above the mantel.
A black Calder-esque mobile and vintage dresser lend grown-up panache to a spunky nursery.
“Everything is about context —about what it sits next to.”
The difficulties of updating time-honored silhouettes aren’t limited to Lyons’ line of work; her brownstone’s grand Victorian bones posed similar challenges. The answer in her collections and at home: juxtaposition as reinvention. In the dining room, an old French farm table is paired with geometric chrome Bertoia chairs and a chandelier custom-made from cracked and mismatched crystals. The cool gray of the walls—carried over the moldings, instead of predictable white trim—contrasts with the dark floorboards. In the kitchen, new stove ducts were left exposed to spare the tin ceiling (“It would have been a sin to cover it!” Lyons explains); for the floor, the couple salvaged wood from old barns and oversaw the placement of each irregular plank to best highlight its qualities. “I prefer things that naturally look better with age, as opposed to those that feel pristine and perfect,” she says.
“I love taking simple materials and finding the beauty in them—letting things be what they are.”
Charcoal walls—not the bathtub that’s in the bedroom—are what surprise visitors the most. “There’s a certain drama in something being unexpected,” says Lyons, “and an air of formality because it’s dark. But there’s also an ease you don’t usually find.” Why? It’s chalkboard paint. Likewise, feed sacks tacked to the headboard and rumpled, always white linens bring a casual rusticity to the majesty of the marble fireplace and crown molding. As for that tub: Its glossy, custom-painted surface plays against the hand-troweled wall and new but warping chestnut floor, providing the kind of contrasting textures that are a trademark of Lyons’ fashion sense and husband Vincent Mazeau’s artwork.
“Everything is so predictable! We don’t need to be so predictable. Instead, be inspired by something unique.”
Lyons—who was one month shy of giving birth when she moved in—dislikes traditional baby rooms, but still wanted a space where her child’s imagination and burgeoning aesthetics could run wild (long live black chalkboard paint!). “We were trying to establish a way for design to be playful and engaging, without being exclusionary,” says Lyons, applying even to the nursery her characteristic philosophy of democratizing sophistication. To figure out what would be both whimsical to a child and interesting to an adult, she and Mazeau tried to picture little Beckett lying in his crib. What would he see? Bold stripes overhead. Underfoot, a cozy sheepskin atop cowhide. “Pale blues and pinks can seem so uncreative,” she says. “There’s something crisp and fresh about yellow and white and a charcoal wall that is begging to be drawn on.”
a proper jacket
and worn denim.
the rise and fall (and rise) of j.crew
Over the past 25 years, the all-American brand has gone from quintessentially preppy to casually simple to—thanks, Jenna!—a high-style mix that borrows from the best of both worlds.
1980s the dawn of preppy chic
The first catalog hits mailboxes in ’83; cofounder Emily Woods chooses the word crew to nod to the upper-crust sport, adding “J” just because she thinks it sounds good. The name may be made up, but the striped tees, crisp shorts and pert ruffled blouses hit a very genuine note with clean-cut coeds and millions of others who want to look the part.
1990s whEN BASIC GETS BLAH
The company’s focus on fresh-scrubbed pieces pays off for early-’90s fans. But as the years pile up, all those everyday staples begin to seem a little too familiar. Craving variety, former devotees abandon ship in search of the next big thing, and the company struggles.
2000s JENNA SAVES THE DAY
Creative director Lyons (who had worked her way up from assistant designer) upgrades the brand’s trademark tees, knits and denim with sophisticated-but-still-comfy silhouettes and higher-quality fabrics. She also introduces retro-glam elements, like peep-toe pumps with patent bows. It’s official: Style snobs are in love (along with just about everyone else).
At home, Lyons has the great luxury of allowing her extensive wardrobe a room of its own.