September 5, 2021For Jennifer Jones, principal designer and founder of San Francisco–based Niche Interiors, it was a simple home accessory — the humble pillow — that got her career rolling.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in design from UC Davis, the Northern California native went to work as a graphic designer but soon realized, she says, that she derived little satisfaction from “sitting in front of a computer and designing 2D brochures.” To scratch her creative itch, she began designing and eventually selling pillows. “That was my foray into the interior design world,” Jones says, laughing.
Her efforts led her to another epiphany. “I realized I didn’t really want to design pillows — I wanted to design entire homes.”
To that end, Jones returned to school, studying drafting at UC Berkeley, and later served stints as a design assistant at two different interiors firms. With her pillows having, by her account, “fallen by the wayside,” she opened her own firm in 2007 and, in the 14 years since, has developed a clear design mantra. “Restraint has always been a word I’ve used in our practice,” she says. “In our firm, we all know that it’s better to take away one thing than to add in three more things.”
Beyond her less-is-more ethos, Jones maintains a strong, nonnegotiable commitment to sustainable design. She takes into account not only the origins and environmental impact of the furniture and objects she sources but also how those items will affect the home’s indoor air quality.
“We specify all upholstery to have no flame retardant chemicals,” Jones says (the upholstery materials she recommends are naturally less flammable). “Those are the worst environmental offenders in my mind — beside kitchen cabinets, which can have formaldehyde.” She even assesses the finishes and adhesives used in furniture because, she notes, “all of that ends up in the air, and the doors are closed.”
As the mother of an eight-year-old, Jones is expert at creating family-friendly spaces that appeal to both children and adults. “I have an understanding of how families live and how children’s needs change over time,” she says. “We consider the durability of pieces and make sure we’re designing a home that’s functional and also one that will last a long time.”
Accordingly, Jones uses easy-to-clean fabrics along with materials that kids can’t destroy. “If it’s a family room, we would source a one hundred percent wool rug — that’s the most durable type of rug that’s easy to clean and stands up to spills,” she explains. “We also use solid wood for tables so that, if something goes wrong with the table, you can just refinish it.”
Among her design influences, Jones cites legendary French architect and designer Charlotte Perriand as “an enormous source of inspiration.” Italian designer and architect Vincenzo De Cotiis is another favorite. “He creates amazing furniture from cast metal, stone and glass,” Jones says. “We’re using a few of his pieces in one of our current projects.”
Although her designs are clean, her choices have heft. Take the dazzling peacock-blue-lacquer walls in the foyer of a family home she crafted on the San Francisco Peninsula. “It took like ten coats of paint to get it that shiny!” Jones recalls. “I wanted it to be so reflective that you could really see yourself.”
That balance of risk and restraint is also evident in a 7,000-square-foot project that Jones describes as a “cosmopolitan vacation home in the middle of the woods in Montana.” She designed it for San Francisco–based clients who “weren’t really country people.”
To meld a location-appropriate rustic look with the clients’ urban sensibilities, Jones set two decidedly glamorous but sleek custom emerald-green sofas amid items made of natural materials, like a wool rug from Vaheed Taheri and walnut coffee tables from Wüd Furniture Design that she describes as “modernist meets organic.” These pieces sit harmoniously against an existing fireplace.
Above all, Jones says, practicality and beauty must go hand in hand. “We don’t want to design a house that’s beautiful but doesn’t allow our clients to live in it the way they need to!”