WRJ Design’s Rush Jenkins Reveals Top Tips and Rules for Renovating Interior Spaces

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Renowned interior design firm WRJ Design, headquartered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has successfully been remodeling mountain homes and breathing new life into existing spaces for years. WRJ Design creative director Rush Jenkins recently revealed a collection of expert suggestions and rules he employs on the firm’s exquisite remodel projects, bringing sophisticated alpine luxury to formerly dark and dated homes.

A newly open layout by WRJ Design centered on windows and views, white walls and ceilings, and light oak floor set the stage for a fresh interior with Teton-inspired color palette (PC: Eric Piasecki).

“Homeowners want open, light-filled living spaces and connection to the outdoors,” says Rush Jenkins, creative director of WRJ Design.

Jackson Hole-based WRJ Design loves nothing better than a new-build project where they have the opportunity to collaborate with the architectural team from the ground up, offering input on every detail from space planning to landscape to lighting design. However, building sites are scarce in Jackson Hole, where national parks and nature conservancies leave only 3% of land available for development. As a result, WRJ’s mix of projects has shifted in recent years to include as much as 30% renovation work as clients opt to purchase existing homes and remodel.

While those older properties can provide a solid framework, “tastes have changed in the past five years, never mind the past 20 or 30,” says Rush Jenkins, creative director and co-owner of WRJ Design with his partner and COO Klaus Baer. “Homeowners want open, light-filled living spaces and connection to the outdoors, but many existing homes are dark, with log walls that have aged to an orangey shade, and awkward, broken-up floor plans.” The firm is expert at transforming outdated spaces into interiors that live and feel the way homeowners want now – elegant yet casual, with easy flow for entertaining and indoor-outdoor living. Below, Jenkins shares a few tips that can help ensure a successful remodel.

Go all in. “Renovations should not be done piecemeal, because once you refresh one room, the rest look outdated,” says Jenkins. “I always say let’s dive in and do it all. It may seem overwhelming at first, but clients are always thrilled in the end.” One award-winning house came about when the prospective homeowners stopped in to look around the WRJ showroom. Jenkins recommended a house he knew of in the popular Snake River Sporting Club community with “great potential” that had been abandoned due to the recession midway through its 2009 construction. Fast-forward to the “soup to nuts” metamorphosis where an all-new interior layout created a quiet and calming experience tailored to the homeowners’ needs and filled with extraordinary pieces sourced both internationally and from local artists. The home’s potential fulfilled, it was awarded the 2018 Home of the Year from Mountain Living magazine, who dubbed it a “Fairy Tale Finish.

Lighten and Brighten. When the owners of a slope-side Four Seasons residence at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort wanted to spend more time skiing and vacationing with their family in the mountains, they looked to WRJ Design to turn their dated townhome into the light and airy retreat they imagined. “We reconfigured the 3,280-square-foot two-level, 3-bedroom residence to be more usable and livable, lightening and opening up every room with fresh colors, clean lines and new materials from the floor to the ceilings and everything in between,” says Jenkins. Solutions included eliminating unnecessary walls to bring logic and flow to a confusing and compartmentalized floor plan while gaining natural light from expanded windows. The team also removed heavy moldings and used a warm white paint for walls and trim, adding functional and decorative lighting where possible. Reclaimed oak floors in a natural tone took the place of former dark-stained flooring and white-painted cabinets and light-toned quartzite counters replaced the kitchen’s predictable wood and granite. A palette of blues, greens and natural tones was woven throughout the interiors, inspired by the surrounding Tetons.

Honor history. “While modernizing a space to fit current lifestyles and taste is at the heart of most remodels, it’s important to retain and highlight original features that have value in the ‘story’ of a home or that particularly resonate with homeowners,” says Jenkins. In the case of new owners of a 7,500-square-foot Jackson Hole cabin once owned by Wyoming’s “Cowboy Governor” Clifford Hansen in the 1960s, the WRJ Design team was asked to honor the region’s heritage while bringing authenticity to the house in a modern way. To reimagine the classic log cabin, WRJ brought the palette of sky, mountains, trees and meadows into the warm-hued interiors, letting natural light accent meaningful artwork. Suede great-room sofas face the locally sourced river rock fireplace featuring a striking elk mount as a paean to area wildlife; in the dining area, painted plaster and upholstered chairs lighten the tone, defining the space in contrast to the rustic logs and chinking. Meanwhile, a “glamorous bathroom,” requested by the wife, offers a luxurious sanctuary with marble slab walls featuring patterns and colors that suggest the surrounding mountain terrain. Architectural Digest took note of WRJ Design’s sensitive renovation of the property, calling the resulting project the “perfectly updated log cabin.”

Consider scale. “A simple and consistent materials palette helps a smaller home read larger, while right-sized furnishings and one-of-a-kind pieces add personality without overwhelming the space,” says Jenkins who, with partner Baer, took on the renovation of a small guest house in their own Jackson neighborhood. The duo reimagined the early-1950s house with big charm and story-telling pieces from their own extensive travels, gutting the interior and adding white tongue-and-groove shiplap walls contrasting with dark-stained oak flooring. Reclaimed barnwood timbers on ceilings and a fireplace made with stacked stone sourced from an Idaho quarry bring a distinctly regional sense of place.

Plug it in. Another remodeling consideration, as important in a tiny guest house as in a sprawling manse, is upgrading technology. Expanding the electrical capacity, including increasing outlets and consideration of necessary elements like WiFi, should be part of the initial planning and bidding process, notes Jenkins, as what was sufficient in decades past, doesn’t match today’s high-tech needs. He also suggests replacing basic on-off switches with dimmers to create the ideal ambience in every room of the house.

Make it a team effort. “While the idea of a remodel may sound simple, renovation projects can be more complicated and challenging than new construction because you’re working with in-place elements and existing issues,” says Jenkins. “Picking the right team, who work together well and are accustomed to problem-solving, is crucial.” A townhouse in Jackson Hole underwent an extreme makeover from WRJ Design working with Vera Iconica Architects and Shaw Construction to turn the outdated rental property into a dream retreat. The team updated not only all furnishings and fixtures but also the interior finishes and plumbing, even moving walls and shifting rooms to create space to fit the homeowners’ needs. One of the project’s bigger changes was the kitchen, which received white Shaker-style cabinets, reclaimed wood, polished Taj Mahal quartzite, a custom steel range hood, glazed tile backsplash and the addition of a 10-by-5-foot island. Getting creative with existing square footage, the WRJ Design team borrowed space from a much-too-large bedroom closet to increase a small living space, providing more hang-out room for the family.

About WRJ Design:
Headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming, WRJ Design imparts the special serenity of its local Teton landscape to interior designs in Jackson Hole and across the country. WRJ began out of a passion for great design by Rush Jenkins and Klaus Baer, who create experiences and environments through inspired design. The team provides homeowners timeless reflections of their collections by combining the work of regional artisans with finely crafted European furnishings and accessories, and historically rich one-of-a-kind pieces curated from around the world. Three-time Home of the Year winners, WRJ has been featured widely in media including Architectural Digest and House Beautiful, as well as their popular book, “Natural Elegance: Luxurious Mountain Living" (2019, Vendome). For more information visit wrjdesign.com and follow @wrjdesign on Instagram.

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