Pare it down and shake it up—an interview with interior designer, socialite and mother Jade O’Connor.
By Johi Kokjohn-Wagner
Photos by Lindsay Cox
Changes within your life, no matter the type, can often be the perfect catalyst for freshening up the design of your home. Athens, Georgia, interior designer Jade O’Connor recently took advantage of an opportunity for a design transformation when she encountered unfamiliar territory in her personal life, which included downsizing from a 4,000-square-foot home to one with only 2,000 square feet. This new adventure for personal growth spurred Jade to also recognized a chance to breathe some new ideas into her home and business. She shares some of her design ideas, life philosophies and inspiration below.
Q: You have recently made a physical move in your personal home, as well as restructuring your business. Tell us about this experience.
A: I just moved into a new house into a new neighborhood with my three little girls, and we have never been happier. We were all ready for a new beginning. I had the walls painted China White by Ben Moore and only moved our favorite pieces. I’m simplifying my life—taking a step back and owning less. Now everywhere I look in my new home, I see a “found” piece, things that bring me joy. Life is too short to live in ugly or with things you just don’t need.
Q: What fresh, new design ideas did you focus on incorporating into your personal space?
A: I’ve never painted all my walls white, but it’s such a clean slate. As a designer who embraces color, this is a big change for me. But since I have downsized into something much smaller, it works. My patterned pieces pop, and my white walls create a blank canvas for pieces I will add in over time through my travels and adventures. The house is not new, so a fresh coat of white paint makes it look sharp.
Q: What is the overall feel you wanted to achieve and what inspired that vision?
A: Happy. Clean. Modern. Simple with a touch of ‘Where did that come from?’ Nothing in my house goes together. It’s just a great big mix of my favorite rug paired with my polka-dotted settee mixed with my reclaimed wood coffee table anchored by my oyster shell mirror. Life right now is busy and fun and outrageously good. I wanted this new place to feel open and airy so I didn’t fill it with furniture.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in your relocation and designing of your new space?
A: Letting go was my biggest challenge, with the move and in my own life. Having lived all over the world, I had things that had so many stories attached to them. And I loved my house. Putting it on the market was hard, but change is a good thing. And after I made the decision, I’ve never looked back nor have I ever been this happy.
Q: How did you overcome the challenge?
A: I’m still working on it. This sounds so cheesy but through yoga, meditation, and really giving myself a good talking to, I let go of the house and I looked forward into the future. I wanted to move, but at the same time I was holding on to a lot of my past. A new house means new memories and a new dedication to the simple living lifestyle. I’ve done this with the children as well. Each girl was allowed to keep their favorite toys and books only. It’s amazing how quickly they narrowed down their selections and packed up their bags.
Q: What has been the most exciting or inspiring part of the opportunity to redesign your personal living space?
A: My taste has changed. I’m owning my own style more and more. And I’ve realized I’m pretty fearless. My classic taste is still there but now more than ever I know what I really want and what I like. My style is to juxtapose everything. I like velvet mixed with raw linen. I wear sequined joggers with a baseball tee and booties. High with low. Formal with casual. It keeps it interesting and unusual. I have no interest in trying to be like anyone else or have a home that doesn’t read true to who I am. If I like it, that’s what matters.
Q: How does your new space reflect the “new” you?
A: This house embodies the new me. Our new house is pretty straightforward. There’s nothing fussy about it. It’s also not dramatic or statement making. It’s just me. It’s my life being lived in its walls every day. It’s beautiful in this honest way and it makes me so happy.
Q: What architect/artist/location is your biggest inspiration?
A: I started my design business in Budapest and am so influenced by my travels. I love history and bringing history into a home. I’m big on heritage. I love the art deco pieces I bought in Hungary and the Russian paintings I bought outside of Moscow. I try to bring something old and worldly into each space I create. I love Athens because it’s such a fun artistic town. For one of my current projects, I’m having a local artist curate a collection of her paintings and pieces by other local up-and-coming artists to create a gallery of art for my client. And while I live in Athens, I do design work all over. I just completed a nursery in Chicago and finished a house in Virginia so working in other markets always inspires me. I gather little nuggets from each place.
Q: Who in your personal life has influenced your design talents and how?
A: I come from a long line of tastemakers. My mother, a former designer, is my biggest design influence. She has great vision and an impeccable eye for quality. My good friends also influence me with their own sense of style. Jennifer Little, owner of The Heyday store in Colorado is my muse. She just knows herself and what works for her. And through watching her journey into building a lifestyle store around it, I’ve gotten more in touch with my style.
Q: When you thought about the function of your new home, what were your priorities?
A: For the living room, I focused on proper seating. I wanted as much seating as possible and a warm, layered look that would make my family and friends stay awhile. I entertain a lot and hosting people is my favorite pastime. In the dining room, I mixed my traditional round table with modern chairs and an oversized French chandelier. We eat at our new dining room every night.
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for colors, patterns and textures?
A: All over. Movies, books, blogs, other designers. I look at every new space I enter in my day to day life and think, “Do I love this?” and if the answers yes, I think about how I can use this in the spaces I’m creating.
Q: What can people learn about you simply by spending time in your home?
A: I’m an art lover, a wine drinker, an espresso-making social butterfly. I have friends over often and my door is always open (and something is usually on the stove). I love hosting. Our house is full of personality from the furnishings to the three girls that fill it with laughter. My crew and I laugh a lot. We have a lot of dance parties in the kitchen and I always have the music on. My bedroom is a totally different space though from the rest of the house. I sleep in a tall rice-carved four-poster bed using that as the starting point, I created an oasis for myself. I bought expensive new bedding and invested in custom drapes with black out lining so I can really rest my head. My nightstand is covered in books I never finish and magazines I’ve ripped pages out. I use a mini desk to house my home office, and it’s uber organized at all times.
Q: Is there a fun project in the near future?
A: I have so many insanely cool clients right now and I love all my projects. I’m renovating an historic home on the main drag in Athens which is uber cool. I’m transforming the interior into something truly unique. You won’t see anything like it. We are going BIG. It will be timeless and elegant, but also full of personality and quirks.