My career in design….started 33 years ago!
Hi There, my name is Jenny and I am a passionate Kitchen Designer. I love all things kitchen! I have recently relocated from Los Angeles to the Sacramento area. My current business is called Ultimate Designs (www.ultimatedesignkitchens.com). I specialize in unique kitchen remodels and work with every budget to help you achieve your new design goals. I have been a designer for (ahem…. this dates me…and yes the picture is a few years old!) 33 years! First in the theatre and music industry with Bill Graham Presents and various other Bay Area businesses, then in the TV and Film industry (Emmy Award Winning Set Designer) and for the last 12 years, have been passionately helping folks design the kitchens of their dreams. I also love to cook, vegetable garden and entertain, which is why I moved to the kitchen world after retiring from the film industry so I could be a better mom and stay close to home.
Hunker down for a minute and read the history and path my design career has taken me. I have, what I think, is a real fun story in design starting way back when I was about 18 years old. At that time I got my first business license and DBA as Wilkinson Design. I had been a florist for 2 years (yes I started young) and was looking for some way to channel my design talent but did not want to go down the typical interior design route. I decided to take a class in merchandise display and while I soon realized that this was not the path I wanted to go down, I did meet one of my very best friends, Tami, who I am still very close to and love dearly. (shout out to Tami)!
I was doing some fun party decorating for a friends birthday party and got to talking with the birthday girl who had studied set design in college. Wow, this sounded great! I decided there was a reason for this ‘artsy fartsy’ girl to go to college after all. I started at a local junior college, the College of Marin and got into the Theatre Arts Department right away. Soon I began working freelance for the the Technical Director in his side business called Stage One where we built props and costumes as well as over the top merchandise displays where we worked with Industrial Light and Magic to animate these 1/2 scale figures from the Comedia Del Arte’ theme for I-Magnins in Union Square. We worked on the Black & White Ball, the Exotic Erotic Ball, decorated shopping malls for holidays, did sets for Summer Stock and I even worked on the movie The Fly (building a huge version of the fly itself).
One day I saw a TV show that featured a catering company that did the food for the entertainment industry called Filmore Fingers. I had done a bit of catering with friends and was a good cook so I thought this might be another (freelance) way to get me through college. When I went on the interview, while sitting in the front lobby waiting my turn, the receptionist was answering the phone with “Bill Graham Presents” :-). I had no idea I was about to apply for a job with Bill Graham. Well I got the job and started catering for all the Bill Graham Presents rock and roll shows in The Bay Area. Yes I stayed in college, I just did some creative scheduling to allow myself to work this fun and exciting job because I was determined to get a degree in 4 years not 10! After a few shows I realized that there was a department called the Ambiance Department where they designed and created all the backstage theme party areas and dressing rooms that Bill Graham Presents had become famous for. Right up my alley! In about 6 months I switched over to the Ambiance Department and began designing and creating these themed areas for most of the bands that toured in the 1980″s. We did the Days On The Green, benefits like We Are The World, Live Aid, The Bay Area Music Awards (the Bammies), the Filmore west reunion concert, the building of the Shoreline Amphitheatre, as well as about 3 shows a week at all the major local venues. We created theme dressing rooms, and backstage theme parties like when Pink Floyd came to town we made a Pub backstage for their enjoyment. I sometimes worked up at Bill Grahams house in Marin fixing large scale props that he kept from the concerts. I fixed his ‘front entry’ Gorilla’s hands, the over sized Psilocybin mushroom from the Grateful Deads New Years Eve Concert as well as transporting various large props from the events to his property for display on his acreage. I eventually had my own art studio in the basement of the old Warfield Theatre in San Fransisco. This room was one of the many rooms that catacombs for blocks under the cities mission district and was the the old Speakeasy in the 1920″s during prohibition. The walls were gilded with gold and red, 1920’s art. It was amazing. This was how I spent my 20’s and all the while continuing my college education. What fun!
During this time I transferred to San Francisco State University to the Theatre Arts Dept. with a stage design emphasis and began to study Interior Design as well as Stage Design. I learned all kinds of stage design techniques like painting backdrops with a paint stroke called “shlipetka”. I know…. strange huh? It uses turkey feathers…. go figure! I also learned to do Tromp’loi (fool the eye) which is a technique to make things look very real and 3D with paint as well as what a periaktoi is (a three sided turntable style set change unit). Anyway, I studied drafting, rendering, model making, lighting, costuming and makeup as well. One day I had to do my theatre makeup final and I made my face into a Cheetah (very realistic. It looked like I even had a 3D snout) and went to all my other classes that day with it on my face. That took guts but it was fun! When I graduated college, I continued on with Bill Graham Presents for a few more years. The work began to get sparse when Bill discontinued financially sponsoring the extreme decor we had been doing and my work at the shows happened less and less. Only the largest of bands like The Rolling Stones, Madonna and The Who, would opt to pay for the lavish backstage environments we created.
