Design Q&A with Jennifer Dyer

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As inspiration for her window for this year's Legends of La Cienega event, which centers around the theme 'novel interiors', interior designer Jennifer Dyer chose Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. As Dyer explains, "Maya Angelou spent many years in Stamps, Arkansas growing up and assisting at her grandmother's general store. It provided the refuge, comfort and consistency that is important in a child's life."

Jeneration Interiors"Although the book doesn't take place during the Civil Rights Movement, Maya experienced no absence of discrimination and inequality growing up in the South of the 30s and 40s. At one point, she is denied care for an infected toothache by a Caucasian doctor simply because she is African-American. Maya quickly realized that the key to her success was education; therefore, reading books and attending school play an important role in her adolescence. My installation, in the window at Gina Berschneider, attempts to bring her past to life: first, with the literal recreation of her grandmother's general store and, next, with a simulated, fantasy classroom. The bird cage's doors are intentionally left open to represent the African-American community's fight and eventual victory against oppression. It was my request that only black and white be used in the display... the point being that no one should see color."

Dyer's interest in design was nurtured during a four year stay in Europe, during which time she traveled to over 19 countries. When she returned to the States, she honed her talent working for one of Miami's top design firms. A combination of the real estate boom and the company's high profile opened up the opportunity for her to work on a wide variety of high-end residential and hospitality projects throughout Latin America, Europe, and the United States. The firm also operated a high end retail showroom, and Jennifer became one of its three buyers, traveling to trade shows in New York, Dallas, Paris, and Milan. Though the widespread appreciation for vintage items had yet to take off, Dyer took advantage of Miami's vast resources, refurbishing pieces and selling them to clients. It wasn't long before she began taking on her own projects. A move to Los Angeles in 2005 coincided with the launch of her own design studio, Jeneration Interiors. Her work has been featured in many publications including LUXE Home + Design, Lonny, Angeleno Interiors, and Los Angeles Magazine, as well as on the cover of California Home & Design.

What inspired you to choose the novel/book you have selected for this year’s LCDQ Legends of La Cienega event?
Maya Angelou is a legend in her own right. She is a celebrated poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist. In 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. As an interior designer, I don't get to make much of a difference to better the world... it's not like I'm a peace corp volunteer! I felt like this opportunity with Legends 2014 was a platform to express the plight of a community and bring attention to a struggle that still exists in our society. I didn't want to choose a subject based on aesthetic. I wanted to choose something that was meaningful and thought provoking. To me, that's better than just looking at a pretty vignette.

What novel to movie adaptation got the production design/set design right? Please give an example of one that got it wrong, too!
There are so many that got it right: Water For Elephants, Eat, Pray, Love, and all the Harry Potter adaptations. However, I was so disappointed in The Kite Runner. To this day it's one of my favorite books. Khaled Hosseini does an outstanding job describing the conditions to which the character is subject. Unfortunately, the movie skipped so many important aspects of the book, and it doesn't allow you to feel the same emotion that the book evokes.

Designers love to feature fashion, art and design books in their finished rooms. What are some of the best hardcover novels to display?
I can't name any specific novels, but I can say that most classic novels have been rebound with antique covers. That's what is most important, because that is what you see. Antique books or books that look antique are always a nice accessory to display on shelves or stack to use as a base for a picture frame.

Everyone loves a great deal. Tell us a quick story about the best bargain you’ve ever found at a vintage store or flea market.
I used to live in Miami in 2000-2001 BEFORE the mass popularity of the vintage furniture stores. I found endless credenzas from the 1940's, artwork, mirrors, tables... very unique pieces and many for less than $500. Most recently, I've been prying myself out of bed at 4am to venture to the, once a month, Long Beach Flea Market. You have to get there when sellers are setting up and be quick and sure about your selections. If you second guess yourself, items you like will be gone when you return to buy them. I found an amazing vintage, blue ombre lamp for $25 and a pair of Baker dining chairs with caned seats for $65. Both of which I reconditioned and sold for much more!

Excluding fresh flowers in abundance, what is your favorite styling trick?
Art doesn't have to be from a gallery or well-known artist to make an impact. I love to display prints randomly in spaces. Often, if the client is on a restrictive budget, I will take images out of one of their art/coffee table books, place them in simple black frames, and display them in an area. Recently, I used the client's old blueprints from their home, built in 1945. They were bright blue prints with white architectural renderings. They were dramatic and became personally significant to the client in her new space.

Sometimes even the clients with the biggest budgets fall in love with an affordable item from a popular catalog or online store - what is one of your best affordable finds?
I am constantly shopping at catalog and online stores. No matter how long I am in the design business, I will never know EVERY product available. Shopping online allows me to see many manufacturers at once and educate myself to new lines that I may have not known about. The key to shopping online is knowing what to buy and how to put it together with all the other, higher-end, aspects of the room. For me to name just one would be difficult because I find so many.

To find out more about Jennifer and see some of her designs, visit the website of her firm, Jeneration Interiors.

(Image credits: Jennifer Dyer)