Season to Season
with Jesse Parris-Lamb
Amanda Jesse and Whitney Parris-Lamb are the talented duo behind highly acclaimed Brooklyn-based firm Jesse Parris-Lamb, a practice whose design process reflects their thoughtful natures. We spoke to them about cultivating a keen appreciation for lively and layered colours, patterns and textures that defy trends and, like their working relationship, create a sum that is greater than all of its parts.
You guys met as grad students at the Pratt Institute. Do you remember what your first impressions were?
Amanda: I was immediately charmed by Whitney’s self-assuredness. She already had a distinct point of view about design, whereas I had come to Pratt with little formal training and spent much of the first semester wondering if I would get kicked out! Seeing her confidence made me want to be her friend and learn from her.
Whitney: Amanda was the only one of us to consistently show up to class on time, nicely dressed and in full hair and makeup – she wouldn’t be caught dead without lipstick! Amanda approached design with a very open mind and no preconceived ideas of the best solution – she still does.
What made you decide to strike out on your own and launch your own practice?
Amanda: As an intern making minimum wage, I remember thinking that I could be my own boss one day! I was motivated by pure optimism and blind faith in myself – my skillset and experience would need time to catch up! I also come from a family of small business owners so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
Whitney: I don’t regret any of the time I spent working for other people but ultimately I wanted some control over my life. Starting the business meant pushing things even harder at first but it paid off in the long term. It isn’t perfect, but most days we are able to accomplish everything we set out to do and still make it home in time to eat dinner with our kids.
Like our co-founders Jodie and Sally, it sounds like you have a very collaborative design process. What strengths do you each bring to the table?
Whitney: Nothing leaves our office without both of us weighing in. It’s about our individual contributions creating something greater, richer, and more nuanced than what one of us could do alone. The more interesting moments are when our views don’t quite align – it keeps things fresh and unexpected.
Amanda is a great listener and has an amazing memory for details. She’s also cool as a cucumber – she has this incredible ability to stay calm while expressing her opinion and getting what she needs in a sticky situation.
I’m more of a risk taker and a dreamer – my role is to introduce big crazy ideas and push Amanda to the next step in our growth. I’m also very detailed-oriented and relish time on construction sites asking questions.
Are there any colours you are constantly drawn to?
Amanda: Our firm has a mantra that there is no such thing as an ugly colour. Almost any colour is beautiful in the right space and light when paired with other colours that “bring out its best”. We always keep an open mind and pull palettes from the full colour spectrum. For example, a client may say they hate mustard yellow but find it is transformed when paired with aubergine.
These days we’re all seeking comfort from our homes. How do you think the inclusion of tactile elements, like a rug, can affect our mood?
Amanda: Whitney and I put as much consideration into how something feels as to how it looks. A rug can be aesthetically pleasing but, more importantly, how does it feel underfoot when you’re getting out of bed at 6am every morning? A gentle start to the day can take the edge off the intensity that may follow. Interior design is about creating spaces that provide a little comfort and joy through the inevitable ups and downs of life.
"Interior design is about creating spaces that provide comfort through the inevitable ups and downs of life."
What textures do you lean towards in spring/summer vs. fall/winter?
Whitney: I have a friend whose grandmother would swap out her Persian rugs for sisal and slipcover her heavily upholstered furniture in linen for the warm seasons. While I love this concept, it’s not the most practical! We try to create spaces that work from season to season without too many changes. A comfortable, layered space is welcoming regardless of the outside temperature.
Any tips on mixing and matching materials for those of us a bit afraid to experiment?
Amanda: Even if purchases are made over time, it is best to articulate a master plan from the start – it lets you layer in those unexpected moments more successfully. This principle reminds me of my past training in classical ballet. The fluidity, ease and improvisation of the most compelling dancers come from a foundation of basic skills honed over years.
Tell us what your own homes are like – how would you describe the décor?
Amanda: It’s funny because the longer Whitney and I know each other, the more similar we become! Whitney recently told me that when her friends came over and asked how her home differed from mine, she explained that I like clean lines, warm wood tones, texture, and not a lot of clutter. Her friends looked around and were genuinely confused as to how that in any way differed from her own home!
Whitney: I’m currently quarantined in our family’s small cabin in the Catskills, so it feels more like home these days than our Brooklyn apartment. This house was built in the 1940’s as a hunting cabin and has a distinct “summer camp” vibe – we designed it in a way that is comfortable, durable and cosy. It’s also full of timeworn antiques and vintage pieces passed down from my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Things that felt a little heavy or old-fashioned in the city work beautifully here.
What’s keeping you inspired during these uncertain times?
Whitney: Honestly, our clients! We’ve had more than one client tell us they feel a responsibility to help small businesses like ours, and the many vendors and makers we work with, to survive these tough times. We feel incredibly lucky – it’s been a bright spot through some dark days and a great reminder of just how good people can be.
What is the one thing you’ve discovered that you actually can’t live without?
Whitney: We have an amazing team of women in our office and we miss them so much! We’re all in close contact via text and Zoom, but we are looking forward to getting back to that in-person collaboration. The day-to-day interaction and creativity that comes out of it is irreplaceable.
How do you see the role of design in shaping communities going forward?
Whitney: I’m hopeful that as we all rethink the function of our homes, and the idea of personal space, there might be a renewed interest in the work interior designers do and the value they bring to shaping a space. For anyone quarantined with family and trying to work from home, the idea of privacy and a space of one’s own has become increasingly important. I expect we may see a return to requests for smaller, more defined spaces within a home rather than the open plan strategy that has dominated so much of recent design. A cosy, quiet nook for oneself sounds pretty dreamy right now!
Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?
Whitney: We absolutely love the Egyptian collection. The variation in the natural fibres creates a subtle movement across the field of colour that is absolutely stunning. It’s also incredibly soft underfoot, the perfect material to step onto when your alarm goes off at 6am and you need a little comfort to start your day!
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