In the late 80’s, I took on a small project with Roman Coppola who was directing his first film called The Spirit of 76′ and I became the set dresser & special props maker. The movie starred David Cassidy and Olivia D’ablo, Cheech & Chong, Carl Reiner along with a host of others. We worked with Zoetrope in San Francisco and on Francis Ford Coppola’s Estate in Sonoma, where he also kept his large props from all his previous films. This work reminded me of the reason I decided to study set design in the first place….. to design in the film industry. So, reluctant as I was to move to LA, one night in the midst of wondering where my next paycheck would come from, I decided to make the move. I was living in Sausalito at the time in The Trident Towers across from Angel Island (great view) and most of my family and friends could not believe I would leave, especially to L.A. What culture shock!. Well I packed up my apartment into a U-haul trailer, hooked it up and was off. Somewhere near Gilroy, I passed a semi truck and felt my trailer fish tail back and forth radically for a moment. I thought it was just the draft of the semi, but then noticed that the pylons on the side of road were swaying back and forth as well. My radio went static at that moment but I did not figure out what happened for a few more minutes. When I finally got a radio station to come in, I heard the announcer saying that there had been a huge earthquake in the Bay Area. I had just driven right through the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake! It took all I had not to turn around and go back to my family and friends whom I knew would have been affected greatly. The announcers said not to come to the area if you were not already there and that most phone lines would be jammed and to not use the phones unless absolutely necessary. I tried not to make calls but I had to know if my family was OK. It turned out, out of sheer luck, that my dad was not crossing the Bay Bridge as he did every day but had decided to stay in town and have dinner before going home. So he was not harmed nor was anyone else in my circle of family and friends but consequently, it took about 10 hours to make the journey to LA which would normally take only 7, because of all my payphone pit stops. That’s right…. for all you youngsters, cell phones were a rare commodity and you needed a brief case to carry one if you could afford one. Well, upon my arrival in L.A. I surmised that if nothing else, my decision to move had been justified.
In Los Angles one of my first jobs was to help the designer of the Fry’s Electronics store chains to manage and hire the builders (art director of sorts) for the special theme design features he created. Each store as many of you know, is a different theme. The first stores I worked on in LA was in a Polynesian theme with a “temple of boom” music/theatre room that was designed like the temple of doom from the’ raiders’ movies complete with falling rock and Easter Island Heads and tiki hut style computer tables throughout. The second was a Roman Aqueduct style theme where we actually had an aqueduct running through the center of the store. And the third was an Alice In Wonderland theme with all the features of the movie throughout. It was great fun, but I really wanted to pursue the film and TV industry not the retail industry.
So, I got a job at a special effects and prop making house called Cinnabar. To the LA folks, it didn’t matter that I was considered an Art Director, Stage Designer, or Production Designer prior…… it was a different industry and I had to climb the ladder all over again! However, my obvious experience made me rise quickly in the ranks and I soon went freelance, feeling like I had enough connections to make it on my own. It was slow going at first but after five or six years of being a Property Master and Set Dresser (I even worked in craft service) in low budget shows, all the while working harder to get the next job than working the job itself, I finally landed a Set Decorating job with Brian Henson Production doing a new Muppet’s show called Muppet’s Tonight. It was a hilariously funny show that spoofed current movies (the original show spoofed TV shows). We did many shows but the ones that stand out are: a spoof on Casino Royal with Pearce Brosnan, one on Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend with Whoopy Goldberg, and one of my favorites was a spoof on When Harry Met Sally with Billy Crystal just to mention a few. We did full scale sets with platforms for the real actors to walk on (out of site of camera) while the ‘muppeteers’ walked below so the puppet style Muppet’s would be eye to eye with the actors. I did a lavish Monte Carlo casino, a set of the Orient Express, Airplane interior sets, the Diner set from Harry/Sally, New York City Street sets as well as all the wacky sets for the ongoing weekly spots with the Muppet’s like the 2 old men. It was hard work and lot’s of fun and I won an Emmy Award for the episode with Tony Bennett and was nominated for a second for the episode with Jason Alexander. The show did not get picked up for another season, I think only because of time slot competition, so I ventured out again with my newly awarded Emmy (that Betty White handed me on stage) under my belt. The very next weekend following the awards night, my house nearly burned to the ground and my Emmy was ruined. They gave me a new one alas, but with a 1 week span between the highest of highs in my life thus far (Emmy Winner) to the lowest of lows (house burned) my head was spinning!
