How to Culture Yourself at Home with Interior Designer + Collage Maker

I just hit week 3 of quarantine and want to use some of my home time to build upon other industry skills that I have yet to learn or practice. Last week my dining room chairs from West Elm came that I ordered in January, and for each of the six chairs there were 4 pieces and 10 screws– which means after manually twisting in 60 screws, I can now build furniture if my restaurant PR life doesn’t come back as hoped! Just kidding. However, I am really proud of the work I did with my hands and it got me thinking, what else can I do that I didn’t think I could? In a new series called How To Culture Yourself At Home, I decided to ask some of my favorite people from the food, wine, interior design, art, and music industry what they are doing at home to stay inspired and what us regulars can learn from them to keep us busy at home and twirling our brains artistically. Up first is Brooklyn-based furniture and interior designer, Jenny Kaplan, of An Aesthetic Pursuit whose home design brand is called PIECES. She and Chris, her husband, and business partner Tai Coombs, recently launched an Airbnb in Maine (which is seen on T Magazine and Domino) where you can stay and experience all of their products first-hand. Of course, it’s also all shopable! She also happens to be my beautiful and talented cousin 🙂

Chekmark Eats: First of all, I love your Pieces Home and am so excited to get my Wavy rainbow Rug in the mail soon. How did you come up with that rug design and color scheme? What is your relationship with color as the whole house is so bright? Does it run in our family or something? Haha.

 Jenny Kaplan: The Wavy Rug actually came to me in a dream, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started sketching out the initial idea and drafting multiple multi-color variations of the rug. It took us nearly 6 months to land on the final color combination. Granted, we also sampled the rug in several different fabrications which contributed to the extended timing. When we started the interior design for our Pieces Home in Maine, Chris had the idea to do a 60′ long U shaped version that flowed through the central part of the downstairs portion of the house. Since the Wavy Rug is such a bold design we were very deliberate in the decision to balance out the brighter colors of the rug with more muted tones shown throughout the home. I have always had a strong relationship with color.  My Grandmother (Glenyce) had an incredible eye for design and never shied away from using color in her homes, and  I frequently reference photos or memories that I have of her homes for inspiration. In addition, my mother has great taste, and I use her eye as a resource for almost everything I do.

CE: How can those of us at home experiment or even make some pieces at home right now while we have time? Do you have any recommended supplies?
JK: A simple way to add some dimension to your space is to simply take a walk outside to see what sort of floral or leafy branches you can use to add to any vase or vessel on hand. I took a stroll at our local beach the other day to search for interesting shells or driftwood we could use for decor or sculptural element for the house.
CE: What are your at home design tips to help enrich our lives right now or switch things up since we are stuck at home?

photo by Claire Esparros

JK: Since we are all stuck at home now, this is a great time to clear the clutter and make our space a place of reprieve – I personally can’t relax unless my house is clean and tidy. I’ve been using this time for some deep organization and dialed in on all of the micro detail organization touches throughout the house. Some areas, for example, are my kitchen, these storage containers are great to keep the pantry dialed in. I have been working on aesthetically pleasing organizational solutions for the bathroom, like these baskets and containers. I would also suggest rearranging the furniture in your home right now, moving around a few pieces will instantly bring new energy to your home, which costs you nothing!

CE: What are you doing to keep busy, and what new things have inspired you during this time?

JK: As a small business owner this is a very tenuous time and has forced our team to shift the way we will be planning the calendar for the rest of the year. Right now we have to be more solutions orientated than ever to get through the daily challenges. In an effort to bring our community together and contribute to those that are without in this critical moment, we’ve developed the #designtogive challenge with our new “Outline” rug challenge. Anyone can download the design file and fill in the blanks, we will be taking submissions through April 8th. All proceeds will be donated to Food Bank for NYC.

            Jenny, Tai, Chris, and Zuko!

My second profile in this series is with local Austin collage artist, Sarah Presson. She is a creative director at Eye Like Design whose work can be seen in ARRIVE East Austin hotel and also purchased here ( I have the Frida)!

Chekmark Eats: I have been so inspired by your paper overlay and collage design. What can people do from home right now to get started with collage if they’ve never done it before?

Sarah Presson: First step is to collect books and magazines that you’re willing to destroy. I have a library and use magazines from the 50’s and 60’s that I’ve collected from ebay or been given as gifts because I love their print quality which is not as glossy. You can use colorful paper, stripes from old ads, even wrapping paper. One exercise I do when I don’t have a big commission is to think in terms of foreground and background when experimenting with the cut-outs. [For example,] what is the key subject, and how can you create a background that just sits back and lets one image take the stage. You can start by covering a panel with colorful rays of paper and maybe the central image is a different black and white photograph so it stands out by just being black and white on a colorful field.

If you are having trouble figuring out how to get started, cut out flowers since you can put them around almost everything and they are always beautiful. Start out cutting elements and then shuffling them around until finding a fun combination. Then think about what size panel you need and what other parts such as: light background, negative space, subtle texture?
CE: What inspires you while you are finding cut out images to put together an art piece?
SP: I get inspired just by shuffling around different cut out images that I see as symbols. What does it mean when I mix an American flag with a bird versus a garbage can? They are very different. Mixing a flag with flowers and a bird shows promise vs trouble. I’d recommend thinking about what you want to speak to. When you look at art, you look at symbols first, so think about what you want people to take away from what the artist is making.
CE: What material do you use to paste on a canvas?
SP: Wheat-based glue or alternative wall paper paste since it has a matte finish. You can use Elmer’s Glue to get started with a paintbrush instead of squirting from bottle. Be careful when using wet glue so it doesn’t crinkle or have air bubbles. If using canvas, use a gel medium over it.
CE: What are you doing to stay inspired right now at home and with a newborn?
SP: Being a new mom makes me want to be in the studio more and more and off the computer. Right now I am continuing a series that I started a while back that is all water. The way light bounces off and goes through water always inspires me. I’m trying to use a mix of paper to “paint” different water surfaces. The process of doing that is freeing that I didn’t get from narrative collage, and it allows me to push through a flow and play with shapes and blocks of color.
CE: What is one of your latest projects in Austin?
SP: The piece I’m working on next is for a real estate development called The Hatchery, which was originally a fish hatchery purchased by President LBJ. Therefore, there are a lot of names and history integrated in the brand, so I pitched a series of collages that could hang in leasing center and represent the Johnson family and that era. I’ve been collecting pages and pieces of natural Texan landscapes and political photographs. I start with a panel and build up different shapes that create dark areas and highlights. I’m using cut paper to create blocks of color instead of actual paint in my collages.