I spent the next few years working mostly in commercials as an Art Director and Production Designer as well as Art Directing a Burt Reynolds flick called The Hunters Moon. I know…. no bodies herd of it… but it starred Burt Reynolds, Keith Carradine and Hayley DuMond. It was supposed to get me into the Union but never quite reached that goal. Jobs became harder and harder to come by in the late 90’s as many productions were heading to Canada. I was getting married and planned to start a family right away so I opted to retire from the film/TV industry and it’s long hours (12 to 14 hr. days) and commute. So, I spent my 30’s designing in the film industry and now this brings me to the beginning of my work in the Kitchen Design world.
Once my son was a year or so old (I was a stay at home mom for the first 2 years) I began to get antsy to get back to work but now I had to reinvent myself again! I wanted to stay closer to home to be a good mom, but I couldn’t stand not having something to design. Now in pursuit of my next design/career project…. oh, I forgot to mention that while I was with Bill Graham Presents I had a hand at helping to design a restaurant of my great friend Michael McClernon (who was the head chef for the Bill Graham catering team) called La Paloma. I also designed the 19th Ave Diners upstairs bar that was fashioned after Hunter S. Thompson as an old world library hangout as well as the tropical themed interior at a S. F. night club called the Oasis along with one in San Jose of the same name.
Sooo….. Restaurant design seemed fitting. Low and behold, I am friends with a world famous chef in L.A., Josie Le Balsh and she had just signed the deal to open a new restaurant in Santa Monica. I helped her conceive the look and space planning of the new Josie Restaurant as well as to execute some of the details of the interior design but permits and planning departments as well as the lender required an architect to draw up the plans. The new architect came with his own interior designer so I was sort of lost in the dust. Josie passed on to them the designs she and I had conceived in her living room with the basic color theme and feeling we came up with prior to their arrival. She kept me on board to handle some of the details of the interior and thus began my passion for hospitality design. Unfortunately, again, that industry did not care about my resume and achievements in design and I would have had to go back to school or work for an architect to enter that particular world of design. So I reinvented myself anew and thought to bring it even closer to home…. actually in the home…. and become a kitchen designer. I studied and studied ‘at home’ manuals from the NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Association), and got myself a CAD program and continued to study. But nothing beats on the job training so I plowed forward and found my first willing victim. The job went great and I was on my way. I was going to open my own showroom and I put together what I thought was a great business plan but the funding just wasn’t there. Plus I love being out in the field and doing more than just cabinets anyway so it was OK by me to just plunge forward as an independent Kitchen Designer. Every job has something new to learn and I will continue learning and growing as a happy and passionate Kitchen Designer for many years to come. And thus was my 40’s in design and will remain till I can no longer get myself to the job sites. It has been 10 years and counting since I made this leap and I am so happy I did. It is the perfect blend of 2 of my favorite passions in life….. designing and cooking!
I design kitchens, bathrooms as well as other rooms in the home but I prefer to work as a interior architectural designer with remodels, structural changes, additions or new homes rather than interior decorating. I find that I love the CAD drawing part of my work (I’m a wanna-be-architect) as well as space planning and specifying surfaces and lighting as apposed to choosing furniture and pillow fabric. Oh I will help you with that too if needed but I need the technical aspect of the other to keep my mind sharp. I know a little about plumbing and electrical and a little about structural buildings and framing as well as a bit about counter fabrication and tile work so that I can design effectively and practically and I know how to communicate with all these trades. I am my clients advocate and will make sure that everything is done to the “T”. I welcome commercial design projects like storefronts and retail and would love to have my hand at another Restaurant Design sometime before I die. My theatrical background really lends itself to that kind of design work and I would also love to Design a Winery now that I live in the wine country in Northern California. So if you know anyone…….I’m your gal.
I started this Blog, because I love to inform people and to help them avoid costly mistakes. One thing I hate is hearing a new clients dilemma that was caused by someone not thinking things through. Architects, bless their hearts, are not always the best at kitchen layout. Oh they know how to make it look pretty, but will it function for how you cook and entertain? Make sure that the person you have helping you with your layout spends some good time in the kitchen themselves. You can’t know how to make a kitchen function for a cook if you don’t ever cook! My goal for this blog is to help you go down the right path from the start and not make those costly mistakes your neighbors made. I want to help you find what you need and give you ideas that are just a little bit outside he box…… while keeping the functionality of your space in tact. Enjoy!
Subscribe to my RSS feed